Game On for Season Finales in Hawaii

With the commencement of the Billabong Pro Maui the final leg of the ASP Women’s Tour is underway. The Men remain in neutral on Oahu’s North Shore, the second day of the waiting period for the Billabong Pipeline Masters offering unsettled conditions at the famous Banzai Pipeline.

The World Title will go down at Honolua Bay between now and December 20. Three girls remain in mathematical contention; however the prime focus will be the battle between top seeds Sofia Mulanovich and Stephanie Gilmore.

This race has now become a battle of attrition. Whoever out places the other will be crowned ASP World Champion. If both Steph and Sofia bow out in the early going the door opens for Brazil’s Silvana Lima. All three girls surf the place unreal, Stephanie, being raised on the long point breaks of the southern Gold Coast, is a natural for Honolua, Sofia brings a very polished style to this Hawaiian classic and Silvana, when she puts it altogether, is a phenomenally gifted surfer.

There has been plenty of speculation as to the merits of both Sofia and Steph, however one little talked of stat is the fact that, due to varying throwaway results, Stephanie has to actually beat Sofia to take the title. If they finish in the same round, like they both bomb out in the Quarters or Semi’s, Sofia wins. This is because Steph is throwing out a low 9th and Sofia a 17th.

The best scenario for fans would be a final shoot-out, and while both will be seeded to meet in the final, there will be plenty of potential spoilers, not the least being Silvana and outgoing 7 times World Champion Layne Beachley.

The Billabong Pro Maui will be the swansong for Hawaii’s Rochelle Ballard. I remember well a Billabong Pro I was running at Burleigh Heads. The guys were not happy that I’d put the girls out in hollow Burleigh. Rochelle answered for me by getting two super deep, long barrels. It was definitely the first time anyone had seen girls pulling in deep and coming out. Rochelle ushered in a new era for Women’s surfing and ASP salutes her career.

It is game on at Honolua, all the best to contenders.

The Billabong Pipeline Masters, while bereft of a World Title outcome, still has a myriad of interesting scenarios. For starters, there’s Pipe itself. This is one of the ultimate sporting arenas on the planet; nowhere can the gallery have such an intimate connection with the action, and for the multitudes viewing on-line, the blow by blow web cast will simply be the best sporting spectacle in December, anywhere.

The first round of competition will feature the ASP Top 45, plus sponsor wildcards TJ Barron, Tiago Pires and former 6 times Vas Triple Crown Champion Sunny Garcia. 2007 World Champion elect Mick Fanning will be looking to round out a perfect year by advancing his Triple Crown claims while defending Pipe Master Andy Irons will be out to end a topsy turvy season on a high note.

The mercurial Taj Burrow has won twice on the 07 Foster’s ASP World Tour; a victory in the Billabong Pipeline Masters would provide adequate compensation for the shortfall in his 07 World Title campaign. The waters of Pipeline will also be graced by 5 ties Master Kelly Slater.

This event represents the final engagement of Kelly’s 8th World Championship year and like Taj, was right in the mix for a 9th crown until Mick Fanning sealed the deal in Brazil. So he is in great form and although dipping his feet in the Vans Triple Crown for the first time this year, will be sure to put on a show at Pipe. Quiet achiever Bede Durbidge will looking to notch up a victory in the Vans Triple Crown with a big showing at Pipe, so there remains plenty of interest stories in this unfolding drama.

There are a few notable retirees gracing the tour for the last time at the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Mark Occhilupo, at 41 breaking all known records for longevity, is hanging up his boardies after a stellar career, as is likeable fellow Aussie Mick Lowe. Top 45 status is also on the line for Corey Lopez, Bruce Irons and Fred Pattachia, amongst others.

All these guys are Pipe chargers and that will add to the intrigue, especially for guys like Chris Ward and Neco Padaratz, who sit just inside the bubble and will need to repel the challenges of Lopez, Irons and Pattachia to survive.

In Round 2 the 16 local seeds and Pipe specialists enter the field. Leading the pack will be Pipe dominator Jamie O’Brien, Gavin Gillette, Flynn Novak and Danny Fuller, who all posted great results in last Februaries Monster Energy Pro at Pipe. North Shore local Tory Barron joins brother TJ in a historic Masters appearance, and we’ll see big wave maestro and former Top 45 pro Shane Dorian back in action.

