The final contest of the year for the World Champions Tour was held this past week on the North Shore of Oahu in Hawaii.
Much of the event was held in flawless 6- to 10-foot barreling waves, which was perfect for these elite athletes to showcase their abundant surfing skills.
So much was riding on the outcome of this final event of the World Championship Tour: the ASP World Title, the Vans Hawaiian Triple Crown and the most prestigious title in surfing — the Billabong Pipeline Masters Crown.
I was especially captivated with the drama surrounding the Pipeline Masters event, as it pitted two finalists who met recently in another WCT final, the Hurley Pro in our backyard of Lower Trestles.
The finalists were nine-time world champ from the U.S., Kelly Slater, and touted aerialist and perennial No. 2 in the WCT rankings, Taj Burrow of Australia.
Last year when they met in the final at Lowers, there was much chatter surrounding the event’s outcome as Burrow led virtually the entire 40-minute heat only to lose in the final seconds to Slater on a wave that some observers felt was slightly over-scored in favor of the world champ.
A heartbreaking loss for Burrow, not to mention the $75,000 and critical ratings points that were on the line for the winner.
Fast forward to this week.
After several rounds in perfect Pipeline, the two met again in this year’s Pipeline Masters final with conditions more reminiscent of Trestles than the death-defying shacks of the North Shore.
Burrow had his chance at redemption with the Pipeline Masters Title, plus $90,000 was on the line.
From the start of the heat you could see that Burrow was not going to hold back, and he surfed the heat with reckless abandon — throwing aerials and giant hacks with speed and style.
Slater never really got going in the heat, and on his best wave of the final, a quick barrel, he appeared to be slightly underscored by the judges, thus ending the chance of any late-heat heroics by the champ.
As Burrow took the microphone he shared his feelings about the event win.
“This win feels about as good as you could imagine,” Burrow said. “For me, winning this contest is the next best thing to winning a world title. This is the one and only event that everyone would probably pick to win, and I can’t believe I’m standing here right now. It’s an amazing feeling. There are so many tough guys that you go up against in this event that I thought it was out of my reach. This is the best victory of my career.”
Great finish to an exciting year on surfing’s highest stage!
CHRIS WILLIAMS is a surfing coach and Laguna Beach resident, and father of four surf-crazy sons. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (949) 497-5918.