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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, December 17, 2001

17 Hawai'i surfers advance at Lopez Pipeline Masters

Braden Dias of Kaua'i was one of 17 surfers from Hawai'i advancing through yesterday's first round of the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters.

Bernie Baker photo

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

There were no real upsets on the first day of the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters yesterday.

But that's because there are no real favorites in this year's exclusive field.

"You look at the heat sheet, and every guy is a radical (Pipeline) surfer," said Kaua'i's Andy Irons. "It's an honor just to be in it."

After eight consecutive days of insufficient surf conditions, the first round of the prestigious contest was held yesterday in 6- to 10-foot waves at the famous Banzai Pipeline. The final day of competition will be held today.

"Everybody had to kind of just jump back in it," said defending champion Rob Machado of California. "There haven't been any waves out here for a week, so there was no time for practice or anything."

Not that they needed it.

This year's Pipeline Masters changed to an invitation-only format. In past years, the contest was part of surfing's World Championship Tour, and was thus restricted to the competitors on the world tour.

Only the most-respected and proven Pipeline surfers were invited to compete this year.

"It's a plus for everybody," said Wai'anae's Sunny Garcia, who advanced through his first-round heat. "You're not going to see any guys who are afraid or who don't know how to surf Pipe. Every guy out here is capable of winning."

What's more, the waves were fast and furious yesterday, leading to both spectacular barrel rides and terrifying wipeouts.

Irons was the day's top performer, recording a three-wave total of 22.9 (out of 30).

"Everybody's going hard, charging," he said. "I was just trying to keep up."

He was one of 17 surfers from Hawai'i advancing yesterday. Only 32 competitors are still in contention for the $30,000 top prize.

Also among the standouts yesterday was a group of Hawai'i surfers invited to the contest as "youth specialists."

Mark Healey, Jamie O'Brien, Jamie Sterling, Rocky Canon, Bruce Irons, Danny Fuller, Fred Patacchia Jr. and Jonah Morgan — all under the age of 22 — all advanced yesterday.

"There's not going to be a single easy heat in this whole contest," said Healey, 20. "So you might as well go out and give it all you got."

Sterling, 20, got into the contest as a last-minute replacement for California's Nathan Fletcher, who did not show up for his heat.

"This is like a dream come true for me," Sterling said. "A lot of these guys I'm surfing against are my heroes."

Perhaps typifying the group, Patacchia said he prepared for the contest by "playing a lot of Xbox surf (video game)."

Among the veterans advancing were Machado and fellow former Pipeline Masters champions Tom Carroll, John Gomes, Jake Paterson and Kelly Slater.

Slater, a six-time former world champion from Florida, is seeking an unprecedented sixth Pipeline Masters title.

"This is my favorite event in the whole world," he said. "Luckily, it's been good to me."

C.J. Hobgood, who clinched the 2001 world championship two weeks ago, also advanced.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the elimination of North Shore surfer Myles Padaca.

Padaca won the Rip Curl Cup at Sunset Beach on Dec. 7, and was the leader in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing standings.

With Padaca's elimination, Australian Mick Fanning and Andy Irons are now the leaders for the Triple Crown title, which is awarded to the best overall performer in three North Shore contests. The Pipeline Masters is the third, and final, jewel in the Triple Crown series.

Other notable surfers eliminated yesterday were brothers Michael and Derek Ho, Shane Dorian and Mark Occhilupo. Michael Ho, a former Pipeline Masters champ, separated his shoulder after a wipeout.

"You know it's dangerous when guys like that get hurt," Andy Irons said.

Today's final day of competition will feature four-man heats. Contest officials originally planned for one-on-one heats on the final day. However, the long stretch of insufficient surf last week reduced the number of competition days from three to two.

• • •

Today's second round

Heat 1: Tamayo Perry (Hawai'i), Jamie O'Brien (Hawai'i), Pancho Sullivan (Hawai'i), Takayuki Wakita (Japan)

Heat 2: Kalani Robb (Hawai'i), Didier Piter (France), Tom Carroll (Australia), Michael Lowe (Australia)

Heat 3: C.J. Hobgood (Florida), Sunny Garcia (Hawai'i), Rocky Canon (Hawai'i), Rizal Tandjung (Indonesia)

Heat 4: Fred Patacchia Jr. (Hawai'i), Braden Dias (Hawai'i), Rob Machado (California), John Gomes (Hawai'i)

Heat 5: Kelly Slater (Florida), Liam McNamara (Hawai'i), Andy Irons (Hawai'i), David Cantrell (Hawai'i)

Heat 6: Jake Paterson (Australia), Mark Healey (Hawai'i), Danny Fuller (Hawai'i), Jamie Sterling (Hawai'i)

Heat 7: Shea Lopez (Florida), Jonah Morgan (Hawai'i), Renan Rocha (Brazil), Bruce Irons (Hawai'i)

Heat 8: Luke Egan (Australia), Mick Fanning (Australia), Naohisa Ogawa (Japan), Damien Hobgood (Florida)