A spot is reserved for the highest placed competitor in the Vans Triple Crown race, his sensational win at Haleiwa puts the rampaging Roy Powers back in the arena he as again qualifies for in 08. Another notable taking major momentum into the Billabong Pipeline Masters is Makuakai Rothman.

A scintillating victory in the O’Neill World Cup propels Makua into Triple Crown reckoning, and as Roy and he are highly accomplished at Pipeline, this will definitely ratchet up local interest. The final day at Sunset was an extraordinary challenge of watermanship, the elements combining for an extreme challenge.

Speaking with Makua at the recent Vans Charity Golf Day, he reckons it was the toughest Sunset he has ever surfed. Considering it’s his home break, that is a statement. It was also a breakthrough victory, Makuakai has made three recent Pro finals at Sunset, and he won the big one.

It is difficult to comprehend the degrees of difficulty that day. A major kona storm was honing in on the Hawaiian Islands and by the time the Final paddled out the full wrath of this wicked wind had set upon Sunset Beach. To put it in some perspective, this particular wind direction s the bane of all surf spots.

At my home break at Snapper Rocks this is the equivalent of a howling nor-wester, a condition that renders Snapper virtually unsurfable. At J/Bay they refer to it as the devil wind, it roars up the valley creating huge grids that carve up the swell sideways, prohibiting any maneuvers and even for the best surfers it is reduced to a massive trim fest.

Apply those wretched conditions to 10-15’ faces, add an inside-out current and four grueling, pressure cooker heats, plus an anticipated gale force wind by 4pm, and you have Sunset this day. The four finalists were in vastly contrasting head spaces. Mick Fanning had clinched the World Title and just y making the final had put himself in contention for the Vans Triple Crown.

Leonardo Neves had experienced a fairly ordinary rookie season on the Foster’s ASP World Tour but had found the perfect match for his extraordinary power attack. This guy was a revelation at Sunset, powering into full blooded roundhouse cutties and ricocheting off massive foam balls with utter contempt.

Daniel Ross was putting on a sight as well. He came into the final day having posted the two highest total heat scores, but still had to secure 5th place to qualify. Dan was magnificent, winning heats in cavalier fashion, blasting huge arcs in the ridged faces. When he paddled out for the final I swear he was floating two feet above the channel.

As for Makuakai Rothman, he wanted to crack a win at his home beach, the popular local surfing for community pride as well as the opportunity to etch his name alongside legend champions of the O’Neill World Cup perpetual trophy.

Just paddling out at Sunset is an event, and there were four reasonably tired surfers making their way through the heavy water. They appeared to hesitate outside, not keen to paddle into the line-up proper until the hooter blasted. This was all about conserving energy, with the wind whipping and the current dragging it as a case of turning the ship into the teeth of the gale and tacking hard to maintain position.

Makuakai opened his account with a 6.83, then trawled the outside, combing for a bomb. Leonardo Neves jagged a beauty, it was 10’ and connected with the inside bowl. He surfed it well, opting for slashing moves on the open face, but he wasn’t quite in the pocket, a solid 7.67 putting the Brazilian in the box seat.

Neves then joined Fanning and Ross over by Boneyards, while Rothman combed the west peak. Leonardo then scored on an 8 footer that had a civilized taper, allowing him to reel off trademark hacks that netted him an 8.17. The wind picked up several notches and it got real hard out there.

By the five minute mark Mick and Dan were pretty much done, they’d been cornered by the tempest way up the point. Leonardo was sitting pretty, like a poker player with a pair of aces. Then Makua made a break back to the west peak, overcoming current and wind in ironman fashion to position himself for a beautiful 12 footer that definitely had connectivity.

The Hawaiian got a stand-up barrel followed by carving cutback into the pit. This was the moment that Makua’s equipment choice paid huge dividends. A longer board would have potentially snaffled more set waves but he definitely would not have got off such a precision snap under the lip.

I instantly made a mental calculation of scale and realized Makuakai Rothman had just won the final. It was clearly worth two points more then Leonardo’s opening wave through the same section. A 9.06 was required, the judges took only seconds to lock in a 9.5, and the rest as they say in the classics, is history.

So now we move onto Pipeline and Honolua for the season finales.

Good luck to all.


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