O'Brien shows why he's Pipeline master
By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer
Love your neighbor as yourself takes on a whole new meaning for Jamie O'Brien.
His neighbor happens to be the waves at the Banzai Pipeline, and his love for it paid dividends.
O'Brien won the Volcom Pipeline Pro men's surfing contest yesterday, capping four days of thrilling action in the event.
The semifinals and final were completed in wave-face heights of 10 to 15 feet at the Banzai Pipeline.
"I love Pipeline," said O'Brien, 26. "I kind of talk to it out there, it's kind of funny."
In the end, O'Brien had the last laugh.
He took the lead midway through the 45-minute final, then held on to it when the ocean went shockingly flat for the last 10 minutes.
"I was telling the ocean to go flat," O'Brien said. "You have to get lucky, sometimes, to win a contest and I got lucky in this one."
It also helps to be good, and when it comes to surfing Pipeline on a daily basis, O'Brien is as good as it gets.
He grew up in a house that fronts the Pipeline waves, and he surfs there practically every day.
"I think it's my passion, year in and year out," O'Brien said. "My goal is to win as many Pipe contests as I can, and there's only a few chances every year. I got one more, so I'm stoked."
He now has five contest victories at Pipeline. Yesterday was his third Pipeline Pro win.
O'Brien's experience showed in the four-man final, as he was able to find clean barrels going both to his right and left. Early in the heat, a right-hand barrel — through Backdoor Pipeline — netted him a score of 8.23.
Later, he made it through a left-hand barrel and received a score of 8.77, giving him a two-wave total of 17.0.
"Every time you think you have it, you don't have it," O'Brien said. "I was just hoping I wasn't going to get fourth (place). Even when they were counting down the last seconds, I was thinking anything could happen."
Instead, the other three finalists could only paddle around in frustration as there were no waves for them to catch O'Brien.
Australia's Anthony Walsh held the lead early in the final heat, but ultimately placed second with a two-wave score of 14.87.
"To get second to Jamie O'Brien, he's the best guy out here, so I'm happy with that," Walsh said. "He just knows the wave so well. He knows where to sit and today he showed it. He got those two Backdoor ones that actually didn't look like much, and he got the scores."
Another Australian, Mark Mathews, placed third with a two-wave score of 14.14. He had the best wave of the final, receiving a near-perfect score of 9.57 for a long Backdoor barrel.
"After I got that (9.57) I thought for sure I could get this," said Mathews, who placed second to O'Brien at the 2007 Pipeline Pro. "I still had 10 minutes by the time I got out the back, but nothing came through. The waves just went flat."
Danny Fuller of Kaua'i placed fourth with a two-wave score of 12.16.
Fuller scored a perfect 10 in the semifinals, and tried to find similar waves in the final.
"The bar was set so high, you weren't going to win unless you were getting at least 8s or higher," he said. "So I was just trying to wait for the better ones that I knew would get me a big score. I found a couple, I just never made it out (of the barrel)."
O'Brien received $16,000 for the win, as well as a trophy shaped like a gladiator's helmet. "It's the most beautiful trophy I ever got," he said.
All four finalists had to battle like gladiators during the four days of competition
As Fuller put it: "You had to go against all the different faces of Pipe. Some were pretty, some were ugly. I won a heat where I got a 10, and then I won another heat where my (best) two waves got like a 7. It was just an incredible contest. You really had to show you could surf every kind of condition at Pipe."
Fittingly then, the top eight Hawai'i surfers from this contest earned wildcard invitations to the Billabong Pipeline Masters in December as the "Pipeline Specialists."
The eight earning the wildcards were O'Brien, Fuller, John John Florence, Ian Walsh, Kiron Jabour, Dusty Payne, Bruce Irons and Clay Marzo.
The Cinderella run of North Carolina surfer Brett Barley came to an end in the semifinals. He finished in an impressive tie for seventh place in his first contest at Pipeline.
North Shore lifeguard David Wassell won the Todd Chesser Memorial Award for sportsmanship. Wassell made it to the quarterfinals of the contest.
1, Jamie O'Brien (Hawai'i), $16,000. 2, Anthony Walsh (Australia), $9,000. 3, Mark Mathews (Australia), $4,600. 4, Danny Fuller (Hawai'i), $4,200. 5 (tie), Ian Walsh (Hawai'i) and Kiron Jabour (Hawai'i), $3,000. 7 (tie), John John Florence (Hawai'i) and Brett Barley (North Carolina), $2,500. 9 (tie), Clay Marzo (Hawai'i), Bruce Irons (Hawai'i), Kamalei Alexander (Hawai'i) and Dusty Payne (Hawai'i), $2,200. 13 (tie), Nils Schweizer (Florida), Marcus Hickman (Hawai'i), David Wassell (Hawai'i) and Jay Davies (Australia), $2,000.