Sunday, December 19, 2004 (Pipeline, Hawaii) Local wildcard Jamie O'Brien today schooled an all-Hawaiian final to win the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters. This year's ultimate Foster's ASP World Championship Tournament (WCT) commenced with a Foster's Expression Session, followed by quarterfinals onwards until the US$260,000 event climaxed.
Perfect 6ft (2m) waves highlighted the dramatic day. Following massive surf this past week, conditions cleaned up with ideal Pipeline lefts and Backdoor rights on offer.
O'Brien took a stranglehold of the 45-minute decider from the outset, picking off his best two rides before anyone else even collected a score. Having grown up with Pipeline literally behind his house, this intimate knowledge of the break was never more evident than today. The 21-year-old constantly positioned himself further inside, dropped down late into waves and emerged from the deepest barrels with precise timing and skill. He opened with a 7.17 score, bettered this next ride for an 8.0, and then got the huge beach crowd screaming as he survived an extremely critical drop/tube to post a near-perfect 9.97. His two-wave tally of 17.97-points left all opponents 'comboed', and even with more than two thirds of the clash remaining, none got close.
A Pipeline finalist in 2001, O'Brien only just recovered from a knee injury that kept him out of the water last month. Todays win banked US$30,000, but more importantly, one of surfing's most prized titles – 'Pipeline Master'.
"This is amazing," began O'Brien, after being carried up the beach. "I can't believe my dream came true. I'm so happy I achieved it at 21. Thanks so much to Rip Curl, all my friends, and the guys in the final.
"I was under pressure, so I just sat deep," he explained, of his positioning. "I figured those guys were trying to go rights, so I held position for the lefts and somehow they came through. That 9.97 was incredible. I couldn't believe I made it, and felt chills going through my body. The last 30-minutes I was stressing (laughs). Ever since I was a little kid I've been looking at all those past champions, the Pipe legends... I'm just so stoked to have my name up there with them. This is the best feeling."
2000 world champion Sunny Garcia created history by winning a record sixth Van's Triple Crown of Surfing title, as well as his fifth runner-up finish at Pipeline. The 34-year-old commenced today on fire, posting a near-perfect 9.5 to reach the semifinals and take control of Triple Crown. He carried the momentum forward, placing second in the event to seal his title and earn a bonus US$10,000, plus a Ford Ranger Truck.
"I'm about to tear-up right now," began Garcia on stage. "I had to sit out for an entire year after having knee-surgery, and watching the Triple Crown last year was hard. My main goal coming back this year was to be ready for it again, so to win is incredible. I've always said Hawaiians are the best surfers in the world, and I think we showed that today.
"Yeah, runner-up for the fifth time," he added, of the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters result. "One of these days I'm going to win it, but if I don't I'm still happy. I've accomplished everything I wanted to do in surfing. I'm thinking about retiring the year after next, so everything is just a bonus for me now and I'm going to enjoy it."
Kalani Robb reached his first Pipeline Masters final and secured third. The only goofy footer in the decider, he was a standout all day with his forehand barrel rides at Pipe. Requiring a strong finish in Hawaii to ensure his re-qualification for 2005, he did that and more, jumping to 15th overall for the season.
"I'm really happy as I've always felt I should make Pipeline finals," admitted Robb. "I wish there would have been more waves, but you have to hand it to Jamie. On a day like this I really feel someone gets a spiritual push. There was that many good guys, but he stood out and got the waves. Maybe it comes down to good karma or something (laughs)."
2001 Pipeline Master Bruce Irons finished fourth. Despite having won the Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational earlier this week, pressure still surrounded his campaign today. Rated 30th leading into the event, he required at least a fifth placing to ensure his re-qualification for the 2005 WCT season. The Kauaian responded like a champion though, posting his second 10-point ride of the tournament in the quarterfinals, then a 9.5 to reach the final and ultimate goal.
"I had butterflies all week," acknowledged Irons. "Every heat I drew was the hardest of my life. The people I surfed against were the gnarliest guys. I was just so stoked to make the final and re-qualify, but it was Jamie's day today."
