A very important week in pro surfing is upon us. Events in three theatres, all weighted with potentially significant outcomes.
First up, this weekend sees the culmination of the 6 Star Onbongo Pro Surfing, which basically provides the last window of opportunity to position oneself favorably leading into the Vans Triple Crown on Oahu's North Shore. There has been some serious slipping and sliding and thrusting and parrying going on in WQS/Land, and while mathematical possibilities abound, for many the Obongo is the last realistic throw of the dice to get into the qualifying frame.
Then on October 30 simultaneous Men's and Women's World Championship events are happening on the Pacific and Atlantic side of the South American continent. The Hang Loose Catarina Pro will be cranking up in Imbatuba, about 90 minutes south of Florianopolis, Brazil, and the inaugural Mancora Peru Classic will see the Top 17 Women grace the waters of the mythical Peru between Oct 30 & November 7.
There is obviously a huge buzz surrounding the Hang Loose Catarina Pro, one could cut the air of anticipation with a knife. It's been a long, long time since the rising star of an Australian surfer has claimed a Men's World Crown. But that is the scenario Mick Fanning has carved out for himself, a win in Brazil, where he is defending champion, will see the Cooly Kid clinch the 2007 Foster's ASP World Title.
The past five years have seen the World #1 & #2 ranking in the exclusive realm of Kelly Slater and Andy Irons. Kelly is still in the hunt in 07, the 8 times World Champion, who is chasing a hat-trick of World Titles, pretty much needs to win Brazil and then back up with a 6th win at Pipe. If it was anyone else you'd dismiss the challenge as “you're dreaming”, but being Slater, anything is possible. That is well in the forefront of Fanning's thinking, if any element on the planet was to keep one honest and focussed it is the giant shadow of Kelly Slater looming over any potential celebrations.
Taj Burrow is in an incrementally better position to challenge, but would still need to make both Finals, combined with early exits by Mick. Taj has had a solid year, winning twice for the first time and coming within a whisker of a third 07 win at Mundaka. It's just that Mick has set such a cracking high-end pace, securing podium finishes in seven of eight events contested. Taj and Kelly have definitely matched him at various points along the way, as has Damo Hobgood, Joel Parkinson and Andy Irons, but nobody has been able to answer the sustained attack, Mick hardly ever putting a foot wrong before the Semi Final stage.
The one distinct advantage Mick has going into Brazil is that once he clears the Rd of 32 he is adding points directly onto his adjusted ratings. The one glitch in his armour, a 17th place finish at the hands of Dane Reynolds at Trestles, is there to be dropped. This is the killer for Taj and Kelly, Mick has two opportunities to significantly better that 17th place. If one were a betting man, the odds would be so stingy that you'd have to put a ranch on the line to gain an acre.
In sport, however, nothing is a foregone conclusion, the improbable just happened in Formula 1, and this will deliver absorbing theatre at crunch time in Brazil. All the best to all three contenders, and of course to those surfing to save their Top 45 status.
On a whim of instinct newly appointed Women's Tour Manager Brooke Farris took off down to Peru a month or so ago. She scooped up rookie sensation Stephanie Gilmore and set off on a mission. Within three days Brooke, who was formerly the PA of 7 times World Champion Layne Beachley, rang in to confirm a new tour event. What's so cool about the girls is the one in all in attitude. Instead of firstly looking to see how a new event would impact their own status, the girls firstly look to see if it will benefit the sport.
The result, ASP goes to Peru, the inaugural Mancora Peru Classic also kicking off on October 30. This is a fantastic boost for women's pro surfing; ASP has wanted an event in Peru forever. Obviously the support for and by former World Champion Sofia Mulanovich could not be understated, Sofia is an icon in Peru, she has put the country on the surfing map, in much the same way as the legendary male surfer and 1965 World Champion Felipe Pomar did 40 years ago.
It says a lot about the calibre of Stephanie Gilmore that she was prepared to jump a flight with zero notice in a bid to secure another event. Word filtered back that Steph's surfing prowess really impressed in the land of the endless left. Well, she is born and bred on Super Bank so Steph has a lot of catching up to do on going left. And with her scintillating win at Manly a couple weeks ago, Steph Gilmore is on the ascendancy, her rookie year underpinned by historic victories at Bells and the points rich NAB Beachley Classic.
Breathing down her neck is the Brazilian star Silvana Lima. This girl has talent to burn, she is capable of posting 9's at will and a series of Top 3 placing's, including a very impressive runner-up at Manly, has catapulted Silvana into the #2 World ranking, just fractionally behind Gilmore. The two of them have created a bit of daylight at the helm but former World Champion Sofia Mulanovich looms large as a likely challenger. The whole of Peru will be behind their superstar, a win at home would vault Sofia into the reckoning leading into Hawaii.
Still a bit early to get the ready reckoner out on the possibilities, a challenge could definitely come from the likes of Samantha Cornish, Chelsea Hedges and Layne Beachley, but if it's not to be a two or three horse race for top honours at Sunset and Honolua, the collective field needs to come up with a formula for putting the skids on the runaway Gilmore/Lima.
Yep, that's a good week of business at ASP. Shop open, good luck to all.