The HIC Pipeline Pro finished last week in unruly waters creating more than a bit of havoc and confusion, both in the water and out. Fifty-six Hawaii surfers battled at the notorious Pipeline, all vying for eight spots into December’s prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters. Jonah Morgan, Flynn Novak, Liam McNamara, Mason Ho, Hank Gaskell, Dusty Payne, Gavin Gillette, and Sion Milosky all secured Pipeline Masters berths. There was no stand-alone event champion crowned. The event simply stopped after the quarters-finals and the eight Pipeline Masters qualifiers were determined, which was the events purpose.
Adding to the unconvention, there was also a surfer ‘peer poll’ which allowed six surfers to gain spots into the Pipeline Masters without competing in the HIC Pipeline Pro. The poll results were based on votes by active ASP Hawaii surfers. The six surfers who won spots via the ‘peer poll’ were Reef McIntosh, Kamalei Alexander, Danny Fuller, Marcus Hickman, Kalani Chapman, and Jamie O’Brien.
The one glaring omission from all of this –Bruce Irons– not just a Pipeline specialist, Irons is a Pipeline icon. He has won at Pipe three times. Twice he was victorious in the WQS format and once at the Pipeline Masters. Apparently he hasn’t won peer approval.
Was he simply overlooked? Out of sight, out of mind?
When Bruce was asked about being snubbed by his peers, he simply stated, “there are other ways into the event.”
I’ve opined on and on about the need to include past Pipeline Masters winners into the Pipeline Masters event via a 10 year exemption, similar to the PGA tour’s Masters event held at Augusta National. Put simply, if you win, you are in. You’ve earned it. You’ve earned it the old fashioned way. By winning. Once a king, always a king. Bruce Irons won the Pipeline Masters in 2001 (Irons also won the WQS Pipeline event twice). If the exemption were in place Bruce Irons would be exempt from qualifying until 2012. Rob Machado won in 2000 and would be exempt for two more years (Machado also won the Monster Energy Pipeline Pro in 2006).
In all there are 64 starters in the 2009 Billabong Pipeline Masters; 48 come from the ASP Dream Tour and sponsor wildcards, eight come from the HIC Pipeline Pro, six from a surfer ‘peer poll,’ one will be reserved for a Tahitian, and the final spot will go to a Triple Crown contender after the first two events of that winter series are held.
The Billabong Pipeline Masters is hands down the greatest show on surf. But a Pipeline Masters without, dare I say, two past Pipeline Masters champions seems...wrong. By the way, Jamie O’Brien squeaked in via the peer poll at number six, almost missing out. That would have been a real oddity. I guess winning the event doesn’t mean as much as we once thought, at least according to the guys who try to win it.