SURF: 6 to 8 feet, north/northwest, tricky to classic
EVENTS HELD: Round of 32 to the beautiful end
NATURE’S CALL: Erase all negative thoughts out of your head
PREDICTED: Another night of Aussie revelry and 6 a.m. wake-up calls for Slater and Irons Andy Irons experienced a strange few seconds at the conclusion of yesterday’s Rip Curl Cup. He had just scored a perfect 10, virtually erased Kelly Slater’s ratings lead and shifted this incredible title race back into a complete toss-up. But oddly enough, as he exited the water, he didn’t get the Kauai Boys chair. Hell, he didn’t even get any applause. Because 20 feet ahead of him, Australia’s most fired-up competitor, Jake “Snake” Paterson, was stealing all the glory. Andy sat there for a stoked-but-confused moment, bracing for a media onslaught, but when no one came, he shrugged, threw a shaka toward third-place finisher Shane Dorian, and hooted. “Woo! Yeah, Shane-O!”Of course, the congratulations, applause and media onslaught came in time. As well they should. In good, 6- to 8-foot Sunset (the best day in a month and a half), Andy Irons (almost) did exactly what he wanted to do to keep this world-title battle a surf fan’s wet dream. It all started during Round Three, Heat Four, when Kelly Slater’s Sunset thorn reared up and stuck him once again. Slater’s said all along that he thought (and secretly hoped) it’d come down to Pipeline. He even chose to warm up there for yesterday’s pre-contest dawn patrol, which shows you where his head might have been. But when he sat in the competitor’s area after a heat that wouldn’t give him anything more than a 4.0, Slates made it clear: losing sucks no matter what you predict. “I got stuck,” he said. “Stuck in the middle. Guys were paddling up past me and it drew me out beyond the Bowl.” As he finished his analysis, Andy Irons, now a re-energized monster, pulled under a huge slab on the Inside. “He’s coming out,” said Slater, without emotion. Andy flew out with the spit, pumped his fist toward the beach (maybe toward Slater?), and puffed his chest at the channel. “That was sick,” he added.

That wasn’t Irons’ only fist-pump of the day. Seeing the opportunity to gain huge ground, the current world champ got serious, approaching each heat with a finals-like intensity. “One down, three to go,” he said after his third-round stomp. “It’s on.”And he was on. In the quarters, he ensured a solid second behind momentarily charmed surfer, Dean Morrison. In the semis, he out tube-dueled Taj Burrow for another win. Going into the final, he faced the following scenario: get third or fourth, and still have a couple hundred points to make up. Get second, and erase Slater’s lead to a mere 96 points. But win the thing, the real dagger, and he’d go ahead by 72 points.Everyone showed up to see Andy stick it back in his favor. Kai Garcia and the rest of the Wolf Pack had an army of big trucks with prime parking spots; nervous-but-proud Mom and Dad sat in the same area; girlfriend Lindsay kept watch from their {{{SUV}}}. And Andy, only leaving his car for his heats and the rare bathroom break, came darting out in yellow, head down and ready to finish it. As announcer Beau Hodges said, “Everyone on the beach is cheering for Andy Irons. . .except maybe Kelly Slater.”But there was another camp making serious noise, growing by the dozen in the competitor’s area. Not only had Taj Burrow broken his Sunset jinx and made the final, but Jake Paterson, always a key cheerleader down to the last Aussie, was the precision surfer of the event. The ’98 Pipe Master loved to sneak up and strike when the attention was elsewhere, and you could see him coiling from his very first heat of the day, when he took out Slater. On a Glen Pang, 7’3” baby swallow, he chucked out hack after dramatic hack on just about every bumpy, jumbly wall in his path. He was the only competitor consistently racking up eights and nines just for his turns, and the only competitor who, after surfing three grueling heats, was jumping up and down with excitement before the final. “I took it easy yesterday, so I’m ready for more,” he said with a reptilian grin.

