PIPELINE MASTER JAMIE O'BRIEN AWARDED WILDCARD ENTRY FOR 2005 RIP CURL PRO
Hawaiian 21-year-old Jamie O'Brien has been awarded Rip Curl's Sponsor Wildcard entry into this year's US$270,000 Rip Curl Pro, running at Bells Beach from March 22 to April 1.
Aptly nicknamed 'Freakshow', O'Brien claimed the prized Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters title in December last year when he overcame the world's Top 45 surfers at Hawaii's Banzai Pipeline to win the final World Championship Tour (WCT) event of the season.
O'Brien is competing on the World Qualifying Series (WQS) this year in the hope of qualifying for the 2006 WCT.
"The WCT is where I want to be and this is another good chance for me to surf at that level against the best surfers," said O'Brien. "I'm looking forward to surfing Bells in the Rip Curl Pro – it's definitely an honour to get the Wildcard."
"Surfing the Trials can be really time consuming and it can be hard to get through," he continued. "When you're in the main event there's not as much pressure and you get to relax a little more, because no matter what you'll be surfing the first two rounds."
This Easter marks the 33rd consecutive year of Rip Curl Pro competition at Bells Beach and O'Brien is hoping it's also the start of a long relationship with the world-class right-hand reef break.
"Hopefully this event will be the start of what I'm thinking could be a good year," said O'Brien. "The wave at Bells is definitely a good wave when it's good. It's a real quality wave and I like rights and big walls – I'd love to score it really big there."
Winning the Pipeline Masters had been a childhood dream for O'Brien and when he suited up for the event as a Wildcard entrant there was no surfer in a competition vest more tuned into the heaving left-hander.
After winning his way through the early rounds, O'Brien charged past six-time World Champion Kelly Slater (Florida, USA) and Bruce Irons (Kauai, Haw) in the Semi-Finals to make his first WCT Final – a feat achieved in front of over 2.2 million surfing fans online at www.ripcurl.com around the world.
O'Brien, who lives less than a stone's throw away from Pipeline, proved to the world just how special his relationship is with the powerful reef break when he went on to defeat Irons and fellow Hawaiians Sunny Garcia and Kalani Robb in the four-man final.
The Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters trophy and the Rip Curl Pro trophy – 'the Bell' – are the most prestigious in the surfing world. While each and every one of the WCT surfers is hoping to get their name on the honour roll, Bells Beach has an interesting history of dishing up the odd upset or two over Easter.
In the past 33 years, the Rip Curl Pro has been won by four unseeded 'wildcard' surfers – the last of which was O'Brien's Rip Curl team mate Mick Fanning, who claimed a historic victory as a 19-year-old in 2001.
"It's epic to get a Wildcard at the Rip Curl Pro – it's a huge event and a big honour," said Fanning. "But Bells is also a really tricky spot and anything could happen. I think Jamie should do well, because he's a really good surfer and has got some big turns, which is what you need at Bells."
Both Fanning and O'Brien will be arriving in Victoria this weekend to be present at the official Rip Curl Pro Media Launch, taking place at Melbourne's Federation Square this Monday, March 21. The pair are among the favourites to win this year's Rip Curl Pro title and between them have won the last two WCT events.
The Rip Curl Pro is the second of 12 WCT events scheduled for 2005. There are 48 competitors in this year’s Rip Curl Pro; 45 are the world’s top ranked professionals, while three are Wildcard entrants. As well as O'Brien's Sponsor Wildcard, two more Wildcards will be decided in the 16-man Elastomax 2 Trials competition on Monday, March 21.