Yesterday, the WSL announced that Bruce Irons has been allocated one of the two replacement spots in the upcoming 2015 Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons, the climactic contest of the Championship Tour dedicated to his late brother.
Following the public outcry that followed his omission from the trials event last year, Bruce has this year been spared having to wait to see if an invitation falls through his letterbox and has instead been fast-tracked straight into the main event by WSL commissioner Kieren Perrow.
“Bruce and I have been talking about a possible opportunity and it’s great to see him charging Pipe again this season,” Perrow said. “He’s always been a standout at Pipeline and remains amongst the world’s best surfers when conditions get critical out there. With the withdrawals of Frederick Patacchia (HAW) and Matt Banting (AUS), the WSL is in a position to allocate one of the replacement spots to Bruce and we feel like he’s certainly a worthy candidate given the form he’s in. We’re looking forward to a great event.”
According to the WSL’s own website, “Replacement surfers are chosen by the WSL before the start of the season and are offered the opportunity to fill empty places in CT events should other surfers withdraw”, so the water is a little muddy concerning whether Bruce is in as a replacement surfer or as a wildcard. It doesn’t matter either way though, as by all accounts Bruce has found something of his old form this winter (only last week he dropped into a Pipe bomb that earned him a nomination in Surfline’s O’Neill Wave of the Winter) and there is little doubt that his affinity with the wave at Banzai Pipeline/Backdoor will provide a spectacle during the main event. Irons has a solid track record at Pipeline, having won the event in 2001 and made the podium before that in both 1998 and 2000, however that was well over a decade ago and to put it in perspective, there are a number of professional surfers whose competitive careers have been and gone in the time since, including his own stint on the WCT from 2004-2008. Is his relevance and selection as a replacement therefore an act of nepotism by the WSL or could it perhaps be an attempt to avoid a repeat of last year’s ill feeling, as Billabong continue to lever the legacy of Andy Irons in their marketing. Are they just buying Bruce’s (as well as the general surfing public’s) silence by giving him a spot?
Whatever the reason, the powers that be don’t want to give the impression that the decision has anything to do with the publicity generated on social media by #bruce4pipemasterswildcard; the WSL is a professional sports league after all, and professional sports leagues have to maintain a format and follow their own rules. Digging into that format and addressing how and to whom spare contest places are allocated or the sway that event sponsors may or may not have over how said event is run is a whole other can of worms. There is one thing to consider before concluding, however; as a replacement surfer Bruce will be in from the outset, and could easily upset the apple cart as six remaining contenders (Mick Fanning, Filipe Toledo, Adriano de Souza, Gabriel Medina, Owen Wright and Julian Wilson) battle it out for the World Title. It’s going to be all eyes on the North Shore from December 8th, and this year’s Pipe Masters promises to be an interesting and captivating contest. Let’s hope that the stars align to deliver some classic Pipe conditions and that Bruce is able to bring to the party the sort of surfing that we all know he’s capable of, and can validate his inclusion simply by letting his surfing speak for itself.