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2006 Pipe Masters

Pipe Masters
Words by: Lane Davey
Photos by: Sean Davey

This year’s Rip Curl Pipe Masters was the ultimate showdown. The new format introduced by the Hawaii Pro Surfer’s Union- lead by Pipe legend Liam McNamara- allowed 16 Pipe specialists to be seeded straight into the event instead of having to compete against one another in a day of trials heats for just two spots. Some of the WCT guys complained that it wasn’t fair for them to have to compete against Pipe specialists in the final competition of the year (an event which for some could determine their existence as WCT surfers), but local guys have been fighting for years to be included in the world’s most watched and revered event at the break where they risk their lives everyday. This sort of rivalry brought forth a whole new level of competition, which almost turned into a battle for the break itself as much as one for the crown of being a Pipe Master. Dustin Barca, Tory Barron, Nathan Carroll, Hank Gaskell, Aamion Goodwin, Reef McIntosh, Jamie O’Brien, Soloman Ortiz, Randall Paulson, Makua Rothman, Evan Valiere and Ian Walsh were the 12 surfers who qualified from last year’s Monster Pipeline Pro, the WQS event held here in February. Rob Machado- who won the Monster Pro- also received a slot. That left only two other select positions from Hawaii, which went to Tamayo Perry and Jamie Sterling. The one position reserved for a Tahitian surfer went to 17-year-old Heiarii Williams. Rip Curl gave wildcards to Australian’s Ben Dunn, 16-year-old Owen Wright, and Hawaii’s Jr. Champion Kekoa Balasko.

Even with so much hype over this year’s Pipe Masters, hopes for good waves were slim. September, October and November had already been deemed the slowest Hawaiian surf season in 60 years, with only three swells over 6 ft at the Pipe and none big enough to move the sand which sits in front of the break, preventing it from really doing it’s thing. The first day of competition seemed like a bit of a miracle when it kicked off in clean, solid 6-8 ft surf. Amazingly, the sand had moved overnight, and was pushed over to the channel, causing waves which would normally be the biggest, most-open tube rides to pinch and become unmakeable, posing a big challenge for contestants.

The first and biggest day of competition was possibly the most exciting because everyone was just so stoked to finally have waves and it seemed our 16 seeds were dominating each and every heat. You might have called them “the boys in blue,” as every Pipe Specialist was sent out in blue jerseys to protect and preserve their territory at the Pipe. All but one of Hawaii’s seeds made it through the round and the first day of competition, some of them taking down several top-rated guys along the way. The most exciting heat of the day was when Kelly Slater met up with Jamie O’Brien. Jamie caught a few
incredible rides before it seemed like anyone else even caught a wave, getting spit out of Pipe pits in midair and kicking out of backdoor tubes with his own style of freaky flips. The locals were going wild on the beach! About halfway through the heat Slater started catching up with a big backdoor tube, but wasn’t able to beat Jamie who took first and went directly to round three.

Round two was give and take for our local seeds. The surf was similar to the first day on a dropping swell, with a little more north in its direction. This caused that little pinch on the sandbar to become even more of a closeout wave. Some heats were okay, but others were extremely trying in terms of getting two open Pipe waves. Randall Paulson dominated his heat and caught some of the largest sets of the day, but the sandbar wouldn’t let him out of the tube and he lost out by less than a point to Bobby Martinez and Jake Patterson. Other heats were extremely close. Tamayo Perry nudged just ahead of Joel Parkinson eliminating him from the heat and killing his chance for the Triple Crown title. Tory Barron also made it through with a killer backdoor tube and younger surfers Makua Rothman, Dustin Barca, Evan Valiere and Ian Walsh continued the charge to round three; however, contest directors choose to run the Foster’s Expression Session for the rest of Day Two. Such notables as Dane Kealoha, Shawn Thompson and the Ho brothers paddled out in the Expression Session, but it was Bruce Irons and Jake Patterson who tied to take home $2000 each. While most of the Northshore would have probably paid money to surf Pipeline with just ten other guys out, female bodyboarding legend Robin Cardoza puts things in perspective: “those guys just risked their lives for less money than one of my Channel handbags”.

