Getting down to the beach at first light this morning, it appeared as if the Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons was going to be a major letdown. The combination of way too much sand and lackluster swell didn’t look capable of producing the mesmerizing tubes of events past. But as every heat went by the conditions slowly improved, and by the time Mick Fanning and Dusty Payne hit the water for their round 3, heat 12 match up, Backdoor had some absolute gems lighting up the shallow reef.
Their heat was of particular importance to Dusty, as a win would see him move up to a World Tour qualifying spot in the One World Rankings. The first 35 minutes looked as if Mick would cruise to victory, as every good wave came directly to him. But with his back against the wall and facing relegation to the Prime series, Dusty found a 9-point ride to escape the 17.94 combo situation. As luck would have it, Mick failed to better his heat total on his next wave, giving Dusty priority and a shot at a miracle comeback. For four minutes the ocean went completely flat, then as the announcer counted down from five, a perfect wedge appeared out of nowhere with Dusty sitting in the perfect spot. Standing up with just a second to go in the heat, Dusty pulled in from the drop and rode the entire length of the reef at Backdoor for 9.87 to win his heat in the most dramatic fashion possible. After a dismal first year on the World Tour, hopefully this heat will be a glimpse of things to come next year from Dusty.
From there we moved on to the new fourth round, three-man heats where nobody loses and first place goes directly to the quarterfinals. With nothing on the line, there wasn’t much excitement going on in the water besides some added hassling and Kelly Slater’s dreamy 10-point ride midway through his heat win. Taylor Knox, Owen Wright, and Jordy Smith also earned heat wins in the fourth round, which means we will be seeing them back in the water tomorrow morning in the quarterfinals.
In a day that seemed like 100 heats were surfed–thanks to the overlapping heat format courtesy of Kelly Slater–Round 5 went back to man-on-man drama-filled action with one unlucky surfer getting sent home till next year. In two very one-sided affairs, Jeremy Flores dominated Taj Burrow, and Ace Buchan executed the same against Bede Durbidge. The third heat of the round wouldn’t follow the trend though. Dusty Payne had been the in-form surfer of the event, and Kieran Perrow has made a name for himself by riding some of the craziest waves ever at Backdoor and Off-The-Wall. Heated exchanges went back and forth, as big scores were posted and horrendous wipeouts were felt. Nearing the end of the heat, Dusty had gotten the best of Kieran–or so it appeared. With precious seconds left and in need of a 9.67, Kieran found himself paddling into an impossible looking wall at Backdoor. After some brilliant tube-riding, Kieran reappeared way down the line for a 9.9 from the judges and a well-deserved ticket into the quarterfinals against world number 2 Jordy Smith.
The waves only got better as the sun set on a postcard-perfect day on the North Shore of Oahu. With only seven heats to run tomorrow and the swell forecasted to hold solid through the morning, more of the amazing action witnessed today should be on tap for the final day of the 2010 Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons. Thank you Andy for blessing us from the heavens with some great waves, even when the forecast appeared dire.