Andy Irons carved his way to a win in the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters and a world championship yesterday.

Irons wins again

The Kauai native is the first male
from Hawaii to win more
than one world title

In their punch-counterpunch battle on the final day of the men's surfing season, Kauai's Andy Irons ultimately delivered Kelly Slater of Florida a blow he couldn't recover from.

After both surfed through three earlier rounds at the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters yesterday, Irons beat Slater in the final to win the contest for a second straight year and repeat as world champion in the tightest race in history.

"I was a ball of nails all day," the 25-year-old Irons, of Hanalei, said. "This is the kind of stuff I dreamed about as a kid and now I'm living it. This is the all-time finish, I can't believe it."

Irons is the first male surfer from Hawaii to win more than one world championship (Derek Ho won in 1993, Sunny Garcia in 2000). In picking up his second consecutive world title, Irons prevented Slater, a six-time winner, from extending the career record to seven.

The top two surfers in the world this year, Slater actually enjoyed a slim 96-point lead in the rankings over Irons entering the Pipeline Masters, the last event. The pressure to perform was shared equally, however, as they were the only two surfers still in contention for the world championship and the one with the higher finish this week would win.

Waves were in the 6- to 12-foot-face range at the Banzai Pipeline yesterday, and were primarily right-handers breaking in the section known as the Backdoor.

They surfed through opposite sides of the draw and did not actually meet head on until the four-man final. Once in the 30-minute decider, Irons patiently nabbed two high scores -- 8.33 and 6.83 points -- while Slater never found a good rhythm.

Irons took first and Kelly Slater (right) was fourth at Pipeline yesterday, giving Irons his second straight world champion in the tightest race in history.

Slater frenetically scrambled for a heat-high nine total rides compared to just five for Irons, but his top two (4.67 and 4.50) still relegated him to fourth place for the event and second in the final rankings.

"It was back and forth all year between us" for the world championship, said Slater, 31. "And it didn't matter whether I got second or fourth, I just had to finish ahead of Andy to win it and I didn't. It had to come to a climax, and the tension was like nothing I've ever felt."

Irons' 15.16 total was 0.76 better than second-place Joel Parkinson (14.40) of Australia, and scored him the $30,000 Pipeline Masters winner's check. Aussie Phillip MacDonald took third with 9.60, while Slater finished with 9.17.

Both of Irons' scoring waves included Backdoor barrel rides: He notched the 8.33 score about five minutes into the final and the 6.83 with only about seven minutes left.

The last score gave Irons his second lead of the heat, and he held on to it even after Parkinson scored a 7.90 for a Backdoor barrel ride of his own with under three minutes remaining.

"It was one of those finals where I was just so tired," Irons said, "I couldn't wait to hear the final countdown."

The Pipeline Masters win was Irons' fifth in 12 World Championship Tour events in 2003; Slater won four. Finishing third through fifth in the final rankings were Australians Taj Burrow, Mick Fanning and then Parkinson -- though none of them won an event.

As for whether Slater will return next year to chase another title, he said: "I think so. It was kind of up in the air if I had won it this year. And I still had one of my best, most enjoyable years ever."

Besides deciding the world title, the Pipeline Masters also represented the conclusion of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing, a prestigious series of three contests in Hawaii that began last month. The best overall performer in the series is named the Triple Crown champion.

Irons also happened to be the defending series winner, and with yesterday's result accomplished the rare trifecta of winning the world championship, Triple Crown championship and Pipeline Masters in the same season -- for the second straight year.

Slater is the only other surfer to ever pull off the feat, doing it just once, in 1995.

"I still look up to him," Irons said. "He sets the standard. But I didn't know about that. That's amazing."

Finishing second in the Triple Crown was Jake Paterson, who won the Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach two weeks ago. Third through fifth were Parkinson, Slater and MacDonald. Makakilo's Joel Centeio won Triple Crown Rookie of the Year.


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