Even with the world title already decided (a million congratulations to Kelly Slater for a lifetime of beating everyone) we still have two of surfing's most coveted titles on the line—the Billabong Pipeline Masters in memory of Andy Irons and the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. These two titles hold nearly as much acclaim as a World Title for many reasons, the most notable being the fact that the surf at each event is normally some of the biggest and/or best of the year.
WT competitors travel all year with a quiver of shortboards and maybe a step-up (Teahupoo being the lone exception), but when preparing for a season on the North Shore it is a must to have boards up to 8′ ready to go. And even on its worst days the North Shore still packs that extra punch you don't get anywhere else in the world.
Although they're standouts the world over, it's at home where the Hawaiians dominate. From Kaipo Jaquias and Myles Padaca's winning it all for the boys, to the Ho brothers—Michael and Derek—taking almost every Triple Crown title through the ’80s, and more recently Sunny Garcia and Andy Irons with their almost complete domination of this prestigious title. If anyone thinks they are going to come to Hawaii and instantly be surfing to the level of those surfers and hundreds of other local Hawaiians, they have another thing coming.
Joel Parkinson is a perfect example, always one of the best surfers in the world, it is only in the last few years (as he nears 30 years of age) that he has won two Vans Triple Crown titles while becoming a force to be reckoned with at all three locations. This year he has already won the Reef Hawaiian Pro, putting himself in great position for a third consecutive crown. A past winner at Sunset, he is now only a Pipeline Masters victory away from completing the nearly impossible feat of winning at all three Vans Triple Crown locations. No event in the world is more difficult to win than the Pipeline Masters. No wave in the world is more difficult to ride than the Banzai Pipeline.
There is a saying, “no two waves are ever the same,” and at Pipeline even though every wave is a life-threatening tube, each one has a very distinct personality requiring a different approach to maximize scoring potential. With tuberiding advancing in quantum leaps through the last decade, no surfer mastered the many faces of Pipe more completely than Andy Irons. Winning four Masters titles from ’02-’06, Andy showed the world what was possible in big, heavy barrels.
This year’s Pipeline Masters will feature a 48-man field that will showcase a number of Hawaii’s best surfers up against the ultra-elite WT Top 32. This influx of gifted Pipeline locals should be the catalyst needed to kick off a truly amazing competition at surfing’s ultimate proving ground.
Now for my Fantasy Surfer team…
I went with all wildcards this year. My reason being, everyone of them has already proven themselves in the most difficult event of the year—the Volcom Pipeline Pro. And now, with a few exceptions, these local wildcards are not only more knowledgeable about the break, but also much better surfers in big, hollow, powerful surf.
John Florence He suffered a wave-starved heat in Haleiwa that ended in interference to knock him out. At Sunset he was the best surfer in the event, only losing there when his leash became caught around a coral head at Boneyards for 15 minutes. Now at Pipe, his backyard and favorite wave, it will take an equally bizarre incident to keep him from the win.
Kiron Jabour Another North Shore grom that has made the transition to Pipe standout, as well as top worldwide competitor. Kiron has everything he needs to be chalking up numerous heat wins this year.
Kalani Chapman His brother, Shawn Briley, is one of the greatest surfers ever at Pipeline. Kalani is in that same group of Pipeline greats. It will be extremely entertaining to see him put on a show this year.
Ian Walsh At only 26 years of age, Ian has already surfed a lifetime of huge, life-threatening waves. Playing around at Pipeline is a walk in the park for him. His ASP ranking may never reflect it, but Ian is one of the best surfers in the world, a world that values a surfers overall performance in the ocean.
Shane Dorian He has experienced numerous past ASP successes, but his true mark on the surfing world has been outside of competition. Shane is the only surfer in Kelly’s generation to surpass or equal him in many areas of wave-riding. Shane “Backdoorian” will always be a threat to win the Pipe Masters.
Jamie O’Brien In case you haven’t seen his new movie, Who is J.O.B., buy it on iTunes right now, so you can watch the best tuberider in the best compilation of waves ever put in one profile movie. J.O.B. is the real deal.
Clay Marzo Surfing is much more than a sport to Clay. Watching him, you see the bond he has formed with the ocean and how important that bond is to him. As a surfer, as a person, Clay is very unique, and a real treat to watch as he toys with the waves.
Kamalei Alexander, Danny Fuller, Bruce Irons Many of us were great friends with Andy. Kamalei, Danny, and Bruce were family. I remember when Danny was young, and under the radar still, Andy would speak of Danny as this great kid who was such an amazing tuberider. Now, Danny is this great man who continues to push his tuberiding to new levels with every surf.
Kamalei and Andy used to run the North Shore as groms, causing trouble and chaos in every lineup they surfed by sitting deeper and taking off later than the rest of the crowd. Kamalei is the same as ever, except now a few sponsors have taken notice of his talents and he gets a paycheck for doing what comes naturally.
Bruce was always the thorn in Andy’s side. They loved each other like no other, but when it came to everyday life, everything was a duel. Without Bruce, there would be no Andy (like we knew) and without Andy there would be no Bruce. What you see is what you get with Bruce, and he doesn’t give a f–k what you think.