PIPELINE, Oahu/Hawaii (Thursday, December 10, 2009) - Round one of the Billabong Pipeline Masters, the final event of the 2009 ASP World Tour, commenced today in clean six-to-ten foot waves at the Banzai Pipeline.
The third and final event in the Vans Triple Crown of Surfing presented by Rockstar Energy Drink, the Billabong Pipeline Masters is the final showdown to the Triple Crown "Triple Threat": $50,000 to the men's Vans Triple Crown champion, $50,000 bonus to the Billabong Pipe Masters champion, and $50,000 for the ASP men's world champion.
But the drama unfolded early today when one of the top Vans Triple Crown contenders - six-time champion of the series Sunny Garcia (Hawaii), arrived too late for his heat and lost his spot in the event to young local Torrey Meister. Garcia's slip-up has opened the gate for world title contender and Vans Triple Crown series leader Joel Parkinson (Australia), to win his second consecutive crown. Garcia can only make it back into the event in the third round if someone else withdraws, which does not seem likely at this point.
Despite arriving late to the lineup, Meister, 21, put in an inspired performance in both the Backdoor rights and the Pipeline lefts to net a 16.83 out of a possible 20 to overtake Nic Muscroft (AUS), 27.
"I don't know what happened," Meister said. "I expected Sunny (Garcia) to turn up and I was sitting on the beach getting tired watching the waves. It was firing and I couldn't get too antsy because I didn't know if I was going to get into the event, but I'm happy that I did. I guess it's kind of an advantage to get in this way, because I didn't have time to get nervous before my heat."
Meister will face current ASP World No. 16, Kai Otton (AUS), 29, in the first heat when competition resumes.
Amidst the world's best surfers who headline the event exists a spattering of Pipeline specialists, making the competition field particularly challenging to navigate.
Michael Picon (FRA), 30, current ASP World No. 39, is in need of an impressive result in the final event of the year to secure his position amongst the world's elite in 2010. Today, the Frenchman put the rest of the draw on notice, first eliminating wildcard Manoa Drollet (PYF) before posting the highest heat total of the event, a 19.76 out of a possible 20, for a brilliant backhand tube-riding approach to take out Josh Kerr (AUS), 25, in the final heat of the day.
"That was the best heat of my life," Picon said. "I was just trying to build momentum and I feel like all of the training I've done is paying off. It's great to have this heat at Pipeline and in Hawaii. Today was all about the rights. We all knew that. I was going for the right too. I figured I'd go for the death, whatever."
To vault himself ahead the current qualification cutoff point, Picon will have to finish third or better at the Billabong Pipeline Masters, but the calculated Frenchman remains calm heading into the remainder of the event.
"I'm trying not to think about it," Picon said. "I'm just thinking about having a good heat and having a good contest here because it's always been a dream for me to do well at Pipeline. I'm just really confident after that heat."
John John Florence (HAW), 16, the Billabong Pipeline Masters' youngest competitor, was a tour du force in his Round 1 heat, posting an impressive 17.20 out of a possible 20, to defeat fellow Hawaiian wildcard Danny Fuller (HAW), 27.
"With four guys out at Pipe I was going crazy and just trying to get every wave I could," Florence said. "Yesterday was big and messy and today's conditions have really cleaned up. This morning was fun, but this afternoon's wind has made it really good. Growing up here, I really looked up to all the local guys for inspiration and advice out here. To be competing in the Pipe Masters is an honor and I hope I have the opportunity to surf through a few more rounds."
Florence will take on current ASP World No. 27, Heitor Alves (BRA), 27, in Heat 12 of Round 2 when competition resumes.
Andy Irons (HAW), 31, former three-time ASP World Champion and former four-time Pipe Master Champion, showed a return to form today recovering from an early heat double-interference collision with opponent Marcus Hickman (HAW), 30, and rallying with a dominant performance in the Backdoor righthanders. Although on sabbatical from full-time competition this season, Irons' return to the ASP World Tour in 2010 has been highly-anticipated by the surfing world.
