TURNING POINT: Final Day of the Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters

HEATS RUN: Round Three to the Big Show
CONDITIONS: Suddenly, unexpectedly, EPIC (8-foot, too)
NATURE'S CALL: I've been waiting for you
PREDICTIONS: Excessive and deserved belligerence

There was a moment there, with just ten minutes left in a Rip Curl Pipe Masters final already etching itself into the history books, that everything -- perhaps the whole dynamic of the ASP tour itself -- changed course. Andy Irons, paddling back out from a pretty solid 8-point Backdoor ride, sees Kelly drop into another unbelievably perfect one. Way better than his. And he just knows he's comboed. He's beat. The epic rematch showdown three years in the making had finally turned against him.

AI punched his board. He cursed the sky. He f--king freaked. And then he stopped.

And that's just the thing. That's what was different this time. Just yesterday AI was telling SURFING that he'd reached a turning point; that he was finally developing the ability to talk himself back down when the situation in the water had taken a turn against him. The old AI would crumble in frustration -- which he almost did earlier in the heat, splashing the water and yelling at no one in particular. But he stopped. He composed himself. And he focused on the sets coming in.

And the sets, they came.

The left was insane. Something you'll see in every mag and website in months to come. Shoulda been a 10, but the 9.87 was enough to put Andy back in the game.

Oh my God. The Game. This ridiculous Game. Andy Irons vs. Kelly Slater. Their first time meeting all year, and suddenly Pipeline is going absolutely Richter. We should probably tell you that the day started off rainy and grim, with a fading swell and the WCT hopes of longtime standouts Nathan Hedge, Jake Paterson and Peterson Rosa falling by the wayside. Done. Gone. Bye. We should tell you that Jamie O'Brien was going switchstance, sidestance and doing things at Pipe that just plain shouldn't be done. That Chris Ward saved his career with a few amazing heats. That Rob Machado and Cory Lopez were in the final that was positively packed with history greatness... but Oh my God. Suddenly Pipe is soooo pumping, who cares about anything else that happened. As if the wave itself somehow knew how important this heat was in the larger scheme of things. Rob and Cory were surfing insane, but with ten minutes left, with nothing but 9s to their names, it was just Andy and Kelly going at it again. Just like old times.

With this last wave, the two champs were neck and neck. The crowd was lining the shore cheering. Hundreds of people. Pushing. Screaming. Choosing sides. The sets stack up again. More perfect waves than we've seen all day, just pouring in. Andy's moving into position while Kelly is paddling back out. Slater spins and suddenly the two are side by side, battling for position. Slater's had one (almost two) interference calls this contest already. And at the last possible second he pulls back. He later stated that he wasn't really interested in the wave anyway. He was just checking it. It was Andy's wave.

And indeed it was.

The Backdoor waves had been the high scorers throughout the contest. Maybe it's the angle of the judge's tower. Maybe it's the skill of the regularfooters. Maybe it's the angle of the swell. But whatever it was, AI stayed in there long and deep. Long enough that many an AI fan almost lost hope. That Slater fans almost stopped holding their breaths. But, of course, Andy came out. Raised two fists with a backwards glance to the judge's tower, as if to say: "You damn well know that's a ten."

They knew it.

Perfect 10.

In just two waves, AI had gone from a combo situation to a near perfect two-wave score of 19.87.

And that was it. Couple more waves maybe...continued Pipe insanity. Rob even said later, "Yeah, that was fun out there -- fun watching those two go at it."

The buzzer rang out and Andy stood on his board and double-fist claimed his victory to the sky. Bruce and Borg hoisted him up the beach, while nearly a thousand spectators trailed him across the sand. But you could tell he just couldn't wait to climb the railing at the Volcom house in front of all the boys and soak himself in the sparkling champagne of revenge. Sweet victory. A win at Haleiwa. A finals berth at Sunset. And another win at Pipe. Whatever had transpired throughout this year on tour, Andy had clearly proven himself on his home court. His fourth {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown and fourth Rip Curl Pipe Masters title in five years. Yeah. AI owns it.

And the look on Kelly's face, something behind the smile and the "best man won" and "just glad to put on a good show" sound-bites he dropped for the camera, was enough to make you wonder if he wouldn't have traded this year's world title to win this one heat against Andy.

And even though he said he has no idea whether he'll be returning to the tour or not next year, we all know what a fierce competitor Slater is. He'll be back. You just watch. And then, who knows what will happen. Someone murmured today that Quik had offered him $10 million if he wins ten titles, but that sounds like a crazy rumor to us. And this year's already crowding around at the Volcom getting all weird and wasted. This year's already changing their plane tickets home and thinking about Christmas. This year... this year is finally over.

Kelly won the title. But Andy won the heat.

And what happens next, right now, hardly even matters.

Rip Curl Pro Pipeline Masters
1st: Andy Irons $30,0000
2nd: Kelly Slater $16,000
3rd: Cory Lopez $10,500
4th: Rob Machado $9,0000

Vans Triple Crown
1st: Andy Irons $10,000
2nd: Mick Fanning
3rd: Taj Burrow