Piping hot

KELLY SLATER won the Pipeline Masters yesterday as fears mount that the global economic crisis could threaten the world tour.
Nanjing Night Net

The peerless Slater consolidated his ninth world title in emphatic style by claiming the last event of the year in the most famous waves of all. He has gone the full circle. As a teenager Slater was regarded as a precocious talent unable to overcome his fear of big waves. His home break at Cocoa Beach in Florida was less than formidable and his first trip to the North Shore of Hawaii terrified him.

Then he caught one bomb in Hawaii in his mid-teens that left him sitting in the water screaming "I can do this!" and the rest is his march into history.

Slater will begin his title defence at the Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast from February 28 but there are concerns on tour about future sponsorships of events by Quiksilver and Billabong because of their plummeting share prices.

They picked up the bill for six of this year’s 11 events at the most prestigious locations: Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast, Teahupoo in Tahiti, Jeffreys Bay in South Africa, Hossegor in France, Mundaka in Spain and Pipeline. But Billabong shares recently plummeted 18 per cent to $8.20 in their biggest fall since being listed eight years ago and have since dropped again.

Quiksilver’s shares had fallen below $US1 and it reacted by axing its sponsorship of two lower-level events in Australia. Quiksilver Inc has its international base in California and has been in steady decline on the New York Stock Exchange since September.

The two dumped Quiksilver events were state junior championships. Quiksilver’s female surfwear firm, Roxy, has pulled out of its backing of a World Qualifying Series contest in Victoria.

The fear is that the cost-cutting could extend to world tour events, throwing the 11-event schedule into chaos. It would be the last resort for both Billabong and Quiksilver to lessen their presence on the world tour but the bottom line will always be a determining factor. Few other surf companies could afford to stage the multimillion-dollar events.

Australia’s former world champion Mark Richards is among those who believe surfing should entice major corporations such as Nike in an effort to boost prizemoney. Slater’s cheque for winning his 40th tour final yesterday was the same as he received 18 years ago in California for his first triumph: $US30,000. On today’s conversion rates, that’s $45,000.

Slater’s dream season finished with his sixth triumph of the year and first Pipe Masters since 1999.

"It’s inexplicable," he said. "I’m just stoked. I wasn’t even worried about surfing the event, so to surf it and win and get that board [a Gerry Lopez-designed surfboard trophy] – I’ll cherish that. My season is all about nines. Winning this event nine years later, I needed a ninth in the ninth event of the year to win my ninth world title – it’s crazy."

Slater beat American Chris Ward by 14 points to 7.23 in the decider. Australia’s Joel Parkinson, one of the superstars to be denied a world title by Slater’s dominance, claimed the Triple Crown for his consistent performances at Haleiwa (fifth), Sunset Beach (fifth) and Pipeline, where he finished ninth and became only the second surfer behind Slater to post a perfect 20 heat score.

The final 2008 rankings spat out by the ASP’s computer yesterday had a top 10 of Slater, Bede Durbidge (Aust), Taj Burrow (Aust), Parkinson (Aust), CJ Hobgood (US), Adrian Buchan (Aust), Adriano de Souza (Bra), Mick Fanning (Aust), Bobby Martinez (US), Jeremy Flores (France). Gilmore and Beachley waiting for waves to pick up

HONOLUA BAY, Hawaii: Small half-metre waves forced event organisers to call another lay day at the Billabong Pro Maui women’s tournament.

Newly crowned world champion Stephanie Gilmore blitzed the field with a near-perfect 9.75 on Wednesday to secure her place in the quarter-finals. Layne Beachley, in her final tournament as a full-time pro, is also through to the quarters and leads Gilmore in the race to secure the Triple Crown title.

Beachley has drawn South African Rosanne Hodge in the quarter-finals, while Gilmore will face fellow Australian Rebecca Woods.

Event organisers will reconvene this morning (AEDT) to assess conditions.