Darts: There's just no rushing the tree surgeon when he's on the oche

Justin Pipe had to re-learn his technique after a road accident but is now in the form of his life ahead of World Championships, writes Nick Szczepanik

Justin Pipe is arguably the best darts player in the world right now. But only two years ago you would have been more likely to find him climbing a tree than toeing the oche, and he is lucky to be able to throw darts at all, let alone with the accuracy that makes him a contender in the £1 million Ladbrokes World Darts Championships which begin on Thursday at Alexandra Palace.

Until recently, the Taunton-born former tree surgeon's game was known less for its quality than its slow pace, the result of a motoring accident in 1993 that paralysed his right arm for three months. His re-learned throwing action begins with a deliberate drawing back of his hand followed by a pause that seems to keep the dart stationary for several seconds.

"The slow action came from teaching my arm and my shoulder how to move again really, and it was quite effective," he said. "I had to take my time, go through every motion – how to pick my arm up, how to move my shoulder – so I'm concentrating on each dart and giving it 100 per cent."

He takes around 20 seconds to throw three darts, five seconds longer than the world No 1, Phil "The Power" Taylor, and more than twice as long as reigning world champion Adrian Lewis. Lesser opponents have complained he disrupts their rhythm. "I think that's all in their heads, to be honest," he said. "Every now and then on the tour somebody mumbles about me being slow and it's usually because they've lost. I walk out to the board quick, get my darts out quick and walk back quick. If it was tactical I'd be messing around walking up or walking back."

Messing around would not have got Pipe, who turned 40 last month, very far in his previous line of work. "We used to specialise in large dismantling jobs, dead and dying trees, working with cranes, sometimes in very awkward situations. It is very, very dangerous. Our insurance category, I believe, is the same as for deep-sea divers, which is the highest you can get.

"Some days it was an easy pruning job, another day you might be climbing a 100-foot dead redwood. You can be working under big lumps of wood, and I've had a few close shaves. When you don't know if you're going to go home, getting up on a stage in front of a few thousand people doesn't seem too bad."

If his old outdoor life seems at odds with the commonly held view of the darts professional, so does his present healthy regime. He boxed in his youth as well as playing darts, and now he stays fit by running two or three miles a day. He only drinks occasionally – "a shandy if I go out with Claire, my wife, but that's it" – and dislikes cigarette smoke.

"I stepped down from darts when I was 21 to concentrate on building up my business," he explains. "I'd always played, in the garage, just to stay in harness, but when I was about 36, the smoking ban came in, which made a huge difference. In smoky venues my eyes ran really bad, tears used to stream down my cheeks and that had been a factor in me not bothering any more. But as soon as the ban came in [in 2007] I was able to enter open competitions and not worry about the smoke."

He came to national attention the following year, qualifying for the 2008 UK Open, and credits Clifton Mitchell and Matt Ward, his managers since last April, with making 2011 his breakthrough year. He won his first Pro Tour event in Dublin in October, beating Taylor 6-5 in the final, and proceeded to win two more titles to finish top of the year's final Players Championship Order of Merit.

His recent victories have given him confidence as the World Championships approach but he is as wary of danger as he was in handling chainsaws and climbing high branches. "You've got to feed off those results and tell yourself: 'I've beaten these guys and I can do it wherever and whenever.' I've proved that I've got the game and the mental strength. But you've got a very small window in which to produce your top game and you've got to hit the ground running or you're on your way home.

"Last year I think I gave a good account of myself on my World Championship debut against Mark Walsh, although unfortunately it didn't go my way. This year I'm seeded, and I'm up against Sean Reed, the Australian. He's no mug, the same as everyone else in the competition. They all deserve to be there, so I'll be treating Sean with the same respect I would treat Mr Taylor."

Pipe does not regret the circumstances that prevented him reaching the top until now. "When you're young you don't realise what you've got and what you can do. I wasn't right mentally to play darts and be calm. Now I have a daughter and two sons, I've matured and mellowed and have a different outlook. Before, it was a bit of fun. Now it's my living and I don't throw my darts for the crowd, I throw them for my family, so it has a different meaning. And I think that shows in what has happened this year."

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The data shows that the number of “unlawfully” large infant classes has doubled in the last 12 months alone
i100Mike Stuchbery, a teacher in Great Yarmouth, said he received abuse
Arts and Entertainment
The starship in Star Wars: The Force Awakens
filmsThe first glimpse of JJ Abrams' new film has been released online
Sport
Rio Ferdinand returns for QPR
sportRio Ferdinand returns from his three-game suspension today
News
The Speaker of the House will takes his turn as guest editor of the Today programme
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
St Peter’s Seminary in Cardross. Argyll, has remained derelict for more than 25 years
arts + ents
News
people

Watch the spoof Thanksgiving segment filmed for Live!
Sport
Billy Twelvetrees will start for England against Australia tomorrow with Owen Farrell dropping to the bench
rugbyEngland need a victory against Australia today
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of The Guest Cat – expect to see it everywhere
books
Sport
Tyson Fury poses outside the Imperial War Museum in south London ahead of his fight against Dereck Chisora
boxingAll British heavyweight clash gets underway on Saturday night
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Opilio Recruitment: QA Automation Engineer

£30k - 38k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: An award-winning consume...

Opilio Recruitment: UX & Design Specialist

£40k - 45k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Opilio Recruitment: Publishing Application Support Analyst

£30k - 35k per year + Benefits: Opilio Recruitment: We’re currently re...

Opilio Recruitment: Digital Marketing Manager

£35k - 45k per year + benefits: Opilio Recruitment: A fantastic opportunity ...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game