Friday, July 1, 2022 |
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Kaua‘i’s Hubbard brings it all home
by THE GARDEN ISLAND
PIPELINE — On Saturday in perfect 8- to 10-foot waves, Lihu‘e native Jeff Hubbard won the Rockstar Games Pipeline Pro and became the first Hawaiian bodyboarder to win a world title since Mike Stewart in 1995.
A yearlong contender for the International Bodyboarding Association title, Hubbard finally took the tour lead earlier this month after a fifth-place finish at the IBA Ledges Pro on Maui, just a week before the tour finale on O‘ahu.
Heading into Pipeline, Hubbard, 31, said the pressure to perform was squarely on him. Australian Ryan Hardy only needed to make the quarterfinals to retake the points lead.
At the very least, Hubbard knew he had to make the finals to be world champion.
“The pressure was intense, but I knew what I had to do so I was able to focus and really put everything I had into Pipeline,” he said. “I surfed at Pipe almost every time the wave broke this past year to make sure I was ready for this last event.”
Hubbard, who grew up surfing Kalapaki, said he considers Pipeline his “home break” now that he lives on O‘ahu.
He wasn’t the only Hawaiian to surf well on the last day.
Kilauea’s Piper Llewellyn advanced to Round 5, eventually losing to Hilo’s Stewart, as well as Hardy.
When Hardy qualified for the quarters, was watching.
“It was the only heat I watched all year of his where I was hoping he would lose,” Hubbard said. “I guess I was hoping for an easy win, but after he retook the lead, I knew I would have to really earn it today.”
He did, winning his fifth-round heat convincingly, posting a near-perfect score along the way.
Hubbard faced current world champion Ben Player in the quarters, calling the Australian the best foreigner on the Pipeline break.
“He knows and surfs this wave really well,” he said.
Knowing he needed to eliminate Player to keep his hopes of a tour title alive, Hubbard did just that, picking off big barrels on the way to the semifinals.
Hardy, however, didn’t make it that far.
In the final minutes of the third quarterfinal heat, Hardy’s luck took a turn for the worse and two former Pipeline champions, Stewart and Brazil’s Guilerme Tamega, eliminated him. Stewart, the last Hawaiian to claim an IBA championship, scored a perfect 10 in the heat.
With Hardy gone, Hubbard only had to advance to the finals to claim the crown.
“I was so nervous before my semifinal heat I had to use some yoga techniques to slow my heart rate down and relax,” he said.
Facing two-time Pipeline and world champion Andre Botha of South Africa, Australian Dallas Singer and Californian Ross McBride in heaving 8- to 10-foot swells, Hubbard nabbed some of the biggest waves of the heat, scoring 18.4 out of a possible 20 points to advance to the finals.
“After that semi, I knew I had become the new world champion,” Hubbard said. “The whole Hawaiian contingent raced down to the water and picked me up. I saw my brother David and our friend from Koloa, Bud Miyamoto, running down to the beach and I was almost choked up I was so happy.”
The celebration was short-lived.
“It was strange because I was so relieved and relaxed but I knew I still had a job to do — my day was not over,” he said. “I wanted to win the contest and the world title in the same day just to make sure every one knew that I was a deserving champion.”
Hubbard settled back into his routine of stretching and listening to his iPod.
Waiting for him in the finals, Botha and Tamega, whom he beat in the finals earlier this year in Arica, Chile.
Dark horse and left expert Amaury Lavernhe from Reunion Island, a French provincial off of Madagascar, rounded out the 30-minute final.
After strong score and strong score, it became clear that it would take an amazing ride to win it.
After Tamega took a huge wave all the way into Ehukai Beach Park, Hubbard answered with a long, spitting barrel and exited with a roll.
Botha and Lavernhe each scored high marks, turning tricks off the lip, but Hubbard again countered with a deep barrel and a huge air roll spin out of the bowl that he capped with another large roll, securing the highest scoring wave of the final and launching him into first.
Only Hubbard didn’t know it.
“Being so far out in those big waves you couldn’t hear the announcers too well,” he said. “Every time I paddled out I would see someone do something crazy. I thought I needed a big score so I kept pushing myself deeper on the set waves.”
Pushing hard, Hubbard suffered a few tough spills halfway through the heat, one bad enough to require two staples in his head and another needing Super Glue to close a gash on his elbow.
After dismissing the initial temptation to call it quits, Hubbard, with eight minutes left, nailed the second highest score of the heat on a thick, wide barrel, driving through the long tube before blowing out the end and soaring off the lip for a huge back flip.
He didn’t land it, but it didn’t matter.
“I was going for the perfect 10 and had I made that back flip, I would have gotten it for sure,” Hubbard said.
His go-for-broke attitude paid off with high marks from the judges anyway.
Despite a thrilling ride in the last 30 seconds of the heat that lit up the vocal Brazilian fans, Tamega fell short of the 8.6 he needed to win.
Due to his injuries, Hubbard came in with the water patrol and didn’t find out he’d won until his wife Heather told him.
“I won’t ever forget this day because it was my day, and the year of training in and out of the water, and sacrifices all paid off,” he said. “Winning a world championship and Pipe championship in the same day in perfect waves against the best riders in the world is very special. Only a handful people in the world know what that’s like and now I am one of them.”
Hubbard pocketed $3,000 in prize money.
Fellow Hawaiians Stewart (tied for fifth) and Paul Benco (tied for ninth) also finished well.
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