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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, November 21, 2001

Kaua'i's Irons wins surfing's first jewel

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

Waves were in near-perfect form yesterday at Hale'iwa Ali'i Beach.

Kaua'i's Andy Irons carves out a victory at the G-Shock Hawaiian Pro.

Bernie Baker • Special to The Advertiser

So was Andy Irons.

Calling it "the top of my books" of a young but already illustrious career, Irons won the G-Shock Hawaiian Pro yesterday.

"I'm super-stoked," said Irons, who is from Hanalei, Kaua'i. "This is the stuff I dreamed about as a kid."

In waves of 6 to 8 feet (with wave faces up to 15 feet), Irons turned in an iron-willed performance to earn $10,000 and top a field that included the world's best surfers.

The contest was the first jewel in the prestigious Vans Triple Crown of Surfing — a series of three events on O'ahu's North Shore.

"The Triple Crown is everything to me," said Irons, 23. "I think it's the most intense competition because of the wave size and the talent pool."

Only the semifinals and final were held yesterday. Treacherous conditions forced contest officials to postpone the semifinals on Monday.

Yesterday, the conditions cleared, with winds becoming gentle and the currents less fierce.

"Conditions were like a dream compared to (Monday)," said third-place finisher Myles Padaca of O'ahu's North Shore.

If so, Irons surfed a dream final.

His top three waves scored a total of 26.1 (out of 30), which was the highest total of any surfer from any heat over the four days of the contest. His best two rides came in the closing five minutes of the 35-minute final.

Until those closing moments, Irons had been in fourth place among the four finalists. With about eight minutes remaining, he fell off a wave and got pushed to shore. On his way in, he heard the announcement that he was in fourth place.

"I was really shook up," he said. "I was pretty angry with myself. When I heard I was in fourth, I knew I had to go pretty big."

So on his next wave, he went huge. He completed four acrobatic top-to-bottom carves through the heart of a 6-foot wave, finishing it with an aerial maneuver. The resulting score of 9.7 pushed him from fourth to first.

"The wave just opened up and gave me enough room to get to the lip and gouge a couple of big turns," Irons said.

Australian Mick Fanning, who wound up in second place, commented: "Andy went absolutely bananas on that one wave. I figured he had it wrapped up after that."

To be sure, Irons secured the victory with a barrel ride through an 8-foot wave that received a score of 8.9.

It was the 10th professional victory for Irons since 1996. He is currently ranked No. 6 in the world, and recently signed a lucrative sponsorship contract with Billabong.

"I put pressure on myself in every event," he said. "But especially since I have a new sponsor, I wanted to show them that I'm worth it."

Until Irons' clutch rides, Fanning held the lead for most of the final heat. His final score of 18.87 included impressive rides of 7.7 and 7.17.

"I never seem to do well in Hawai'i, so I didn't really have a strategy," Fanning said. "I kind of just went out there hoping to have fun."

The contest was also the final stop on the World Qualifying Series (WQS), an international tour that helps surfers qualify for next year's World Championship Tour. Fanning finished No. 1 on the 2001 WQS, and is thus assured a spot on next year's Championship Tour.

Padaca, who does not compete on the world tour, proved his knowledge of North Shore waves by eliminating some of the top-ranked surfers during the contest. He consistently caught the biggest waves during the final, and battled for the lead in the first half of the heat.

"Trying to get the bigger waves was kind of my strategy," said Padaca, 30. "But it hurt me at the end. I got sucked out too far, and was stuck in one place for six minutes."

His top three waves scored 18.47, and his third-place finish was his best showing at a Hale'iwa contest.

Florida's Cory Lopez made a final in a Hawai'i contest for the first time, and placed fourth with a score of 17.24.

The Rip Curl Cup, the second contest in the Triple Crown series, is scheduled to begin Monday at Sunset Beach.

Final results

1, Andy Irons (Hawai'i), $10,000. 2, Mick Fanning (Australia), $5,000. 3, Myles Padaca (Hawai'i), $4,000. 4, Cory Lopez (Florida), $3,000. 5 (tie), Jake Paterson (Australia) and Damien Hobgood (Florida), $2,600. 7 (tie), Steve Clements (Australia) and Richard Lovett (Australia), $2,400. 9 (tie), Danilo Costa (Brazil), Brian Pacheco (Hawai'i), Sunny Garcia (Hawai'i) and Shane Powell (Australia), $2,000. 13 (tie), Greg Emslie (South Africa), Ross Williams (Hawai'i), Joel Parkinson (Australia) and Kieren Perrow (Australia), $1,800.

• Longboards only: Former world champion Bonga Perkins dominated his heat yesterday in the quarterfinals of the Bear Hawaiian Pro Longboard Invitational, which was also held yesterday at Ali'i Beach.

Perkins scored 27.97 out of a maximum 30 points.