Monday June 23, 2003 (Niijima Island, Japan) Reigning world champion Andy Irons (Kauai, Haw) today won the Niijima Quiksilver Pro and extended his already commanding ratings lead. The US$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT) again relocated to ‘Secret Point’ with semifinals commencing at 5:45am (local time), and then climaxed with the grand finale soon after.
2-3 ft (0.6-1m) waves remained for the final day, with a slight onshore wind blowing. After the final concluded however, stronger winds and rain set in on Niijima Island.
Irons, who flew into Niijima with two WCT wins already this season including the previous Quiksilver Pro in Fiji, has now cemented his world title defense with a rock solid foundation. Three wins from five starts and virtually a thousand ratings points now separate him from nearest contenders.
Against world #2 Joel Parkinson (Gold Coast, Aus) in the Niijima Quiksilver Pro final, the Kauaian wasted no time racking up scores and a steady lead he maintained. Conditions deteriorated somewhat for the 30-minute decider, but the 24-year-old scavenged the lineup for superior waves and picked off a long lefthander and then a punchy right for his winning rides. The victory earning another US$30,000, and brings his total prizemoney for 2003 up to an even U$100,000.
"I can’t believe I’m in Japan and actually won," began Irons, surrounded by media onshore. "Especially against ‘Parko’ as he was surfing so good in the semis. It kind of brought my confidence down and I thought I had no chance at all. I just caught a bunch of little waves, but it ended up paying off. The little waves were actually scores as the big ones closed out. I’m really stoked right now.
"Oh my God," he added, at the fact he’s won three of this year’s five WCT’s. "There are still eight events left so we’re not even halfway through, but I’m definitely psyched (on the world title). I got it last year and already have three wins this year, so I’m just going for it all out. I’m going to get a whole bunch of new boards when I get home and start going to the gym and then head to J-Bay (next WCT in South Africa July 15-25) early and hopefully get a result there as well. I’ve never done well there either, but right now I’m just so stoked. It’s been an unbelievable year so far. 100K in five events, it’s amazing! So cool there’s such good money in surfing these days. It’s really an added incentive to try and do well."
Parkinson earlier posted the Niijima Quiksilver Pro’s highest total score of 18-points against good mate Mick Fanning in the semifinals, but evidently peaked too soon. While Irons continued his hungry attack, ‘Parko’ failed to find similar drive and never scored beyond a 4.43 in the final. Despite the same outcome as their WCT battle at Bells Beach Australia, in April, the 22-year-old still improved his current rating by locking in fourth position.
"I just couldn’t get in the rhythm with the waves," acknowledged Parkinson. "I guess a lot of focus went into my semi with Mick. We’ve had such a competitive rivalry since we were young. Now that we’re in the big league… that was the first (WCT) match up we’ve had, so a lot of my energy went into that. No excuse though, I should have been able to comeback in the final. I was looking for anything, but I got nothing. Andy’s the best surfer in the world and hands down he’s the hardest guy to beat.
"The ratings probably won’t change much up the top end, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the year keeps unfolding," he added. "J-Bay is my favorite event, so I’m hanging for that one."
Finishing equal third in the Niijima Quiksilver Pro were Australians Kieren Perrow (Byron Bay) and Mick Fanning (Gold Coast). Perrow, who proved a wave magnet throughout the event, started slowly against Irons and ultimately left his charge too late. Nonetheless, the ratings #3 earned his second consecutive semifinal berth and landed a couple of great aerial maneuvers for good measure.
"Falling on my first one probably got my mind thinking in the wrong direction," conceded Perrow. "I’m just stoked to make it this far and being against Andy is always really good for your competitive skills and your surfing. Halfway through I realized I needed to pull something out, but unfortunately it wasn’t enough at the end. These conditions aren’t really my forte, but I’m starting to enjoy surfing small waves a lot more. It’s just competition and anyone can win, so I’m looking forward to the next event."
Fanning – the 2002 ASP ‘Rookie of the Year’ and world #5 – appeared the real danger man throughout the Niijima Quiksilver Pro with his light-footed, super fast surfing. Against Parkinson in the day’s highest scoring heat, he opened with a commanding 8.33 ride and locked in two additional eight plus scores, but the judges favored the aerial maneuvers of his opponent, rewarding him an 8.93 and 9.07 to progress onwards.
"I knew it was going to be tough with Joel, as it always is," said Fanning. "He got the better waves and boosted some airs, and I didn’t. It’s been fun still. This is my first trip to Japan and I had a great time. It’s a pity the waves get really good, but hopefully next year. I’ll just have to take Joel out tonight in a fight (laughs)… nah, it’s good. I’m just wondering how many times I have to make the semis before I reach a final this year?"
Later at the awards ceremony, where finalists were presented their trophies made from Niijima Kohga stone, contest co-director Rod Brooks offered a few pertinent words of gratitude to the local people of Niijima Island.
"I’d just like to repeat out gratitude to the local surfers," said Brooks. "Particularly the guys who drove the 4-wheel drives up and down the beach all week. ‘Secret Point’ was the best break for the contest and we couldn’t have done it without all support of the local guys. We’d also like to thank all the competitors. I experienced a new level of professionalism and maturity from them here at this event and was really proud to see it."
Official Niijima Quiksilver Pro
1st Andy Irons (Haw) 13.4 – US$30,000
2nd Joel Parkinson (Aus) 8.7 – US$16,000
Semifinals (1st>Finals; 2nd=3rd, receives US$10,000)
SF1: Andy Irons (Haw) 13.83 def. Kieren Perrow (Aus) 11.84
SF2: Joel Parkinson (Aus) 18.0 def. Mick Fanning (Aus) 16.56
Current Ratings after Niijima Quiksilver Pro – WCT #5
1. Andy Irons (Haw) 4,800
2. Mick Fanning (Aus) 3,840
3. Kieren Perrow (Aus) 3,816
4. Joel Parkinson (Aus) 3,756
5. Cory Lopez (USA) 3,456
6. Kelly Slater (USA) 3,420
7. CJ Hobgood (USA) 3,408
8. Taj Burrow (Aus) 3,204
9. Dean Morrison (Aus) 3,120
10. Michael Lowe (Aus) 2,976