28 February 2020
This day will go down in my history books as one of the proudest achievements as a body boarder, a very close second to my APB world title win in 2017.
I must admit that the season appeared to want to get off to a shaky start and an uphill struggle. I managed to injure my knee 4 days into my usual Hawaii trip. With the rest of the year of competition ahead, I found myself pondering as to whether I returned to South Africa for treatment or managed recovery in Hawai’i. After a very long, hard talk with Philip Nel, my biokineticist and trainer back home, the decision was taken to stay where I was and work my way through the injury!
Looking at the final day of the event, conditions were predicted to be good but windy. The waves came through late on Thursday evening and produced some afternoon delight for all the riders who were out there. I made it out into the surf that evening to get a feel of conditions.
In the morning, I took the decision to give my usual early surf a miss and get prepared for the day ahead. I hydrated well, got some food and headed down to the event.
The conditions were amazing. Waves coming out of the west and running across the Pipeline reef, making some spectacular views of big left barrels moving onto the inside sand bar at Gums.
I was really nervous heading into my first heat. It was going to be a tough event after seeing the strong showing from all the riders in the previous rounds. I went out with a stacked heat of local rippers. The heat was challenging with the peak constantly shifting across the reef. This was mixed up with a flurry of rain squalls that made it almost impossible to see what was going on in the water. I was able to get a nice score early and then backed it up with a small barrel to a roll. The heat win put me through to the quarter finals.
In the quarter finals the waves were very slow. I decided to sit on the peak and was able to get a smaller incomplete ride to start. I was just not able to get into a rhythm but was lucky to find a small runner and got barreled, came out, and went straight into a spin and then rolled the end for a 7.17. In the dying minutes, Hawaiian rider Travis Smith only needed a 4.25 but the waves just didn’t come, time ran out and I was on to the semis.
The semi-final heat was absolutely stacked and I was in the company of the top riders from Hawaii and Brazil in the form of Jeff Hubbard, Kawika Kamai and Dudu Pedra. I got started early with a really good barrel to roll and scored a 8.67 which put me into an early lead. I then saw a fun peak coming through as I was paddling out and got a good section to hit a nice invert. This put me into an early lead so I kept a close eye on the action around me for the rest of the heat. Jeff got a last wave with a massive backflip to take the lead with a 9.83 and we were both through to the finals.
I knew the finals would be tough and I was excited to get out as the waves had really started to pulse through. I watched as Tanner McDaniel, Jeff Hubbard and Sammy Morretino got their rash guards on to get the heat started. We got a lift out on the jet ski and the final heat was on!
I found an early deep barrel, got inside but I couldn’t make it out. Jeff got a good backdoor wave but then went for an air reverse and couldn’t complete it. Sammy had an early start, getting a good ARS to get the heat going with a 7.67. Tanner then began his attack. He posted an 8 for his first wave. I managed a good backflip and got a score on the board, a 7.17. Tanner then got his best score of the heat with a good barrel to backflip of a 9.17. This put him in the lead and the game was on!
Time was ticking by. I knew that I had to go for something big, a Hail Mary. I saw a wave coming through on a good section of the reef and was able to lock into it. Getting barreled and, with a good view from inside the barrel, I could see the wave bending and offering a good section ahead so I hit and landed a reverse for a score of 8.83. But I was still in second place. Tanner got another good wave for a score of 7. Then I hooked into a wave that started to barrel. I went past the barrel and got a good backflip out of the end. I was still on the wave which then turned and ran down the sand bar so I linked a roll and a reverse on the end section for an 8.47 and a lead in the heat.
Jeff then went on the attack and posted an 8.5 for a good backflip. The heat was starting to count down. Five minutes to go and I was just hanging onto the lead.
A set started to roll in, and with no priority, Tanner went on an insider and hit a good reverse for a 8.77 taking him into the lead. Now I needed a 9-point ride. With 1 minute and 20 seconds left in the heat I saw a set coming in over second reef. Tanner and I were positioned close together and I remember turning to Tanner and saying, “I wonder if this set will make it to us before the end of the heat.” Tanner replied, “I don’t want to say if it will, or not…”
With 20 seconds to go in the heat, the first wave was on us. I looked at it and it really wasn’t as good as I thought it would be but I saw that there was another bigger wave behind it. I knew, in that moment, that I needed to paddle out towards the wave or I wouldn’t have momentum on the wave before the hooter sounded. I could hear them counting down the heat from the beach as I scooped into the big barrel of the wave. I saw both Sammy and Jeff with their hands up in the channel as I came flying out of the barrel with a scream of excited relief at pulling the ride off. I remember going off the back of the wave with a fist pump and then just had to wait for the result.
I had to wait to catch a suitable wave to the beach and, with no announcement from the beach, I still had no idea of the final heat result.
Tanner was the first to meet me on the beach shouting, “You did it bro! You got a 10! You’re the Pipe Champ!”
I remember just falling forward into the water as realization, and deep gratitude, kicked in. Sammy got in an early celebration, spraying me with some of the local brew. It was a fantastic feeling to be chaired out of the water by two Australian riders, surrounded by fellow competitors. With Davin Alexander throwing me over his shoulder to carry me up the beach where I was welcomed and congratulated by fellow competitors and spectators.
This event has come to mean so much to me and to so many others who have come to experience this beautiful place in Hawai’i.
Looking back on this experience, I find it difficult to absorb the day that I had. Replaying it so many times in my head, I am so grateful to have been able to hold the Mike Stewart Pipeline Invitational Trophy at the end of an unbelievable day of competition.
My journey to Hawaii has always been one to which I have been truly committed. Ten years of returning to take my place in the line-up, spending a lot of time in the water and for this to happen makes all the time and effort worth it.
To all the local guys I have met and had the privilege to share the water with out there, I thank you for letting me share some waves and this beautiful island home of yours.
To Mike Stewart and his team for constantly pushing to have this event here. This event showed what the bodyboard community is capable of when we all push for a common goal…
Every single rider in the event was pushing the limits and to Jeff Hubbard, Sammy Morretino it was great to share that final with you guys. Tanner McDaniel I’m sorry for ruining the 21st birthday dream run however your performance throughout the day will be remembered. I am truly happy to trade off some insane waves out at our favourite place!
Thanks to everyone for all the support and kind messages being sent through. A special thank you to Haku Lei Haleiwa for the most beautiful Lei as a crown for the title!
Special mention to my mom, Hank, dad and Sue, Rosie Lombard and the Lombard family. A huge shoutout to Phil Nel for his guidance and for always being in my corner, knowing what to do and when to do it.
This is up there with an event I have been pushing to win for many years. I am just so fortunate it’s all come to fruition in the manner it which it did. Thanks to my sponsors for allowing me to do what I do. You guys make this all possible!