Andy Irons Wins The 2005 Japan Quiksilver Pro

Best Final Ever?

SURF: 6 foot offshore barrels at {{{Malibu}}} Reef
EVENTS HELD: Mens Round 4 to Finals
NATURE'S CALL: Batten down the hatches. The storm that gave us all the surf is coming straight for us.
PREDICTED: More Andy/Kelly domination/showdowns in 2005

It had to happen. After years of missing each other in heats like ships passing in the night, Andy Irons and Kelly Slater have just faced off in the finals of the last two events. Oh, has it been worth the wait. 48 surfers entered the Quiksilver Japan Pro, but all eyes were only on two. And Kelly and Andy didn't disappoint.

All the elements came together for today's showdown: surf, stakes and performances. First the surf: Super Typhoon Nabi inched closer to the Japanese coastline sending ruler-edged six foot lines to Malibu Reef brushed by a gentle offshore breeze. Second, the stakes: with Kelly Slater threatening to pull away from the pack en route to his long awaited 7th world title, someone in Japan had to stop him. From the start of the event, only AI seemed up to the task. Finally, the performances: here's a stat for the record books, Kelly and Andy posted 9 of the 10 of the highest scores of the day. To put it bluntly: no one else even came close.

Their roads to the showdown were different. Andy arrived at the event late and seemed out of sorts until yesterday, when he took a liking to the Japanese Malibu and had a cruisy win over Dane Reynolds. After that he crushed all who came up against him until the final. Kelly, on the other hand, initially didn't look up to the task at hand. He didn't even want to paddle out this morning after having a look at wash-through conditions and asked the judges and contest organizers to delay the start of the round for a higher tide later in the day. They declined, wanting to make sure the contest was finished before the Typhoon pushed ashore, which is scheduled to happen tomorrow.

Kelly fell behind Occy early in their Round 4 heat before finding a double up wedge that he absolutely caned for an 8.8 and an easy win. His quarterfinal, though, was a different matter. He again fell behind to Phil MacDonald and needed a 7.5 with only 4 minutes remaining. Then he found his wave. He took off, dug a rail on the first turn, squared off the bottom and threw the tail out for on an incredibly powerful off the lip reverse, then tried to overdo a floater on the inside and fell. The score, 8.0. Afterwards, Kelly even admitted he was surprised by getting a high score for only completing one real turn, but he wasn't about to question it.

The semis were a clear indication of what was to come. In #1, Kelly paddled out on his 6-1 Simon Anderson pintail (the same board he used at J-Bay) got barrel after barrel and posted a 19.54 — the highest heat score of the event and had Toby Martin combo-ed in minutes. Then in #2, Andy paddled out against Tom Whitaker and did the same thing making the Malibu Reef look like a perfect day at Off the Wall.

Then the final.

Despite having surfed three previous heats each, both guys got off to a quick start. So quick that the score was 15.6 to 15.17 with 23 minutes remaining. When they go head to head, it's easy to see how evenly matched they are. They find the barrel seemingly at will, throw giant, stylish carves in the most critical part of the hook and know how to punctuate a ride with a giant tailslide or air. Despite the driving rain the entire beach was buzzing and emails were pouring in from around the world from fans glued to their computers. The key moment happened at the 11 minute mark when Andy, needing an 8.6, grabbed priority and held it. For seven long minutes he waited for his wave, showing the patience and poise you expect from a three-time world champ even as great waves peeled off all around him. As Andy said, "I was a bit stressed, but I knew I had that one good score locked away and all I needed to do was back it up."

Finally, with four minutes left, the biggest wave of the day lined up across the reef. Andy took off deep, so deep in fact that the wave looked like a closeout. But he drove across it and then flew up into the longest and heaviest tube of the day. He came out, slammed a turn in the lip and claimed it all the way to the beach. The judges scored him a well-deserved 9.93 and it gave Andy another win in a Quiksilver event. (Interestingly, Kelly hasn't won a Quiksilver event since France in 1996 while Andy's taken out 4 of them in the last two years. Kelly, meanwhile has won 4 Billabong events in the same period of time. Kellys comment, "It's like we're both sponsored by both companies."

After it was over, Kelly downplayed the overall significance of Andy's win, saying, "It may have been one wave in one heat but by him winning he gained 178 points on me. If I'd won, I would have moved ahead about the same."

Later on, after the fans and crew had drifted away from the beach, Taj Burrow wrote emails in the office of the event at Hebara Beach and reflected on what he had seen. He knew what happened was more than just about ratings points or world titles — it was about the magic that can happen when everything comes together. "Kelly was surfing better than I had ever seen anyone surf, but that wave Andy got — he deserved to win," he said. "It was the best final I've ever seen."

Andy Irons def. Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater def. Toby Martin
Andy Irons def. Tom Whitaker

Toby Martin def. Mick Fanning
Kelly SLater def. Phil MacDonald
Andy Irons def. Troy Brooks
Tom Whitaker def. Taj BurrowASP Top 20 after the Quiksilver Pro Japan
Event # 7 of 11

1 – Kelly Slater – 6374 points
2 – Andy Irons – 5796
3 – Mick Fanning – 4962
4 – Trent Munro – 4886
5 – Phil MacDonald – 4331
6 – Taj Burrow – 4170
7 – Cory Lopez – 3985
8 – Joel Parkinson – 3957
9 – {{{CJ}}} Hobgood – 3956
10 – Bruce Irons – 3911
11 – Dean Morrison – 3899
=12 – Nathan Hedge & Fred Patacchia – 3853
14 – Tom Whitaker – 3807
15 – Danny Wills – 3658
16 – Damien Hobgood – 3634
17 – Darren O’Rafferty – 3329
18 – Luke Egan – 3260
19 – Taylor Knox – 3250
=20 – Troy Brooks & Travis Logie – 3202