A set of three lines run horizontally across the skin of Jamie O’Brien’s tanned forehead, ridges forever cemented on his face by a lifetime spent staring into the sun. The lines are telling, and for every wrinkle and crease etched on the 26-year-old’s face, Jamie’s logged a thousand Pipe and Backdoor barrels. Over the years, we’ve watched him grow into the most formidable Pipe surfer of his day, usurping his contemporaries and toying with waves that would induce crippling fear upon most of us. It should come as no surprise, then, that Jamie O’Brien was standing victorious once again at the end of the five-star Volcom Pipeline Pro, another trophy at the hands of Pipeline tightly in tow.
Just a few minutes earlier, before he made his way through the throngs of crowd gathered to scream his name and meet him at the shoreline, things weren’t looking quite so rosy for O’Brien. Jamie was leading the heat but pulling on his heels in a close second was Aussie Anthony Walsh. Then, out to sea a set appeared amid the glass as the heat was winding down. Jamie and Mark Mathews split the peak in the dying moments of the final, both pulling into unblemished overhead tubes, Jamie dropping an 8 at Pipe and Mathews a 9.5 at Backdoor. Jamie held the lead, but just barely. Needing a mid-range 7 to takeover the final from Walsh and Jamie, Mathews waited for his salvation with just a few minutes left. It was still anyone’s game. And then, in an uncharactorist turn of events, the ocean went flat at Pipe. Just over a hundred yards to the left, lump upon lump morphed themselves into heaving barrels at Off the Wall, swallowing and vomiting freesurfers whole. But at Pipe, nothing. Not even a hint of a set on the horizon.
“I was kind of talking to it out there,” said O’Brien. “You might think I’m crazy, but I just started praying it was going to go flat in the end, and Mark looks and me and says, ‘I bet you’re praying that it’s going flat,’ and I was like, ‘Yeah!’”
After sitting and waiting, the horn finally buzzed, signaling a lackluster end to the final. Jamie had won, Mathews couldn’t get the second score he so desperately needed and would take third with Anthony Walsh in second and Danny Fuller in fourth.
“You know, every time you think you have it out there, you don’t,” said Jamie about not counting a win at Pipeline before the end of the heat. “Even with 15 seconds left, 10…9…8…anything can happen out there. My goal is to win as many Pipe contests as I can. And there are only a few chances every year. I got one more now.”
Standing underneath the competitor’s tent, his eyes keenly trained on O’Brien and the arsenal of cameras clicking away at the new winner, you could see the slight strain of disappointment in Mathews’ icy-blue eyes. He was smiling, but you could tell he felt the sting of a runner-up finish.
“I think I got my best wave of the season out there,” said Mathews about his 9-pointer in the final. “Yeah, I’m really stoked to have made the final but I’m also pretty disappointed that I didn’t get a crack at that 7. Last night, I was lying awake and just picturing myself getting chaired up the beach, but that didn’t happen today.” – Jeff Mull
Watch heats on demand below: