Pipeline's O'Brien Victorious in Monster Energy Pro
North Shore resident Jamie O'Brien won his second Monster Energy Pro, presented by Billabong, title at the Banzai Pipeline in Hawaii this weekend. Finding form in the toughest conditions of the event, the 23-year-old bolted out of the gates to establish a lead that served him well the duration of the 30-minute final, earning $10,000, a Makita Power Tools pack, a Kicker stereo and a set of KMC wheels. Runner-up was Australian dark horse Mark Mathews, with defending champion Rob Machado taking third, and Kauai rookie Gavin Gillette coming in fourth.
Conditions ranged throughout the day from clean six-to-eight feet in the morning, to a ravaging 10-foot mix of swell directions by the semi-finals and final.
Having struggled to find form during his first two rounds in the event, O'Brien turned it all around in the quarter finals, posting the highest two-wave heat total of the entire event - 18.25 points out of a maximum 20 with individual rides of 9.5 and 9.25. His winning groove continued through the final with O'Brien posting the first score of the heat - an 8.0 point ride for a backside barrel at Pipeline - that remained the highest scoring wave of the heat. Backing it up with a solid score of 7.25 by the mid-way mark, the final had essentially been wrapped up.
"I thought I might have peaked to early after the quarters," said O'Brien, "but then I got that 8.0 straight away, backed it up first with that 5.75, and then the 7.25. I think the most stressful moments were counting those last 15 minutes down.
"Today was an amazing day," he continued. "I knew it was going to be tough. Rob's beaten me a lot out here and I thought he had my number. Mark's an absolute mad-man and insane at going right at the Backdoor, and Gavin was surfing great. You just have to have the right moves - hold the other guys off the better waves and find the right one for yourself. It's so hard to make a final at Pipe, so I'm stoked to have won this a second time. It definitely helps that I live right here and surf the wave every day, pretty much."
For those who back the underdog, the fact that Australian Mark Mathews didn't win was almost inconsequential. Mathews forged a name for himself during his first appearance in the event earlier this week, scoring a perfect 10-point ride on a solid 15-foot wave that was still being talked about today. As far as his supporters were concerned, the guy was already a winner. The fact that he surfed through five rounds and eliminated household surfing names the likes of Shane Dorian, Dane Reynolds, and Fred Patacchia proved beyond any doubt that he wasn't just a "flash in the pan".
Had there been an award for valour, it would have been his. Catching more waves than any other surfer in the final, Mark put it all on the line with a display of totally committed tube-riding on the two biggest waves that came through at Backdoor Pipeline. Prepared to gamble on the knife-edge between a perfect 10 or disaster, he survived late take-offs, pulled deep into the tube and rode for yards, each time coming within mere inches of what were almost epic scores. His best two rides earned 6.25 and 4.0 points.
Mathews found his motivation in the 50-plus friends gathered at his home in Maroubra, Sydney, watching the live on-line coverage of the event and text-messaging him between heats.
"I want to thank the guys back home," said Mathews. "They've helped my career so much - pushing my surfing and keeping me straight. I really did want to win and I had a feeling in my gut all week that it could happen, but it just wasn't my day. It almost was... those two waves came sooo close, so close! I just got pinched at the very end. But it's been amazing. It's a dream to surf perfect waves and this is one of my favorite waves in the world."
Leading up to the final, Machado was a picture of calm amid a growing sea of chaos, holding onto his trademark cool and collected tube riding while the ocean began to rise and seethe around him. Unfortunately, the tide turned during the final. His most memorable ride was a tube that earned him 6.0 points. But he came under the axe edge of a cascading wall of water on his third ride and broke his board and his momentum. Machado's surfboard was the 25th to be snapped in this event.
For Gillette, today was his first taste of Pipeline stardom, reaching the final here for the first time in his career. He had an incredible run to the final eliminating a host of far more experienced local riders. Along with fourth place, he also received the Todd Chesser Sportsmanship Award.
Perhaps the most esteemed prize up for grabs in this event for local Hawaii surfers were the 13 wildcards on offer into the prestigious Billabong Pipeline Masters - the ultimate event in the world that rounds out the annual Vans Triple Crown of Surfing in Hawaii each year.
At this point, the following 13 local riders have qualified through an intricate selection process during the Monster Energy Pro to get a start in the Billabong Pipeline Masters: Jamie O'Brien, Gavin Gillette, Danny Fuller, Flynn Novak, Gavin Beschen, Mikala Jones, Shane Dorian, Tory Barron, Myles Padaca, Makua Rothman, Ian Walsh, Dave Wassell, and Kainoa McGee.
Remaining places will be awarded to the Top Tahitian from the Tahitian Billabong Pro trials, one spot held for a possible Hawaiian Vans Triple Crown contender, and one more spot that will be voted upon.
1. Jamie O'Brien (Haw) - $10,000
2. Mark Mathews (Australia) - $5,000
3. Rob Machado (Cardiff, CA) - $3,000
4. Gavin Gillette (Kauai) - $2,400