Taj Burrow Beats Kelly Slater To Win His First Billabong Pipe Masters.
By Casey Koteen
“It feels as good as you could imagine!” exclaimed Taj Burrow from up on the stage at this year’s Billabong Pipeline Masters, holding up a check for $90,000 and his first Pipe Masters crown. “I can’t believe I’m standing here right now.”
It was the exclamation point to one of the most exciting North Shore winters in a long time, and perhaps the best Hawaii season ever for Australian competitive surfing. Between Stephanie Gilmore winning her third consecutive world title (and the women’s Triple Crown, and the Billabong Pro Maui), Parko taking the Vans Triple Crown title and the O’Neill World Cup at Sunset, and now Taj Burrow taking the Billabong Pipeline Masters, you could practically hear the Bronzed Aussies choking up back in Coolangatta.
But back to Pipe. Taj got a monkey off his back today, nabbing his first WCT win since J-Bay in 2007, but more importantly earning it against Kelly Slater. The last final the Australian had against Slater was a contentious row at Trestles two years ago. You remember; Taj led the entire heat, and then with 30 seconds left Slater scooped the win out from under Taj’s feet by a tenth of a point, with many questioning whether Slater deserved the winning score. It was surely the most frustrating heat of Taj’s career.
Leading up to the finals at Pipe, Slater looked predictably unstoppable, with clairvoyant wave choice. He uncorked everything from foamball rides through some very tricky barrels, to a mile long floater to shit-tight roundhouse cutbacks on his funky 5’6” quad.
When Taj realized he’d be meeting Kelly in the finals, his stomach must have gone to knots. In fact he looked a bit nervous getting announced on stage just before the final, but the jitters were quelled as soon as he landed his first lipper—a radical blow tail/nosebonk air, followed by knifey cutback, and then a little 360 in the whitewash. Not only did he unleash a super high-risk maneuver, he followed it up with variety—some felt the lack of which cost him the win at Trestles. It’d seemed as though he’d considered that and adjusted, and planned or not he was rewarded for it. It rang up a seven, and would be the highest score of the final. If anyone still thought barrels were going to win the day, that score made it crystal clear the final would be decided in the high-performance arena.
Kelly apparently didn’t get that memo. While there were some bomb barrels earlier in the day, for the finals the conditions deteriorated into just overhead, crumbly Backdoor peaks. Still, Slater—normally a wave-reading savant—seemed to be a little off, racing waves that perhaps would’ve offered a barrel earlier in the day, but were now crumbly launch ramps.
Taj held the lead from the start, but even with the clock ticking down to five minutes, Slater had plenty of time to potentially put together a few big scores and do the unthinkable to Taj again. Ask Timmy Reyes about that. Last year, he had Slater combed at Pipe with time winding down, and then Slater put together a perfect ten and a nine in a minute and half. Taj, however, was thinking about his own Kelly nightmare comeback, and was fighting back thoughts of imminent victory even with 30 seconds left.
“I caught myself thinking it a few times,” said Burrow, “and kinda slapped myself in the face. That’s the last thing you should do, especially against Kelly. So I didn’t count my chickens until the siren went.”
Was he having flashbacks to Trestles? “Oh, 100 percent! There was a huge prize purse for that one too, and Kelly got me. That one was hard to swallow loosing, which makes this one all that much sweeter.”
It was an all-time win for Taj, and just as anti-climatic for Slater, who had to settle for the runner up spot both in the Eddie, and at Pipe this year. Especially anti-climatic since the talk of the rebel tour has sprung up again, which could potentially mean that heat was the last time we could see Kelly in an ASP comp. There’s been scuttlebutt that any surfers who do the rebel tour would not be allowed to compete in ASP events. The plot thickens … again.
For now, though, the 2009 ASP season is sealed and done. Next stop, Snapper Rocks in February for the 2010 kickoff.
Results for the 2009 Billabong Pipeline Masters
1ST – Taj Burrow (AUS) 12.83, $90,000
2ND – Kelly Slater (USA) 7.10, $24,000
S1: Kelly Slater (USA) 16.17 def. Dean Morrison (AUS) 7.00
S2: Taj Burrow (AUS) 14.50 def. Dane Reynolds (USA) 11.67
Q1: Dean Morrison (AUS) 11.00 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 10.17
Q2: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.24 def. Flynn Novak (HAW) 13.87
Q3: Taj Burrow (AUS) 16.90 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15.40
Q4: Dane Reynolds (USA) 15.10 def. CJ Hobgood (USA) 8.67