Mick Lowe, 2000 Pipe Masters
Mick Lowe, 2000 Pipe Masters
Among other things, this photo of Mick Lowe at Pipeline reinforces why I tell curious surfers to paddle out and watch a wave from the channel. If someone shows interest in hollow waves and they have a modicum of capability, then I'll suggest they paddle out and watch the wave from side on.
Pipeline, Shark Island, Cape Solander, Teahupoo, The Box, all have safe channels where the full heaving display is rammed home in a way no beach or headland viewing can match. When it comes to slabs, profile is always preferable to full frontal.
Photographer Bill Morris says this photo of Lowey was taken during the Quarter-Finals of the 2000 Pipe Masters, in which case I saw it from the beach. Yet from the beach, the important details are in relief, the hypnotic arc of the lip and, most of all, the angle of Lowey’s board as he draws it off the bottom.
It was the first Pipe Masters I’d watched live. The year before I was on the North Shore but simply drove past the contest site. Didn’t ever stop. Can’t recall why, maybe I thought it’d be less crowded elsewhere, but I also recall how in 1999 the news that Slater almost pulled a rodeo clown electrified the North Shore, so perhaps I didn’t want to miss something magical.
The contest ran in three straight days, December 15th to 17th, the last day recorded by Al Hunt as: ‘Excellent 8-12 feet, some bigger, west swell, trade winds, sunny.’
“That’s pretty spot on,” says Lowey. “It was perfect.”
Wearing knee-length Billabong boardies and rocking Arnette Catfish between heats, Lowey kept on making it through the tough encounters. Aside from period fashion, another recollection is how he was given short shrift by the beach commentators. Lowey was on his third year on tour, and sure, he hadn’t yet fired at big Pipe, but all the evidence pointed towards a guy that would go. Had the commentators not seen the recent double-page spread in ASL? Lowey standing upright in a two-storey barrel, plus accompanying text written by Lowey himself about waking up to big swell and favourable wind. All the ingredients for a local wave to fire, and incidentally one that owes its name to the place above.
All the Australians on the beach knew he had form, even if the beach announcers hadn’t yet clocked it.
Asked about the wave, Lowey can’t remember too many details about the day; it all passed in an adrenal blur. He does, however, recall the board in the photo: a 7’2” T&C that snapped shortly thereafter, replacing it with a 7’4” which he rode till the end of the day. These being the last days of the slender Pipe gun before the length and volume were reconfigured.
Behind in the heat, and having swapped boards, Lowey paddled into the wave of the day with seconds on the board:
After Dorian came Bruce Irons in the Semi - second place-getter at the ‘98 Pipe Masters and, though only 21, a proven standout at Pipe. Again Lowey was pegged as the beachside underdog and again he was unfazed by his opponent or the wave, by this time swelling with a confidence that was impossible to miss.
A showdown with Rob Machado in the Final drew historical parallels. The Aussie Animal vs the Californian Stylist. Nat vs Nuuhiwa, Carroll vs Curren, with both competitors living up to stereotype: Machado hadn’t yet fallen all contest, Lowey taking bruising falls and redeeming them with audacious drops.
It’s also worth noting the soon-to-develop backstory: In his road to the Final, Machado beat Andy Irons, who beat Kelly Slater in the Quarters. Their rivalry not yet a thing, though perhaps propelled by that result.
Speaking of Tom Carroll, before the Final he paddled out in a legends heat featuring all the eighties Pipe Masters champs: Big Simon, Michael Ho, who rode a wave in the heat switchfoot, Dane, Occy, Derek, Kong, Pagey feeling like an imposter but loving the moment, and Tom.
Repeatedly, Tom paddled out and across, sitting by himself somewhere offshore from Off The Wall, and swinging into the largest sets that came his way. The crowd would cheer, then oooh as he failed to come out of yet another one. Finally, however, he made a big one, spat to the channel and the crowd erupted, thrilled that they'd seen something special.
“In the Final, I spent most of my time underwater,” recalls Lowey. “I was always that sort of surfer. Ones or tens, eat shit or bust, mate.”
"It's hard not to over froth when it's man-on-man and it's ten-foot perfect Pipe," says Lowey, "You can finally get a chance to catch whatever wave you want."
That attitude got him far, yet it unravelled in the Final. The telling moment came with minutes to go, Lowey swinging into a ten-footer, making it down but spray off the nose precipitating a late and vicious nosedive - no time to protect the extremities. Lowey came up unscathed but only to see Rob paddle into a gem, ride through two barrels and score straight tens, justified in any era.
“Maybe I’d change my tactics in the Final,” says Lowey, “but yeah, I wouldn’t change much. That approach got me to a Masters Final. It’s a pretty special thing, mate.”
// STU NETTLE