"I've decided to be on the world tour next year and just being in a jersey is a good warm-up for it," Irons said. "I definitely feel like I'm in a better position going into next season after taking this year off."
Irons will take on current ASP World No. 25, Drew Courtney (AUS), 30, in Heat 16 of Round 2 when the Billabong Pipeline Masters recommences.
Andy wasn't the only Irons to make a dent in today's competition as younger brother and former ASP World Tour campaigner, Bruce Irons (HAW), 30, took down lethal Californian Tim Reyes (USA), 27, in Round 2 of competition.
Event organizers will reconvene tomorrow morning at 6:30am to assess conditions for a possible 8am start.
For Billabong Pipe Masters highlights, videos, photos and more log on to:
**BILLABONG PIPELINE MASTERS ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Gavin Gillette (HAW) 15.50 def. Jihad Khodr (BRA) 11.33
Heat 2: Gabe Kling (USA) 11.17 def. Kalani Chapman (HAW) 10.17
Heat 3: Andy Irons (HAW) 12.42 def. Marcus Hickman (HAW) 10.17
Heat 4: Aritz Aranburu (EUK) 13.17 def. Dusty Payne (HAW) 12.96
Heat 5: Liam McNamara (HAW) 7.67 def. Nathaniel Curran (USA) 7.34
Heat 6: Hank Gaskell (HAW) 12.00 def. David Weare (ZAF) 8.73
Heat 7: Bruce Irons (HAW) 12.34 def. Reef McIntosh (HAW) 11.66
Heat 8: Torrey Meister (HAW) 16.83 def. Nic Muscroft (AUS) 8.90
Heat 9: Michael Picon (FRA) 10.50 def. Manoa Drollet (PYF) 9.93
Heat 10: Shane Dorian (HAW) 16.67 def. Kamalei Alexander (HAW) 7.73
Heat 11: Dayyan Neve (AUS) 13.43 def. Jonah Morgan (HAW) 6.84
Heat 12: Flynn Novak (HAW) 16.40 def. Luke Stedman (AUS) 12.34
Heat 13: Sion Miloski (HAW) 17.00 def. Dustin Barca (HAW) 14.03
Heat 14: John John Florence (HAW) 17.20 def. Danny Fuller (HAW) 11.33
Heat 15: Mason Ho (HAW) 15.83 def. Jay Thompson (AUS) 9.50
Heat 16: Phillip MacDonald (AUS) 12.66 def. Jamie O'Brien (HAW) 10.33
BILLABONG PIPELINE MASTERS ROUND 2 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Liam McNamara (HAW) 7.94 def. Chris Davidson (AUS) 6.83
Heat 2: Roy Powers (HAW) 10.26 def. Gabe Kling (USA) 10.06
Heat 3: Phillip MacDonald (AUS) 10.40 def. Greg Emslie (ZAF) 3.83
Heat 4: Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 12.00 def. Mason Ho (HAW) 10.67
Heat 5: Bruce Irons (HAW) 15.67 def. Tim Reyes (USA) 13.93
Heat 6: Shane Dorian (HAW) 11.17 def. Tiago Pires (PRT) 8.33
Heat 7: Michael Picon (FRA) 19.76 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 16.73
REMAINING BILLABONG PIPELINE MASTERS ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 8: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Torrey Meister (HAW)
Heat 9: Dean Morrison (AUS) vs. Sion Milosky (HAW)
Heat 10: Chris Ward (USA) vs. Aritz Aranburu (EUK)
Heat 11: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Flynn Novak (HAW)
Heat 12: Heitor Alves (BRA) vs. John John Florence (HAW)
Heat 13: Mick Campbell (AUS) vs. Gavin Gillette (HAW)
Heat 14: Tim Boal (FRA) vs. Dayyan Neve (AUS)
Heat 15: Ben Dunn (AUS) vs. Hank Gaskell (HAW)
Heat 16: Drew Courtney (AUS) Andy Irons (HAW)**