Snake also had something else under his skin: the walkie-talkie system. Along with dominating his heats, he’d caddied a number of others during the day, relaying scores with his boys on the beach, trying to get mates like Luke Hitchings through to the next round. It’s a huge advantage when the other competitors have no idea what’s going on in a heat (especially when Snake refuses to give up scores to other caddies), but in the case of an on-the-qualifying-bubble Hitcho, it didn’t help. “Man down! Man down!” he yelled to ground control, lamenting the loss of another Aussie ‘CT solider.The mourning was a distant memory by the time the final came around. After all, it was his turn to reap the benefits of the “enlightened caddy” system. The ideal north/northwest swell at Sunset had been fluctuating from 8 feet and wide open to 6 feet and elusive all day, but luckily, it saved the best for last. The final initially looked liked it’d be a standoff between Paterson, whose under-the-lip gouge earned a 7.83, and Dorian, whose big, high-line tube racked up an 8.67. Paterson struck again with the three biggest hacks of the day for a 9.0, but that woke Andy out of his early-heat hibernation. First: a quick tube to closeout for a 6.0. Next: a long, casual streak through an Inside foamy: 7.1.Around mid-heat was when it really got good, good enough to call it one of the best finals ever surfed at Sunset Beach. During a big, chaotic set, Irons pulled in way deep, drove through the tube across the upper Bowl section, exited with a huge, full-rail gouge, then tucked back in for another tube. The score: perfect 10.Game over? Not even close. As Andy double-arm claimed his wave, Paterson was out the back, motoring out more of those vicious baby-swallow hacks. Three more on this wave came to an 8.{{{57}}}, which left Andy still needing another high seven to beat him.As the ocean went flat, so did the vibe in the parking lot. The Aussie glee club in the competitor’s area, on the other hand, rattled with the word “Snake” on their lips. When the final countdown sounded without another exchange, Paterson came sprint-paddling in, throwing thumbs-ups, mock-barreling himself with his arm, backflipping in the shorebreak. Fellow countrymen Luke Egan and Richie Lovett quickly chaired him up the soft-sand beach toward the stage as Paterson screamed at the top of his lungs, “This is the best feeling in the world! Wooooooo!”He meant every decibel.Meanwhile, as all eyes were on Snake, Irons quietly staggered up the beach, feeling a strange mix of exhaustion and energy, elation and disappointment. As he quickly figured out, there’s no point in paying attention to him until it’s all settled at Pipeline. “Slater’s always done well under pressure,” he later said. “But we’ll see how he does this year. Things happen.” — Evan Slater

Rip Curl Cup Final Results
1st Jake Paterson (Aus) 17.64 – US$30,000
2nd Andy Irons (Haw) 17.17 – US$16,000
3rd Shane Dorian (Haw) 14.3 – US$11,000
4th Taj Burrow (Aus) 7.6 – US$9,000
Semifinals (1st, 2nd>Final; =5th receives US$8,500; =7th receives US$7,500)
SF1: Shane Dorian (Haw) 13.23; Jake Paterson (Aus) 11.87; Chris Davidson (Aus) 11.67; Luke Stedman (Aus) 8.57
SF2: Andy Irons (Haw) 15.9; Taj Burrow (Aus) 13.1; Cory Lopez (USA) 11.43; Dean Morrison (Aus) 7.5
Quarterfinals (1st, 2nd>Semifinal; =9th receives US$5,500; =13th receives US$4,500)
QF1: Shane Dorian (Haw) 9.73; Luke Stedman (Aus) 8.67; Damien Hobgood (USA) 6.67; Guilherme Herdy (Brz) 4.54
QF2: Jake Paterson (Aus) 15.5; Chris Davidson (Aus) 13.3; Michael Lowe (Aus) 8.77; Kalani Robb (Haw) 5.93
QF3: Dean Morrison (Aus) 17.17; Andy Irons (Haw) 15.76; Richard Lovett (Aus) 5.4; Michael Campbell (Aus) 3.97
QF4: Cory Lopez (USA) 10.73; Taj Burrow (Aus) 9.5; Mark Occhilupo (Aus) 9.06; Darren O’Rafferty (Aus) 7.8
Round Three (1st, 2nd>Rnd4; 3rd, 4th=17th receive US$4,000)
{{{H1}}}: Guilherme Herdy (Brz) 10.26; Luke Stedman (Aus) 7.33; Joel Parkinson (Aus) 6.36; Daniel Wills (Aus) 4.36
{{{H2}}}: Shane Dorian (Haw) 11.77; Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.16; Mick Fanning (Aus) 3.76; Peterson Rosa (Brz) 3.76
{{{H3}}}: Michael Lowe (Aus) 14.5; Chris Davidson (Aus) 7.43; Flavio Padaratz (Brz) 6.8; Luke Egan (Aus) 6.07
H4: Jake Paterson (Aus) 14.66; Kalani Robb (Haw) 10.63; Kelly Slater (USA) 7.47; Manoa Drollet (Tah) 3.17
H5: Andy Irons (Haw) 17.57; Richard Lovett (Aus) 10.33; Trent Munro (Aus) 8.67; Love Hodel (Haw) 5.23
H6: Michael Campbell (Aus) 8.9; Dean Morrison (Aus) 7.83; Taylor Knox (USA) 7.8; Luke Hitchings (Aus) 3.93
H7: Mark Occhilupo (Aus) 12.83; Taj Burrow (Aus) 11.03; Joel Centeio (Haw) 9.84; Phil MacDonald (Aus) 9.1
H8: Cory Lopez (USA) 14,16; Darren O’Rafferty (Aus) 12.0; Neco Padaratz (Brz) 10.33; Kieren Perrow (Aus) 5.53
Official ASP Top 10 Ratings after Rip Curl Cup, WCT#11/12
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 8,340-points
2. Andy Irons (Haw) 8,244
3. Taj Burrow (Aus) 7,344
4. Mick Fanning (Aus) 7,080
5. Kieren Perrow (Aus) 6,480
6. Joel Parkinson (Aus) 6,420
7. Taylor Knox (USA) 6,000
8. Michael Lowe (Aus) 5,820
9. Jake Paterson (Aus) 5,772
10. Dean Morrison (Aus) 5,718