There was a lot of disagreement about when to hold the third day of competition. Competitors in round three were put on hold until 11:30 am, then again until 12:30 pm, and once again until 1:30, when they finally decided not to hold the event until the next day. The waves came up that evening, but so did the wind. Though contest directors saw it as a total blessing to have the 4-6 foot surf last all day through the final, our local surfers struggled in smaller, stormier surf which was beginning to look more like beach break barrels than Pipe pits. Judges made it quite obvious that if you were not a WCT surfer, you had better not leave it up to the judges. Kalani Chapman, Tory Barron and Tamayo Perry all lost by just around a point or less in situations that left a lot of us feeling sort of like second-class citizens in the world of surfing. Pancho Sullivan also struggled to find a nice open barrel, but still requalified for next year’s WCT tour. Most local surfers managed to get one amazing high-scoring wave, but couldn’t find a second wave to back it up. Evan Valiere, Ian Walsh, Dustin Barca and Bruce Irons then lead us into the quarters. None could get out of their heats, except for “the freak” Jamie O’Brien who had so much momentum going into the semi that his dad Mick said “it’s about time that I went down to the sperm bank and invested some deposits for the future.” Standouts such as Australian surfer Michael Lowe and Brazilian surfer Brunos Santos also lost out. In Semi Final One Luke Stedman and Damian Hobgood lost to Kelly Slater and Rob Machado who would advance to compete against Corey Lopez and Andy Irons. Yes, the second semi was a total letdown for Hawaiians as Jamie O’Brien, who was the last Pipe specialist seeds to dick out. He started out the heat with a huge opening ride and then just caught closeout after closeout, finally going to the inside to try to get the 2.8 he needed and with a small but long tube ride and a hard snap off the lip, we all thought he was safe, only to find out that our last seed had dipped. Once again, it was less than a point of difference. Chris Ward, who surfed strong throughout the competition mixing tube riding with aerial maneuvers, lost in that second semi.

To be honest the start of the final was a total letdown. Hawaiians and Northshorians who had all hovered in packs cheering on their peeps were now either dispersing or leaving. No more of our local boys to cheer for and the waves were dropping, so the first ten minutes of the final seemed almost silent on the beach in front of the local houses. The Australian house by Off the Wall were so drunk at that point they were cheering harder for the noncompetitors paddling out for a freesurf than for the waves being ridden in the final. Then some incredible exchanges started taking place. Rob Machado, Kelly Slater and Andy Irons; all former Pipe Masters there to duke it out with Florida surfer Cory Lopez. As the swell dropped and the wind backed off, the waves became a lot more makeable over that sandbar than they had been throughout the contest, offering perfect barrel after perfect barrel on both the rights and the lefts. The heat started out fairly equal with every surfer getting some good tube time, then Kelly Slater began to take the lead and pulled way out ahead with high-scoring backdoor waves. Machado, who seemed to be in the lead early on became almost handicapped by virtue of being a goofy footer, while Irons, who has never lost in a final at Pipe, started firing it up. Lopez also set himself into a big one, but in the end it was another battle between Kelly and Andy who were neck and neck. Irons then claimed a ten-point backdoor barrel at the end of the heat and became both the 2006 PipeMaster and Triple Crown Champion with eight-time World Champion Kelly Slater second, Cory Lopez third and Rob Machado fourth.

The crowds at Pipe on both contest and non-contest days were the largest I’ve ever seen. There were cars parked from Log Cabins past Rocky’s on some days, and the beach was totally packed with tourists. It was definitely a notable event this year, and one that will be remembered for years to come. It was very unfortunate that none of our seeds made the final, but they definitely proved they deserved to be there surfing with the best, and having them compete made for a much more exciting and interesting competition than in previous years.

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