Under the tropical morning clouds, Kelly Slater stood at Ehukai Beach Park and looked at a sluggish Pipeline with contest director, Marty Thomas. The two were weighing out the options of whether or not to run the final day of the Billabong Pipeline Masters. Thomas explained that possible swell later next week would be too much from the northeast.
Joel Parkinson, the hyper-focused 31-year old Aussie, had already come through round four and it wasn't his concern. By the end of the day, Parkinson would finally have his coveted World Title.
"What would you do?" asked Kelly Slater.
"I'd run," replied Thomas.
Despite Slater being a surfing deity, he doesn't get to make the ultimate call if a contest is on or not. But he does have a voice through the surfer's rep. Fortunately, the swell was on the rise and by 9:30 a.m., Slater was surfing his non-elimination fourth round heat, which he lost to Brazilian phenom Gabriel Medina and Josh Kerr.
Now, Slater, who had won three events this year, would have to surf round five against Miguel Pupo, an extra hurdle in his day where he was not only surfing to win the Pipe Masters, but continuing a title fight with Parkinson. If one lost, the other would walk with the title.
Medina lost his next heat, which gave Hawaiian John John Florence the ASP's Rookie of the Year.
The surf did get better. Perhaps not epic by the standards of this hallowed venue, but stellar for pretty much anywhere in the world.
Slater went on to beat Pupo and then entered the ring with his longtime friend and noted big wave hellman, Hawaiian Shane Dorian for one of the greatest heavyweights slugfests of the event. Marty Thomas had clearly been right about the swell. In a 30-minute span when the surf barely let up, the two legends pushed each other further and further into deep backdoor barrels until Slater emerged with an 18.73-18.20 victory and the title race intact.
"Kelly's heat with Shane was so back and forth. When it really started to heat up, I thought I was going to get sick," Parkinson admitted.
For his part, Parkinson had to deal with the Hobgood twins. He tangled (literally and figuratively) with CJ Hobgood, but finally cracked through the low scoring quarterfinal, 12.50-9.40. He then went into a semifinal with Damien Hobgood.
Although Parkinson navigated the blue bombs with grace, there were murmurs on the beach that the judges really wanted to see a Slater/Parkinson final. And really can you blame them? Slater, the 11-time world champ with 51 World Tour victories, yada, yada, yada, sing along if you know the words, could have went blow-for-blow in the final with hungry-as-hell Joel Parkinson. Everyone on the beach wanted that from the groms fighting over broken sticks to 92-year-old Hawaiian surfing royalty Rabbit Kekai.
But it wasn't meant to be. Slater paddled out for his heat against Australian Josh Kerr, who had been a title contender before a slide on the back half of the season. In the opening minute, Kerr slipped into a hollow beast and emerged. Slater later regretted not contesting Kerr for the wave, but admitted that with 29 minutes left, he assumed he would have plenty of opportunity. And he did, sort of.
Slater, with a lowly 3.9, embarked on a series of long backdoor trips. But where in the past, he would have popped out in familiar dramatic fashion, he kept getting clipped by pesky lips and caught by errant foam balls that apparently had not read the script of how the day was supposed to play out. Kerr went on to a substantial trouncing of the champ, giving Parkinson his first world title.
After accepting his award and getting copious well wishes from everyone from his family to the late Andy Irons wife, Lindie to his fellow Coolangatta pal and two-time world champ, Mick Fanning, Parkinson still had to surf a final against Kerr.
"I remember watching Mick win a title and then go out and surf a heat. And I figured that if he could do it, so could I," laughed Parkinson afterwards.
And that's what he did. Parkinson found a beautiful Backdoor barrels for a 9.17 and later nailed an 8. Despite a proper kegging Pipe left, Kerr simply couldn't hang.
"I have to thank Andy Irons for pushing those things in for me. He'll always be a part of this event," Parkinson told the crowd before his voice broke with emotion, "Cheers to Andy, for sure."
And when all was said and done, Slater, who's clashes with Irons at Pipe were the foundation of the most classic rivalry in surfing history, was the one who still got the best line. He agreed that the spirit of Irons had produced for Parkinson on this day.
"Andy got me again," he cracked.
2012 BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS FINAL RESULTS:
1 Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.17; US$75,000
2 Josh Kerr (AUS) 14.83; US$30,000
BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS SEMIFINALS RESULTS:
SF 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.30 defeats Damien Hobgood (USA) 14.63
SF 2: Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.13 defeats Kelly Slater (USA) 4.90
BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS QUARTERFINALS RESULTS:
QF 1: Damien Hobgood (USA) 9.83 defeats Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 9.17
QF 2: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 12.50 defeats C.J. Hobgood (USA) 9.40
QF 3: Josh Kerr (AUS) 15.00 defeats Yadin Nicol (AUS) 12.17
QF 3: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.73 defeats Shane Dorian (HAW) 18.20
BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS ROUND 5 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Damien Hobgood (USA) 8.23 defeats Kieren Perrow (AUS) 3.26
Heat 2: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.94 defeats Dane Reynolds (USA) 8.00
Heat 3: Yadin Nicol (AUS) 13.00 defeats Gabriel Medina (BRA) 12.00
Heat 4: Kelly Slater (USA) 19.27 defeats Miguel Pupo (BRA) 10.66
BILLABONG PIPE MASTERS ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 3: Josh Kerr (AUS) 14.57, Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.10, Kelly Slater (USA) 8.10
Heat 4: Shane Dorian (HAW) 6.53, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 5.83, Yadin Nicol (AUS) 4.23
2012 ASP WCT Top 5:
1 - Joel Parkinson (AUS)
2 - Kelly Slater (USA)
3 - Mick Fanning (AUS)
4 - John John Florence (HAW)
5 - Adriano de Souza (BRA)