Sullivan climbs all the way to Pipeline title
After starting from the worst position in the 24th annual Billabong/Monster Energy Pipeline Pro, Pancho Sullivan yesterday finished in the best.
The 34-year-old pro surfer from Pupukea nabbed a perfect 10 wave score in the final of the 3-star World Qualifying Series event to go on to win it with a near-perfect total of 18.75 (out of 20) points for his top two waves -- the highest overall heat score of the entire event.
Though he finished a career-best No. 7 in the world last year and should have received a high seed and a spot directly into the third round of the main event of the Pipeline Pro, Sullivan began competing from the very first trials heat a week ago. Organizers initially forgot to include him when putting together the draw, and rather than force them to shift names around, Sullivan decided that he was fine with starting from the back of the international pack of 135 other surfers in the contest.
Sullivan ended up surfing eight total heats over the contest that covered all or part of four days -- and needed and got a last-second wave to advance through the semifinals -- yet finished with another Pipeline Pro victory to add to the one he scored in 2005.
"It was motivation," Sullivan said of the situation. "But I didn't really put any pressure on myself or worry about what place I got. I just focused on my performance and was just having fun with it."
Sullivan bagged $7,000 for the win and will soon leave for the start of the World Championship Tour (generally reserved for the world's top 45 surfers) in Australia at the end of the month. "I just wanted to get as many heats under my belt before the start of the WCT," Sullivan added.
Waves yesterday were only in the 2- to 8-foot-face range and were mostly right-handers breaking in the neighboring section known as Off-The-Wall rather than at the Banzai Pipeline, where the contest is traditionally staged.
Joining Sullivan in the 30-minute, all-Hawaii final were two other WCT surfers, Fred Patacchia Jr. and Roy Powers, and Pipeline specialist Dustin Barca.
Sunset Beach's Patacchia had the lead about 10 minutes into the decider, but Sullivan overtook him 3 minutes later by nabbing an excellent 8.75 wave that included a successful barrel ride.
Five minutes after that, the biggest set of the final rolled through. Patacchia took the first wave, but managed just one huge carving turn before the wave closed down. Sullivan took the one just behind it, and got an even better barrel ride than before and finished with a drawn-out cutback/rebound combination that drew the perfect 10 and secured the victory.
"I just lucked out. Fred went for the first wave, and the second wave just happened to be better," Sullivan said. "That's just how contests go. ... The face on my wave was just smoother, and it didn't have that backwash to it, and when I came out of the barrel I just wanted to put an exclamation point on it and put a big turn in at the end. Even though this wasn't classic Pipe, the waves today were still better than at 90 percent of the events around the world."
Patacchia finished in second place with 14.25 total points, while Powers (9.10) took third and Barca (6.50) fourth.
Patacchia -- who finished No. 23 on the WCT last year and is still searching for his first win at Pipeline -- effectively surrendered once Sullivan nabbed the 10. He came to shore on the very next wave, traded his surfboard for a hot-pink bodyboard and goofed around in the lineup for the last 10 minutes.
"Pancho just got two killer waves, and I figured it would be really tough to come back from the combination that he had the other three of us in," Patacchia, 26, said. "I don't feel like I gave up out there, and I want to win as much as the guy next to me, but Pancho was in the right rhythm today and Mother Nature was on his side."