Golden Victories And Crushing Defeats: The Six Greatest Moments In Competitive Surfing History

These were the most nail-biting contests ever...

Pipeline, Hawaii. Site of the final WSL contest of the season. Photo: WSL

The race for the men’s WSL world surfing championship is very much on in the run up to the final two events of the season.

Australia’s Mick Fanning currently leads Adriano de Souza by a narrow margin of just 450 points and there’s every chance that it will go down to the wire – aka the final event at Pipeline.

So what better time to look back at the tensest, most closely-fought contests in surf history?

Of course Mick Fanning’s season has already included at least one moment that will echo through the ages, when he fought off that shark attack.

But could his season be remembered for what happens in these final two events? Will this year’s last two contests make the cut? Watch this space..

Billabong Pipe Masters (2012)

Joel Parkinson celebrates winning the Billabong Pipe Masters in 2012. Photo: WSL


Pipeline, the most famous stretch of surfing on earth. It is responsible for more momentous pro surfing moments than Bell’s, Huntington and Jeffreys Bay combined. Could the 2012 Pipe Masters actually rival some of the most pivotal and brain searing exploits ever seen by men wearing very tight wifebeater tops in very big waves?


The answer to the above is… yes! In a Pipeline Masters top five moments that include: Mike Ho’s victory in a fibreglass cast in 1982; Tom Carroll’s emotional victory in 1992; Barton Lynch’s dramatic world title win from nowhere in 1988; Kelly Slater’s world title win in 1995 (featuring the Machado high five) and Andy Irons on the buzzer victory and world title win in 2004, Joel Parkinson steely victory to win his first world title easily slips in as one of the best bit of emotional surf theatre in the history of the sport.


Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater. The 11 times world champ, up against the smoothest and most popular surfer never to win one. After a see-sawing year, whoever went furthest at Pipe would win the title. Somehow Parko handled the pressure, constantly maintaining his nerve and style, to the point where an unexpected Kelly loss in the semi gave Parko the title. Perhaps no surfer had been so deserving, or won it under such immense pressure.

What They Said…

“I finally fucking won” – a shirt worn by Parko the following day.

Billabong Pro Tahiti (2011)

Kelly Slater in action in the 2011 Tahiti Pro. Photo: WSL


Teahupoo is easily the heaviest and most picturesque waves in the world, but for just over half a decade Huey and the Billabong Pro hadn’t gotten along. The world’s heaviest wave had produced at best, a few moments of six foot perfection, but none of the ten foot pube-greying, brown short staining mayhem that the online blood-baying crowd demanded.


In 2011 that all changed. A macking swell arrived around the ten foot plus mark, and didn’t go anywhere for five days. One day, it doubled to 20ft, ensuring a “Code Red” tow surfing session that was webcast live went down as one of the formative sessions in surf history. Around that session, the world’s best put on a show in the perfect massive Chopes, making it one of the most watched events in surfing history.


Kelly Slater won, further cementing his mastery in any sized waves, anywhere. The other finalist Owen Wright showed his big-wave credentials, while guys like Matt Wilkinson, Trav Logie and Jeremy Flores stepped up, lost blood and were heroes for a day.

What they said…

“The last heat I had against Andy was out here in the semi final last year, so I’m really stoked and really honoured to win,” said a choked up Kelly Slater, dedicating his win to Andy, who’s last victory was here in 2010.

What’s the chances of this every happening again?

Last year’s event featured waves of similar size and consequence. A certain young Brazilian called Gabriel Medina beat Slater in the final, so the answer is, yes.

Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast (2010)

Joel Parkinson celebrates winning the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in 2010. Photo: WSL


While the Superbank has provided some true perfection since the Quik Pro’s inception as a WCT event in 2000, 2010 wasn’t one of those years. Instead, storm surf and a gutted bank had threatened to turn the event from iconic to shithouse. However on the final day, with a solid ten foot cyclone swell running, and some bombs blasting down off the previously sand choked Kirra, it turned into a truly memorable day of professional surfing.


Mainly for the semi final featuring Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning, the two Cooly kids trading ten foot drainers off Kirra Groyne in front a huge crowd who couldn’t lose.


Joel Parkinson emerged triumphant, scoring a 10 and a 9.93 in the space of a minute. Fanning managed only 18 points or so, but the see-sawing nature of the heat, the huge local crowd and the sight of long lost Kirra kinda doing its thing, made this something special. Parko, of course, went on to beat Adriano De Souza in the final, scoring another ten on the way, fairytale-ing the event and rubber stamping an all-mighty piss up.

