By Will Swanton
OAHU, Hawaii (Reuters) - The end is nigh. Kelly Slater ran out of miracles and signalled the end of his career as a fulltime competitor as Australia's Kieren Perrow won a thrilling 41st edition of the Billabong Pipeline Masters on Saturday to ensure himself at least one more year on the surfing tour.
Slater, the 11-times world champion, defeated fellow American John John Florence in a drama-charged quarter-final before he lost to Australian Joel Parkinson in the semi-finals and then indicated he would only compete in selected events next year.
"I'm in somewhat of a transition period where I'm going to be re-evaluating my life - whatever is left on tour and what is going to be off tour," he said.
"It's probably a little bit scary because you get so used to one thing but it's also exciting because you have a whole different life open up to you and a whole different opportunity to experience things.
"I've had a lot of focus for a lot of years on competition and I'm definitely welcoming a different direction."
The 34-year-old Perrow, in contrast however, had started the Pipe event with his career on the line having to reach the quarter-finals to even re-qualify for next year's tour. Instead he walked away with his tour future secured and the trophy.
"I'm speechless," Perrow said after beating a wave-starved Parkinson by 13.7 points to seven. "This is too surreal and bizarre to be true.
"There was so much pressure on me just to stay on the tour. This could have been the last event of my life. I bought my wife, my brother, my daughter and son here in case it was goodbye to professional surfing.
"Not only have I re-qualified, I've won Pipe. It can't be true.
"I nearly cried out in the water when I reached the quarters so to be standing here now as the winner, to say it's a dream would be an understatement.
"It's been the greatest few days of my life. I know I've re-qualified for next year but I feel like retiring on the spot."
END OF WAVE?
Slater's ride had looked to have been heading for an early exit, staring at a heavy defeat against the 19-year-old Florence, trailing by a whopping 16 points with only eight minutes remaining.
The maximum score on a single wave is ten points, so Slater faced a near-impossible task. He pulled it off with consecutive waves of 9.7 and 7.83, the heat-winner coming with a mere 46 seconds remaining.
"I was just trying to hold John John off for one more year," Slater said.
"This might have been my last chance to get a few waves against him. He's going to dominate Pipe for the next 20 years."
The 39-year-old, who then lost to Parkinson, then said he was only a certain starter at the season-opening Quiksilver Pro, to be staged on the Gold Coast in Australia in February, because it comes under the banner of his major sponsor.
"If the next contest wasn't with Quiksilver I don't know if I'd be going," Slater said.
"I seem to do well there and that sets up my whole year but I don't know if I would have started the tour the last couple of years if it wasn't a Quiksilver contest.
"After 20 years on tour, it can feel like a bit of a grind. That's not a complaint, the tour is a great life, but it can wear you down a little after this long."
Florence's quarter-final appearance was still enough to earn him the Vans Triple Crown for being the best performer of the Hawaiian season at Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Pipeline.
"There are some incredible names on this trophy, it's probably the next best thing to being world champion," Florence said.
(Editing by Greg Stutchbury)