It could only have ended this way. A saliva-sucking crescendo at 12-foot airbrushed Pipeline was exactly the finish the 2013 ASP season – the best in my living memory – demanded.
If there was one inescapable fact in The Great Pipe Showdown of 2013, it was how perfectly it fitted into the narrative of this year. With some of the waves we’ve had this year – all-time Kirra, all-time Cloudbreak, all-time Keramas – of course Pipe was gonna light up in all its aquamarine glory. When we saw Miguel Pupo roll off second reef into a thousand liters of glass-blown majesty, we were reminded precisely why these islands are full of Christian freaks, and why so much blood has been spilt in the localizing of this wave. Some may have cringed with jealousy watching Miguel get the dream run through the refracting light tunnel, but I’m gonna say the view from the shore (or the webcast) was no less magnificent. Savor it, surf fans. You don’t see shit like that very often.
But the Great Pipe Showdown of 2013 was, of course, all about the contenders – Mick and Kelly – and their race for the title. Its dramatic finale couldn’t have been a better metaphor for how this year panned out. Kelly came into the event needing a win to take the crown. It was a scenario that, at this late stage in his career, would have had him positively levitating during his pre-dawn lotus routine. If there is one criticism – nay, observation – of Kelly in his career twilight, it’s that he’s developed a dangerous apathy towards bad waves.
He’s missed several competitions over the years because, like most red-blooded surfers, he’d rather get “visioned” than thrash it out in a European or South American beach break for ratings points. He famously chose not to compete in the Billabong Pro J-Bay to chase a swell and still won the World Title, and this year, those on the beach at Portugal for his round two loss to a local wildcard said he might as well have not shown up. But when the waves were at their best, he was the best surfer in the world this year.
Kelly won three events this year (Kirra, Cloudbreak, Pipe) to Mick’s one and the fashion in which he did it was nothing short of mesmeric. Claiming a seventh Pipe Masters was the icing on a memorable if not failed year for Kelly. The 9.87 that iced John John in the final will live long in the memory of surfers as one of the most critical waves ever ridden at Pipe. I’m led to believe waves of this kind – double-up nuggets that go square on first reef and leave no real entry point nor a place to fit your fins and rail- are typically left to bodyboarders.
A few minutes earlier, John John had chosen not to take off on a wave very similar, but The Champ couldn’t resist. He spun, paddled, lost his rail as he dropped vertically towards the lava teeth before finding it at the bottom and came out with a blast of spit that’s probably passing over Japan right about now.
There was something mystical in his performance on this final day. Watching his bald head take shape behind a cannon of spit was inexplicable for a moderately talented surfer such as myself. These are waves that kill people on a yearly basis, and yet here he was, 41 years young, finding chip shots under the lip, grabbing his rail through an eight foot vertical drop and pulling up and into the bowels of the most frightening tumult of water – with a lava base – before PHSSSSSSHT! out he came from behind the spit with that casual-as-you-like cock-knee’d pose.
Maybe Andy did surf Pipe better. Kelly said as much in a post-victory press conference, but on this day he was the Master and it was oh-so-fitting that it was his student – a kid he’s known since childhood, a kid who was born in the same year he won his first Pipe Masters, John John Florence, that felt the sting of defeat at his hands. It meant a lot to Kelly. John John is the best in the world at Pipe, and arguably the best raw talent on the planet right now. To beat him here, on a day like this, “it made my life, made my career,” he said looking visibly moved.
Mick, to his credit, did exactly what he needed to do to win the title – no more, no less. As he’d done all year, he squeaked and scratched into the top ten, sometimes with sublime skill, sometimes by a margin so thin it will feed a ball of resentment in his opponents for decades to come (Ask Yadin Nicol).
He had it all to do at maxing Pipe in round five against CJ Hobgood, a venerated frontside tube rider if ever there was one. Backside barrel riding was the chink in Mick’s armor for a long time, and during this event, if it weren’t for two of the most perfect roll-in second reef waves imaginable that sprung out of nowhere in the dying minutes of round five and the quarters, he would not be a world champion. He looked far from convincing in the event, especially against CJ. He might have squeaked into the semis, but by the time Mick reaches his osteoporotic sixties, when the White Lightning turns to White Chalk, he may rue the terrible wave selection in round five and the quarters that led him to a run of the most severe Pipe beatings. He managed to scrape through both with buzzer-beater nines.
Kelly claimed afterwards both were overscored and a look at the stats shows Mick scored three points or above on only three of his 20 waves that final day. But it was a gritty showing nonetheless – the stuff that Mick Fanning, the son of a cash-strapped single mother, the brother of a talented surfer who tragically died too young in a car crash, the victim of a horrifically snapped hamstring in remote Indonesia, is renowned for. He’s made a career out of it, and on Sunday, he made one more title.
– Jed Smith
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