Eliminated in the semifinals today were Brazilian Paulo Moura, California's Tim Curran, and Floridians Cory Lopez and six-time world champion Kelly Slater.
Moura carried his nation's hopes furthest in the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters, displaying polished tube-riding skills throughout. Despite losing to Robb and Garcia, he earned his best result of the season with an equal fifth.
"I'm really happy to do well at Pipe," said Moura. "It's one of my favorite waves in the world, and it's so hard to surf against Sunny, Kalani, Kelly, Bruce and those guys. It's a great finish to the year for me."
Curran scored the day's first perfect 10; "I always dreamed about getting a perfect 10 at Pipeline, ever since watching Joey Buran win the event (1984)," said Curran. "Just to be in this event and surf against these guys is epic."
Slater, a five-time Pipeline Master, collected two perfect 10's en-route to the semis, but required a 7.58 score to move out of fourth position when it counted most. His second 10-point ride came this morning, though almost cost him an interference call as Rip Curl wildcard Pancho Sullivan had inside position and took off. Fortunately for Slater, the Hawaiian jumped off immediately and judges decided his scoring potential was not hindered.
1999 world champion Mark Occhilupo (AUS) was another quarterfinalist this morning, and while this seems normal in itself, the fact he won the Pipeline Masters a staggering 20-years ago further illustrates his incredible talent and longevity. He finished the year in 12th spot.
The Foster's Expression Session showcased a handful of local Pipeline specialists today, with US$3,000 up for grabs in the best barrel category. Mark Healy took out first prize and US$1,500, while Rocky Cannon placed runner-up, ahead of Liam McNamara and Aamion Goodwin, respectively.
"I'm stoked and want to thank Foster's for letting us all in it," said Healy. "I can always use an extra 1,500 bucks and some beer."
Rip Curl's Neil Ridgway adding, "I'd like to thank Foster's for their sponsorship of the World Championship Tour (WCT). Without them the TV coverage would not be possible, and they're great supporters of professional surfing."
The 34th annual Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters is part of the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Competition was webcast LIVE on www.ripcurl.com, www.aspworldtour.com and www.triplecrownofsurfing.com.
The Vans Triple Crown of Surfing is made possible through the support of a partnership of the world’s leading brands and media companies including: Ford Trucks, G-Shock, O’Neill, Rip Curl, Surfing Magazine, Surfline, Oahu’s Turtle Bay Resort, The Honolulu Advertiser and Fox Sports Net.
Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters
1st Jamie O'Brien (HAW) 17.97 - US$30,000
2nd Sunny Garcia (HAW) 13.64 - US$16,000
3rd Kalani Robb (HAW) 11.33 - US$11,000
4th Bruce Irons (HAW) 10.37 - US$9,000
Semifinals (1st, 2nd>Final; 3rd=5th receives US$8,500; 4th=7th receives US$7,500)
SF1: Kalani Robb (HAW) 17.6; Sunny Garcia (HAW) 15.13; Paulo Moura (BRA) 14.0; Tim Curran (USA) 11.4
SF2: Bruce Irons (USA) 18.0; Jamie O’Brien (HAW) 15.57; Cory Lopez (USA) 13.24; Kelly Slater (USA) 13.17
Quarterfinals (1st, 2nd>Semifinals; 3rd=9th receives US$5,500; 4th=13th receives US$4,500)
QF1: Sunny Garcia (HAW) 18.33; Paulo Moura (BRA) 15.23; Toby Martin (AUS) 12.8; Luke Egan (AUS) 5.17
QF2: 14.17; Dean Morrison (AUS) 13.74; Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 2.03
QF3: Bruce Irons (USA) 18.83; Kelly Slater (USA) 17.07; Pancho Sullivan (HAW) 10.17; Phil MacDonald (AUS) 2.07
QF4: Jamie O’Brien (HAW) 14.33; Cory Lopez (USA) 12.5; Shane Beschen (USA) 1.0; C.J. Hobgood (USA) 0.0