Uncle Eddie Rothman, founding father of Da Hui, perched himself at the edge of the beach path in between the Volcom houses, watching unridden twenty-foot waves race down the reef at Pipeline. As people walked by they greeted him with handshakes, kisses and small talk about the surf, but Rothman never took his eyes off the ocean for long. "Jamie O'Brien is going to take it," he prophesized under his breathe.
Jamie had just paddled out for his second round heat of the sixth annual Da Hui Backdoor Shootout and he was already living up to his Pipeline charger moniker. In his first round heat he awed the crowd and judges by pulling into a massive barrel and coming out switch stance no less. But that was just a warm up for what was to come.
"Beautiful set approaching out the back," called Liam McNamara, announcer and Pipeline specialist, "someone's going to get a 10-point ride on this one." And like a psychic reading a mottled deck of tarot cards, Jamie O'Brien dropped into a heaving, perfect 12-foot left, disappeared behind the green curtain and got spit out way down at Gums. This isn't your ordinary contest. Jamie's wave scored 10.25 and it went down in history as the heaviest barrel of the year…so far.
For being an annual contest, The Backdoor Shootout hasn't run since Pancho Sullivan took the prestigious title in 2004. Da Hui has either been denied a city permit or faced a lack of decent swell during the holding period.
This was not the case for 2008 as Wednesday, Jan. 9, was the highlight of a lackluster winter on the North Shore. Winds remained light and variable all day as west swell built throughout the morning, delivering 20-foot bombs square onto the reef at Pipeline by midday. The Backdoor Shootout turned into the Pipeline Shootout as the rights shut down and Pipe turned on and surfers had to dust off their guns.
"Having the right board is really important," said Tahitian Manoa Drollet, who is no stranger to some of the heaviest lefts in the world. "It's big and there's a lot of power. I have a sick 7'6" Tokoro and I felt quite comfortable out there." His humble demeanor downplaying the fact that he had just packed two huge barrels in his round two heat, pulling into a glory closeout on one and sneaking out of the other before the wave shut down over the inside sandbar.
The format of the Shootout is a non-elimination, four round event with four man heats, no contest jerseys and only a competitor's best three waves scored. The relaxed feel of the contest promotes expression, a focus on quality, total commitment and hordes of photographers picking off their next cover shot. The $50,000 winner-take-all prize purse offers some motivation as well.
After two rounds of competition, Jamie O'Brien led the pack in overall points, followed by Nathan Fletcher, Kalani Chapman, Mark Healy and Bruce Irons. But with all the heavy hitters doing what their supposed to do, it was 17-year-old Tyler Newton from Kaua'i that turned some heads and earned himself a healthy dose of North Shore respect. The young regular footer put on a virtual clinic in backside barrel riding, tucking into a few solid 10-footers and holding his line.
"I don't have that much experience at Pipe and this is the biggest I've ever surfed out here," said Newton. "I just went for it, dropped to the bottom, saw the lip come over, grabbed my rail and parked it. It was unbelievable."