The Rip Curl Pipe Masters " a local perspective"
This years Rip Curl Pipe Masters was the ultimate showdown. The new format introduced by the Hawaii Pro Surfers Union lead by Pipe legend Liam McNamara allowed 16 Pipe specialist to be seeded straight into the event instead of having to compete against one another in a day of trials heats for just two spots. While some of the WCT guys complained that it wasnt fair for them to have to compete against Pipe specialist in the final competition of the year which could for some determine their existence as WCT sufers, local guys have been fighting for years that its unfair to be somewhat excluded from the worlds most watched and revered event at the break which they risk their lives at everyday. This sort of rivalry brought forth a whole new level of competition which almost resorted in a battle for the break itself as much as the crown of being a Pipe Master. Dustin Barca, Tory Barron, Nathan Carroll, Hank Gaskell, Aamion Goodwin, Reef McIntosh, Jamie O'Brien, Soloman Ortiz, Randall Paulson, Makua Rothman, Evan Valiere and Ian Walsh were the 12 surfers who qualified from last years Monster Pipeline Pro which is the WQS event held here in February. Rob Machado who won the Monster Pro also received a slot. That left only 2 other select positions from Hawaii which went to Tamayo Perry and Jamie Sterling, along with 1 position for a Tahitian surfer which went to 17 year old Heiarii Williams. Rip Curl gave wildcards to Australian's Ben Dunn and 16 year old Owen Wright along with Hawaii's Jr Champion Kekoa Balasko.
With so much hype over this years Pipe Masters, hopes for good waves were slim. September, October and November had already been deemed the slowest Hawaiian surf season in 60 years with only 3 swells over 6 ft at the Pipe and none big enough to move the sand which sits in front of the break preventing it from really doing its thing. The first day of competition however, seemed liike a bit of a miracle when it kicked off in clean solid 6-8 ft surf. The sand had moved amazingly over night, but was then pushed over to the channel causing waves which would normally be the biggest most open tube rides to pinch and become unmakable posing a big challenge for contestants.
The first and biggest day of competition was quite possibly the most exciting because everyone was just so stoaked to finally have waves and our 16 seeds were dominating in what seemed like each and every heat. You might have called them "the boys in blue" as every Pipe Specialist was sent out in blue jersys to protect and perserve their territory at the Pipe. All but one of Hawaii's seeds made it through the round and first day of competition taking down several top rated guys. The most exciting heat of the day was when Kelly Slater met up to Jamie O Brien. Jamie caught a few incredible rides before it seemed like anyone else even caught a wave, getting spit out of Pipe pits in mid air and kicking out of backdoor tubes with his own style of freaky flips. The locals went wild on the beach! About half way through the heat Kelly Slater started catching up with a big backdoor tube but wasn't able to beat Jamie who then took first and went directly to round three.
The second day Round 2 was give and take for our local seeds. The surf was similar to the first day on a dropping swell with a little more north in the direction causing that little pinch on the sandbar to become even more of a close out wave.. Some heats were okay and others were extremely trying to get two open Pipe waves. Randall Paulson dominated his heat and caught some of the largest sets of the day but the sandbar wouldn't let him out of the tube and he lost out by by less than a point to Bobby Martinez and Jake Patterson. Other heats were extremely close. Tamayo Perry nudged just ahead of Joel Parkinson eliminating him from the heat and his chance for the Triple Crown title. Tory Barron also made it through with a killer backdoor tube and younger surfers Makua Rothman, Dustin Barca, Evan Valiere and Ian Walsh continued the charge to round three however contest directors choose to run the Fosters Expression Session for the rest of day 2. Such notables as Dane Kealoha, Shawn Thompson and both the Ho brothers paddled out in the expression session however it was Bruce Irons and Jake Patterson who tied to take home $2000 each. While most of the northshore would have probably paid money to surf Pipeline with just 10 other guys out, female bodyboarding legend Robin Cardoza puts things in perspective saying "those guys just risked their lives for less money than one of my Chanel handbags".
There was a lot of discrepency about when to hold the 3rd day of competition. Competitors in round three were put on hold until 11:30am, then again until 12:30pm, and once again until 1:30 when they finally decided not to hold the event until the next day. The waves came up that evening, but so did the wind. Though contest directors saw it as a total blessing to have the 4-6 foot surf last all day through the final, our local surfers struggled in smaller stormier surf which was begining to look more like beach break barrells than Pipe pits. Judges made it quite obvious that if you were not a WCT surfer, you had better not leave it up to the judges. Kalani Chapman, Tory Barron and Tamayo Perry all lost by just around a point or less in situations which left a lot of us feeling sort of like second class citizens in the world of surfing. Pancho Sullivan also struggled to find a nice open barrell, but still requalified for next years WCT tour. Most local surfers managed to get one amazing high scoring wave, but couldn't find a second wave to back it up. Evan Valiere, Ian Walsh, Dustin Barca and Bruce Irons would then lead us into the quarters and none could get out of their heats except for "the freak" Jamie O Brien who at that point had such a momentum going into the semi that his Dad Mick says "It's about time that I went down to the sperm bank & invests some deposits for the future. Standouts such as Australian surfer Michael Lowe and Brazilian surfer Brunos Santos also lost out. In semi final one Luke Stedman and Damian Hobgood lost to Kelly Slater and Rob Machado who would compete against Corey Lopez and Andy Irons. Yes, the second semi was a total let down for Hawaiians as Jamie O Brien was the last of the Pipe specialist seeds to dick out. He started out the heat with a huge opening ride and then just caught close out after close out, finally going to the inside to try to get the 2.8 he needed and with a small but long tube ride and a hard snap off the lip, we all thought he was safe, only to find out that our last seed had dipped and once again, it was less than a point difference. Chris Ward who also surfed strong throughout the competition mixing tube riding with aerial manuvers lost in that second semi.
To be honest the start of the final was a total let down. Hawaiians and Northshorians who had all hoovered in packs cheering on their peeps were now either dispersing or leaving. No more of our local boys to cheer for and the waves were dropping so the first ten minutes of the final seemed almost silent on the beach in front of the local houses. The Australian house by Off the Wall were so drunk at that point they were cheering harder for the noncompetitors paddling out for a freesurf than the waves being ridden in the final. Then some incredible exchanges started taking place. Rob Machado, Kelly Slater and Andy Irons; all former Pipe Masters there to duke it out with Florida surfer Cory Lopez. As the swell dropped and the wind backed off, the waves became a lot more makeable over that sandbar than they had been throughout the contest offering perfect barrel after perfect barrel on both the rights and the lefts. The heat started out fairly equal with every surfer getting some good tube time, then Kelly Slater began to take the lead and pulled way out ahead with high scoring backdoor waves. Machado who seemed to be in the lead early on became almost handicapped being a goofy footer while Irons who has never lost in a final at Pipe started firing it up. Lopez also set himself into a big one, but In the end it was almost another battle between Kelly and Andy who were neck and neck. Andy Irons, then claimed a 10 point backdoor barrel at the end of the heat and became both the 2006 PipeMaster and Triple Crown Champion with 8 time world champion Kelly Slater second, Cory Lopez 3rd and Rob Machado 4th.
The crowds at Pipe on both contest and non contest days were the most I've ever seen. There were cars parked from Log Cabins past Rockys on some days and the beach was totally packed with tourists. It was definitely a notable event this year that will be remembered for years to come. It was very unfortunate that none of our seeds made the final, but they definitely proved they deserved to be there surfing with the best and it made for much more exciting and interesting competition than in previous years.
by Lane Davey