It has been a tumultuous few years for bodyboarding. But if this contest is any indication, then maybe the sport is finally turning the corner for the better. Great waveriding, high drama, and even a bit of controversy were all a part of the Rockstar Games Pipeline Pro 2006 presented by Mike Stewart Labs, with cosponsor BodyboardersHawaii.com.
The Pipeline Pro was the final event of the International Bodyboarders Association (IBA) 2005 professional bodyboarding world tour. As such, the touring pros hoped to finish the season strong, some with tour title aspirations. But the rest of the competitors from ten countries around the globe just looked forward to gathering together as one tribe and savoring the waves at the infamous Banzai Pipeline (possibly gaining some recognition along the way).
Overall the surf was pretty solid, even though the event spanned three-days in a short seven-day waiting period window. The contest started on January 9th with the trials held in clean 2-4' Hawaiian scale surf. To the pleasant surprise of all, a swell forecasted for the midweek came in early and strong. The middle rounds ran on January 11th in sizable 6-10'+ Haw'n surf with medium trades. The remaining rounds were held in dwindling, but still highly contestable 4-6' Haw'n surf.
As with most contests at Pipeline, tuberides are the most coveted maneuver. However, besides barrels the bodyboarders raised the performance levels even higher with aerials, el rollos, spins and other gyrations above the lip-line.
Hawaii's brightest hope going into the event was Jeff Hubbard, who was ranked second in the world tour standings coming into the Hawaii leg of the tour. Unfortunately, early losses at both the Honolua Bay and Pipeline contests extinguished any chance of winning the tour this year.
The contest was also a coming out party for a couple of young Hawaiians. Big Island's Tucker Bontecou, 14, and Kauai's Travis Smith, 12, went out and charged on the big day two, with Bontecou advancing one round. The highest placing Hawaiian was Vaj Lederer from the Big Island. Lederer's heroic riding got him all the way to the semis before finally succumbing to dwindling waves and intense competition. The future looks bright indeed for Hawaiian bodyboarders.
As far as other U.S. riders, former pro bodyboarder and videographer Ross McBride (CA) showed that he still had skills to compete with the best. Coming from the first round trials, ironman McBride advanced eight heats, surfing smartly and within his self. Like Lederer, he finally went down in the semis, the highest placing for a Mainland rider.
Other highlights included Rusty Friesen, who had a magical heat on day two, riding some of the biggest waves of the contest (scored 17.5 out of 20.0). Also, three girls entered the event, with women's world champion Kira Llewellyn actually winning her trials heat before going down in trials round two.
However, there was no denying the Australians, who continue to dominate the pro bodyboarding ranks. Their support structure Down Under, coupled with solid sponsorship opportunities and hard-charging attitudes have made them the biggest force to be reckoned with on the tour.
Three Aussies powered into the finals—Damian King, Ben Player, and Ryan Hardy—along with lone Frenchman Cedric Dufaure. King, 27, was the defending champion (2004, no event in 2005) and reigning tour champion for the past two years. Player, also 27, had finished runner-up to the world tour twice and needed a first or second place finish to secure the tour title. Hardy has been a perennial competitive champion for many years, and even scored a near perfect 19.5 out of 20.0 in the semis. Dufaure was, until now, a relative unknown outside his native France.
Although the surf continued declining through the last day, conditions were still very good. The rights at Backdoor started working and played heavily in the final results.
The key exchange was at the nine-minute mark of the finals. King split the peak with Player taking off right at Backdoor. King made a deep barrel for a 9.0, with Player getting a solid left. Right after that wave, Hardy and Dufaure split the next wave with Hardy also getting a wicked tube at Backdoor. The raucous Aussies on the beach were screaming their heads off during the finals, but especially after those two Backdoor barrels were made.
Going into the awards ceremony, both the event and tour titles were still up for grabs, with all four riders performing phenomenally. Referencing the "Where Did Bodyboarding Go?" article this writer recently penned, contest announcer Judah Oshner proclaimed, "Someone said bodyboarding is dead? No way!"
In climactic fashion, it was revealed that Player won both the event and the tour title. However, a protest was filed, and a subsequent recheck found that one ride by Hardy (the Backdoor tube at the nine-minute mark) was inadvertently awarded to Player. In the spirit of good sportsmanship, all finalists acknowledged that an error was made. With the scores corrected, King was deemed the winner of the contest, followed by Player, Hardy and Dufaure.
Although King didn't win the tour, the event win was a nice consolation prize, along with $3,000. For Player, the tour title was a dream finally fulfilled, having come in a frustrating second in the overall tour standings twice prior.
Anyone who has been around the contest scene long enough knows that these things happen. The most recent example is the 2002 Quiksilver Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational where a scoring error changed the winner from Tony Ray to Kelly Slater. It was unfortunate, but in the end it was corrected and made right.
Although the result error undoubtedly put a damper to Player's elation, it really didn't phase him all that much in the long run. "No worries mate; no biggie!" was his response to me in the lineup a couple of days later. Player is the founder of Australia's Movement bodyboarding magazine, and the tour win just affirms that he is the right man to represent and express bodyboarding to the world (he's a cool mate too).
In a special dropknee mini-event, Kauai's David Hubbard (Jeff's brother) used his lanky style to win the title, a cool $1,000, and garnered enough points for the world dropknee championship.
In the end, King was rightly crowned, Player finally took the tour, and bodyboarding had a few days to shine in the sun. The sport may not be the strongest financially, but the level of enthusiasm and stoke by its participants makes it rich beyond measure.
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