Andy Irons coasts to victory in Huntington
Bank of The West Beach Games Sets Attendance Record As More Than {{{100}}},000 Spectators Watch Hank Gaskell Capture The Lost Pro Junior Title

Two former {{{Honda}}} U.S. Open of Surfing champions: one a three-time reigning world champion, the other a crowd favorite nearing the end of a brilliant career battling in a 30 minute man-on-man final. The duo share more than 40 World Championship Tour (WCT) and World Qualifying Series (WQS) titles between them. The final script for the $185,000 Honda U.S. Open of Surfing Presented by O'Neill couldn't have been written any better for the 100,000-plus spectators on hand as Hawaii's Andy Irons held off a last second, dramatic charge by Cardiff's Rob Machado to win the world's largest professional surfing competition.

Machado, a winner here in 1995 and 2001, looked light on his feet and opened quickly with a 5.33. The former U.S. champion hadn't lost a heat since the round of 96 – six straight wins – whether it was four-man, three-man or two-man. Undaunted, Irons answered back with a 4.00, gouging a turn in the face of a water photographer and throwing spray into the air. Nearly ten minutes passed before the two again would exchange waves.

Machado then made an uncharacteristic error, taking off on a wave with Irons holding priority, and although he cut through the foamy water with precision and speed, he netted a wave score of zero, while Irons, on the same wave, scored a 5.10. The tide seemed to turn at that point as Irons, the reigning world champ, followed with consecutive six-point waves, clearly making better positioning and wave selection decisions.

But Machado had delivered miracles while in this same position before, and the crowd, sensing something spectacular was unfolding before their eyes, stood in tense anticipation. With less than 30 seconds remaining and needing a 7.77 to overtake Irons, Machado found the wave that had eluded him thus far. He launched into one of the day's better waves and milked it for all it was worth: off-the-top, cutback, floater into the inside and closing with an upside down aerial maneuver in the shore break.

The venue waited with baited breath for the computer to kick out the scores. It was close, but not good enough as the judges awarded Machado a 7.33 giving him a final tally of 12.66 points versus Irons' 13.10. Irons received a check for $15,000 while Machado walked away with $7,500. The victory for Irons was his second at the U.S. Open, the other coming in 1998.

"I tried to be patient and selective," said an elated Irons. "But when I heard the crowd go wild on Rob's last wave, I thought 'here we go again' since I've lost a few competitions this year in the last few seconds. It was amazing to look back in from the water and see all the people cheering. It's an awesome compliment."

So close, but so far. Thrice a bridesmaid heading into the Lost Pro Junior, Dustin Cuizon (Hawaii) could nearly taste victory, but was denied the victory podium once again. Although he was leading throughout the 25-minute final, Hank Gaskell (Hawaii) snatched victory with a stunning last second, upside down, fins out of the water maneuver that defied gravity and impressed the judges.

The $10,000 Lost Pro Junior started with 120 of the world's finest age 20 and under surfers battling for a $2,500 first place prize and critical points toward the ASP's world junior championship in Australia. Following a week of waiting, it all came down to the two Hawaiians. Cuison, a runner-up at each of the past two Lost Pro Juniors, opened strong with a 6.67. Following three mediocre waves, he landed a 7.33 to move into a comfortable lead. Sensing victory at this point, "Bustin Dustin" then launched into big air reverse that had the crowd screaming.

Runner-Up Rob Machado
But Cuizon would have to settle once again for the second place trophy as Gaskell finished just ahead of him with 14.{{{80}}} points to 14.00. "I was getting really nervous, hoping another wave would come," said Gaskell. "I got really lucky. Dustin is a really good competitor."

The day's first 25 minute semi-final pitted France's Michael Picon against Irons. Picon opened quickly, catching three waves before Irons finally posted a score. But Irons made up for a lack of quantity with quality, scoring a 6.0 on his second wave. With conditions rapidly deteriorating toward the heat's end, the result was never really in doubt. With 30 seconds remaining, the Frenchman made a valiant effort to score one last ride, but the Picon interfered with Irons and the champ moved on.

Semi-final heat number two featured a regular footer (Adriano de Souza), who had been ripping leading into the semi's, against a goofy footer (Machado), both positioned on the southern end of the competition area. In contrast to the prior heat, there was a flurry of waves with each surfer exchanging two waves. Just minutes in the battle, the surfers were separated by one tenth of a point, 12.93 (Machado) to 12.83 (de Souza). The action continued throughout the heat, one action-packed wave following another, both competitors neck and neck.

The tide turned for Machado when he took off on the best wave of the heat. He nailed maneuver after maneuver en route to the shore. Inexplicably, de Souza, a former world junior champion who just turned 18, took off on the same wave, when Machado held priority. Although he unleashed an explosive volley of vertical moves, the score was nullified. The wind seemed to dissipate from de Souza's sails and Machado went on to win the heat, 16.{{{57}}} points to 13.67.

Today's conditions were inconsistent, with a combination of swells producing two to three foot waves. The final was held in semi-bumpy, but very contestable two-three foot waves.