What they said…

“The crowd is awesome. There are so many people. Down here you don’t really see it, but from the water you can see the crowd on the hill and all along Coolangatta and even down Kirra Point. I could hear them roaring… it was amazing.” – Parko

Rip Curl Search Mexico (2006)

A Rip Curl-branded jet ski in the water. Photo: WSL


Tagged as “somewhere” in Mexico, but in fact was at the right-hand point break of La Jolla, a previously semi-secret spot located a few hours south of Puerto Escondido.


It was chosen for the mind-boggling perfection of the waves. Bede Durbidge described it as, “A cross between all time Kirra and Burleigh, but it’s better than both of them.” A once-in-a-decade perfectly directed south swell had coincided with a perfect and rare stacked sandbank. This coupled with three days of sun and offshore winds created a 500 metre wave of unrivalled perfection.


Pretty much every surfer, judge, journo, company exec and scaffold erector that was at this event counts it as the best surf they ever saw or surfed. Andy Irons won the final, then at the peak of his powers, surfing a wave that was perfect for his vast talents.

What they said…

“Every day I’d say that these are the best waves I’ve ever surfed. And I said that for four days running. And I meant it every time.” – Taj Burrow

What are the chances of it happening ever again?

Zero. The Search moved on, but even if someone was to try to hold another event there, the chances of scoring this perfect shitstorm of perfection is about roughly half of zero.

Quiksilver Pro G-Land (1997)

Luke Egan won the G-Land Quiksilver Pro title in 1997. Photo:


G-Land, discovered back in the early 1970s and a byword for Indonesian perfection, hosted the Quiksilver Pro from 1995 to 1997. Each event featured G-Land near its considerable best.

The world’s best surfers, surfing the world’s best wave… Yeah that sounds feasible, don’t it?

In 1996, Kelly Slater had won in perfect Speedies, but in 1997 the benchmark was set for the most perfect waves ever seen for a surfing competition.


The 1997 event kickstarted the whole concept of the Dream Tour. Prior to that, most of the events were held in sub-standard beachbreaks, or if they were run at quality breaks did so at the wrong time of year.

While there was no webcasts back then, for the first time live newsfeeds via TV meant punters were beamed daily edited footage of G-Land perfection. It was revolutionary.


Luke Egan stormed through the whole event. In the final in 10 foot Speedies, the big Australian stopped the previously unstoppable Kelly Slater to win his first World Tour event.

Louie cemented his reputation as one of the premier surfers in premier waves. “For me, to be the best surfer when the waves are good is something to be proud of,” he said.

What they said…

“It was like a lightbulb going off. Here we had perfect waves and we finally saw the potential of what the world tour could be.” – Kelly Slater

Xbox Gerry Lopez Pipeline Masters (2003)

Andy Irons in action at Pipe. Photo: Tim McKenna


Pipeline, you must have heard of it.

Before the recent wins for Parko (2012), Fanning (2013) and Medina (2014) the last time the world title came down to the wire was back in 2003. Andy Irons and Kelly Slater, the two best surfers and greatest rivals of their generation went head-to-head at Pipe.


With less than a minute to go, the world title was still on the line. After a see-sawing final, Andy outmuscled Kelly for a right, had to backdoor the Backdoor, and came through a five second tube for a ten.

His win – and Kelly’s relegation to fourth – meant he had the world title. On the buzzer, a ten point ride, beating Kelly, a world title, surfing had never reached this level of last minute fever pitch excitement.


While Corey Lopez and Rob Machado were in the four man final, it was all about Kelly vs. Andy.

Andy had won the 2002 world title convincingly, but 2003 had seen Kelly come back strong.

Their rivalry was at its peak. It was the only time in Kelly’s 20 year career that another surfer had the measure of him.

What they said…

“Kelly knows how I feel about him. Despite all the media hype that comes out of a rivalry there’s a lot of respect given both ways.” – Andy Irons

What are the chances of this happening again?

The sad loss of Andy Irons means Pipeline will never be graced by one of its greats. However, as 2012 and 2013 showed, there is nothing quite like when a world title race goes down at Pipe. Fingers crossed we’ll see the same levels of drama in the coming weeks.

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