The showdown for the 2009 world surfing championship is underway in Hawaii with the infamous Pipeline delivering perfect tube rides for round one and two of the Billabong Pro. While world title contenders MICK FANNING (AUS) and JOEL PARKINSON (AUS) won't start their campaigns until round three, it was the 16 Pipe wildcard specialists who dominated the opening day in flawless 3-4m waves.
Four time Pipe Master ANDY IRONS signaled his comeback to professional surfing with a dominant performance in round one. Entering the event as a wildcard, the 31-year-old posted a near perfect 9.17 tube ride in round one to easily defeat compatriot MARCUS HICKMAN. After a double interference early in the heat, IRONS took victory 12.42 to HICKMAN'S 10.17.
Following a 12 month hiatus from the ASP world tour, IRONS has been awarded an ASP wildcard for 2010, his performance today displaying the same form that won him three world surfing titles.
Not one to let his older brother take all the lime-light at Pipe, fellow IRONS brother BRUCE turned on the heat in the tubing waves to progress through two rounds. After flying past fellow Hawaiian REEF McINTOSH in round one, the 30-year-old from Kauai pulled out the stops in round two, posting a 7.17 and a 8.50 to eliminate TIM REYES (USA).
The local pipe specialists proved they will be the toughest obstacle for FANNING and PARKINSON on the way to the world title with SHANE DORIAN, FLYNN NOVAK, SION MILOSKI and TORRY MEISTER all progressing in white hot form.
Australian tour veteran PHIL MACDONALD caused a major upset in round one, eliminating 2006 Pipe Master JAMIE O'BRIEN. Using smart surfing tactics, MACDONALD got busy early, posting two mid range scored to lead from the outset. O'BRIEN struggled to find any scoring rides in the 40-minute exchange, catching his opening wave with less than five minutes remaining. Despite being rated one of the best surfers ever at pipeline, having grown up right in front of the break, O'BRIEN could not find the 4.16 score he needed to progress. MACDONALD continued his run through the rounds later in the day, by easily beating South African GREG EMSLIE in his next heat.
Australian's didn't fare so well on the first day of the event with JOSH KERR, CHRIS DAVISON, JAY THOMPSON, NIC MUSCROFT and LUKE STEDMAN all eliminated, while Sydney's DAYAN NEVE qualified for round two.
Brazilian world number 37 JIHAD KODHR was the only South American surfer to hit the water on the first day of competition. Matching up against Pipe specialist GAVIN GILLETTE in the first heat of the event, KODHR lead early with a 7.83 tube ride. His dream of re-qualifying for the 2010 world tour however was dashed late in the heat as GILLETTE stormed home to take the lead courtesy of a 7.00 and 8.50 consecutive rides in the dying stages. KODHR will now return to the Qualifying Series when the new season gets underway in January.
It is highly like both FANNING and PARKINSON will begin their battle for the 2009 world title in coming days as the monster swells continue to pummel Hawaii's north shore. With FANNING in the box seat to claim his second ASP world crown, PARKINSON must place at least 3rd to seal the title.
The scenarios for the 2009 ASP World Title heading into the Billabong Pipeline Masters are as follows:
- Fanning finishes 33rd through a 9th at Pipeline, Parkinson needs a 3rd or better to overtake.
- Fanning finishes 5th at Pipeline, Parkinson needs a 2nd or better to overtake.
- Fanning finishes 3rd at Pipeline, Parkinson needs win the event to overtake.
- If Fanning finishes 2nd or better at Pipeline, he will clinch the 2009 ASP World Title.