Pipeline, Hawaii-The 2003 ASP title race couldn’t have ended any more dramatically. For Andy Irons, the day concluded riding the shoulders of friends across the beach. For Kelly Slater, a dejected solo session at Pipeline cleared his head.
Andy Irons made history today, winning for the second consecutive year the ASP World Championship Tour title, the Triple Crown title, and the Pipeline Masters title. The final day of competition got underway this morning, beginning with round three of the Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters. At 12 noon, the decision was made by Triple Crown Contest Director Bernie Baker to hold all remaining rounds of competition. By five o’clock, Irons was being rushed up the beach by friends and family members, having repeated his amazing feat of winning all three titles in Hawaii.
With surf in the six-foot range (on the face), Irons had to surf through four heats to victory, meeting tour leader Kelly Slater in the final. On opposite ends of the bracket, the two surfers knew that it would come down to a showdown in the final, and one of the most dramatic years in ASP history did not disappoint in the end. Irons and Slater paired off with Australians Joel Parkinson and Phil McDonald in the final to decide the world title.
With consistent waves coming through at Backdoor all day, the surf allowed some amazing performances, not the least of which was Aussie dark horse, Phil McDonald’s ride to the finals, piggybacking Slater through three heats to make it in the end.
Meanwhile, Parkinson surfed masterfully to earn a finals berth, and by the end of his semifinal heat, it appeared as though Parko would play spoiler. Living up to this billing, Parko took second, giving Slater a difficult time in the final by blocking him on a potentially high-scoring wave. “I’ve come to expect that from Parko,” said Slater. “I know because I free surf with him all the time.
Throughout all rounds of competition, Slater had been exercising a unique strategy, opting not to surf the more consistent rights at Backdoor, instead surfing the bigger and more unruly waves at Gums (near Ehukai Beach Park) by himself. “The house I’m staying at is right there in front of Gums, and I just watched it all day,” said Slater. “I noticed that a lot of good waves were coming through, and I knew I could pick off some scoring waves.” The strategy was sound through the quarterfinals and semis, but when Slater failed to secure a high scoring wave at the beginning of the finals, it became clear his strategy needed to change.
Irons, on the other hand, fought through paralyzing cramps and difficulty with his surfboards to pick off the best rights coming through at Backdoor, racking up a high combination of scores midway through the heat. Breaking three boards throughout the day’s competition, Irons had to make numerous trips to the beach throughout the competition. What’s more, Irons became dehydrated by day’s end, and could barely swim out to the lineup. “I forced him to drink water,” said Irons’ mother, Danielle. “And fed him bananas. As a mother it was scary to watch my son have to go through that. But we’re happy for him in the end.”
For both surfers, months’ worth of anxiety came to a head in the final. Compounding the difficulty was the fact that the contest was held with four man heats, differing from the typical two man heat that the surfers are used to. “It gives you a lot more to deal with when you’re out in the water,” said Slater. “It’s not as easy to know what kind of mental state your competitor is in.”
The victory meant the end to a tumultuous year both personally and professionally for both surfers. “I never ever thought I could do this,” said Irons, of repeating last year’s sweep of World Title, Triple Crown and Pipe Masters Championships. “It’s the type of stuff I dreamed of as a kid, and now I get to live it, which is amazing.”
For Slater, who took the stage to announce Irons as the 2004 World Champion, the year was marked by triumph, despite the fact that he ultimately came up short. “I think this was one of the best years of my career,” said Slater. “Whether or not I won this event.”
At day’s end, Slater paddled over to Irons in the lineup, embraced him and dove underwater, but not before he imparted some final thoughts on what has undoubtedly been one of the most exciting ASP years in history. “He said it was one of the raddest days of his career, and for me to hear that was the biggest compliment. I’ve never had such a close title race, and I’ve never tried so hard.”–Brad Melekian