21-year-old from Kaua'i captures prestigious contest
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
|Kelly Slater of Florida, who was seeking an unprecedented sixth Pipeline Masters title, had to settle for second place behind Bruce Irons of Hanalei, Kaua'i.
Photos by Bernie Baker Special to The Advertiser
Bruce Irons made that clear by winning the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters.
"It's probably the best day of my life," said Irons, who is 21 and from Hanalei, Kaua'i.
Irons mastered a masterful field in what is widely regarded as the world's most prestigious surfing contest.
The final day of competition was completed in waves that ranged from 4 to 10 feet at the famous Banzai Pipeline.
Irons rode through several of the day's best barreling waves, most of them on the right-hand side of Pipeline known as "Backdoor."
"I was just squeaking out," said Irons, who surfed in four heats yesterday. "The Backdoor barrels were getting the higher scores, so I was looking for those all day long."
From the opening heat, Irons proved to be the man to beat. He recorded a three-wave score of 27.25 (out of 30) in his first heat and rode the momentum through the quarterfinals and semifinals.
Waves diminished as the day progressed, but Irons never relented.
In the four-man final, he defeated legendary surfer Kelly Slater of Florida, current world champion C.J. Hobgood, also from Florida, and Jamie O'Brien, who lives at the house that sits right in front of Pipeline.
Slater, a six-time former world champion, was seeking an unprecedented sixth Pipeline Masters title. The other three finalists were in search of their first.
"That was the first time I surfed with Kelly, so it was great," Irons said.
|Bruce Irons of Kauai yesterday held on at Pipeline on the North Shore to become the winner of the Xbox Gerry Lopes Pipeline Masters.|
"That kind of got me in a good rhythm," Irons said. "And I knew Backdoor was the way to go after that."
Another long Backdoor barrel midway through the 35-minute final resulted in an 8.6 score for Irons, and pushed his three-wave total to 24.1.
Slater also caught two high-scoring waves one through Backdoor and one through Pipeline that resulted in scores of 9.5 and 8.25, but his three-wave total was 23.55.
"That guy will pull 9s and 10s on the (worst) waves, so I was glad he didn't get any more good ones," Irons said.
Over the final 10 minutes of the heat, neither Irons nor Slater was able to find a high-scoring wave.
"It was the longest nerve-wracking thing," Irons said.
Two years ago, Irons made it to the final of the Pipeline Masters, only to be edged by Australian Jake Paterson on a final wave at the buzzer.
"I kept thinking (Slater) was going to pull a Jake on me," Irons said.
Instead, the time expired with Irons ahead, and Slater scrambling for a little wave that proved insignificant.
"I didn't realize I won it until I heard all my friends screaming," said Irons, who earned $30,000 for the victory.
Slater, who has surfed in the final of seven of the last 10 Pipeline Masters contests, received $14,000 for second.
Hobgood, who clinched the world title two weeks ago, placed third. O'Brien placed fourth and was named the Noseguard Triple Crown Rookie of the Year.
"I was kind of a spectator watching Bruce and Kelly," said O'Brien, 18 and the youngest surfer in the field. "I just couldn't believe I was out there in the final."
Irons is the younger half of a dynamic set of brothers who are now among surfing's elite.
Last month, older brother Andy Irons won the G-Shock Hawaiian Pro at Hale'iwa Ali'i Beach. Yesterday, Bruce stood up literally to his older brother. In the semifinals, Bruce eliminated Andy by catching a wave in the closing minutes.
"He tried to paddle for it, but I said no way, and I stood up first," Bruce said. "That wave came ... it was my wave."
Sharing the spotlight with the Irons brothers was Myles Padaca of O'ahu's North Shore. Although he was eliminated in the first round of the Pipeline Masters, Padaca clinched the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing Championship, which is awarded to the best overall performer in three North Shore contests.
In between the victories by the Irons brothers, Padaca won the Rip Curl Cup. He is the first non-world tour surfer to win the Triple Crown title.
"This is like winning the world championship for me," said Padaca, 30. "I don't compete on the tour, so this is the biggest thing I can go for."