Thursday June 19, 2003 (Niijima Island, Japan) Japanese wildcard Masatoshi Ohno today created an upset as the Niijima Quiksilver Pro got underway. The US$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT) commenced with round one being split in half – heats running simultaneously on two separate banks in front of the main contest site. Eight heats of the second elimination round were then decided further south down Habushiura Beach at ‘Secret Point.’ Tricky 2-3ft (0.6-1m) waves breaking close the shore were on offer this morning, while 2 miles (4km) along the same stretch of beach longer 4ft righthanders peeled cleanly down the line. Organizers set up a mobile site there to the appreciation of all contestants, with four-wheel drives taxiing those involved between locations.
Quiksilver wildcard Masatoshi Ohno put aside nerves to surf confidently and defeat Neco Padaratz (Brz) and world #4 Taj Burrow (West Australia) in a great exchange. Having earlier contested the Quiksilver Trials on Australia’s Gold Coast and more recently in Fiji without success, Ohno lifted his game on home turf for a significant career win. The goofyfooter was impressive on his backhand; securing a round three berth.
“It’s great,” said Masatoshi. “To win that heat with such good surfers is a really good experience for me. I did my best, and I think these conditions really worked to my advantage, so I was lucky. If they were perfect waves, it would have been more difficult for me. The WCT guys have much more experience in good waves, and I know all of them are so good. I’m really happy to make it.”
Burrow later contested round two against another Japanese wildcard Masaki Harada – after the Niijima Quiksilver Pro relocated further south to ‘Secret Point’ and there unleashed a devastating performance over his opponent. The West Australian convincingly advanced with a 7.5 and then equaled the best single score of the event for a 9.0 and the days’ highest combined tally of 16.5-points. A carving reverse 360 at the end of his best ride got the crowd cheering.
“The conditions were really tricky this morning and I couldn’t even catch a wave,” recalled Burrow after his win. “I just had to focus on the 33rd place round. I was a little bit nervous, but once the waves started coming through I was feeling confident after getting a few under my belt. The waves were amazing, like Trestles (CA, USA) and really rippable. I actually surfed here all day yesterday feel pretty confident if they continue to run the contest at this break.”
Replacement surfer Ben Bourgeois (USA) – who filled Hawaiian Shane Dorian’s spot in the Niijima Quiksilver Pro – made the most of the opportunity by defeating 2001 world champion CJ Hobgood (Fl, USA) and Michael Campbell (Port Macquarie, Aus) this morning. The former WCT surfer narrowly missed out on a full-time position in 2003, but posted the day’s first 9.0 and the second highest combined tally of 16.15-points with his smooth forehand attack.
“I got lucky since Shane didn’t want to come here,” explained Bourgeois of his position in the event. “Stoked just to be here and have a spot, and winning that first heat is great. The waves were really tough and I didn’t really have a strategy out there, but I was lucky to catch a really long one. I didn’t feel that good on it, but the wave itself was a nine (laughs).”
Reigning world champion and ratings leader Andy Irons (Kauai, Haw) overcame an in-form Pat O’Connell (CA, USA) and Japanese wildcard Masaki Harada in round one. The Kauaian locked in a couple of high scores and then used tactics to advantage.
“They were really tough conditions with the waves only breaking about 10-feet off the sand,” explained Irons. “Every wave was really quick. Pat’s really short and can fit turns in really quick, like on his first wave where he scored an 8.5 and surfed really well. I got a 7.55 and a 6.85 for the lead, so towards the end of the heat I just sat on him, as I knew if he got another good wave he’d probably get the score he needed. There was a bit of luck and then tactics played a part at the end. It wasn’t one of my favorite wins, but I’ll take it right now since the waves were really small.”
Six-time world champion Kelly Slater (FL, USA) elected to contest his heat with Peterson Rosa (Brz) and Quiksilver Trials winner Norimasa Ohno (Jpn), despite the foot injury he’s been nursing. Nonetheless, the Floridian put aside any pain and discomfort to establish a lead and advance directly into round three.
“I was actually going to catch a ferry this morning and leave,” admitted Slater. “I didn’t think it looked that great and I figured I might let another Japanese surfer have a chance. But then I thought ‘why not?’ as I’m all the way here and I wanted to get back on my board to feel how my foot is doing. When I paddled out I figured I’d just stand up on a couple and not really try, but about halfway through I had a chance and then luckily it went flat toward the end when I was in the lead (laughs).
“It felt alright,” he added, of his injury. “On my last wave I sort of fell a bad way and my board kind of pushed up against my foot. It put a little more pressure on it than I expected, but overall it’s OK. I’m just going to ice it, and I have a round off now, so I get to massage it and get in the hot springs here on Niijima to help relax the muscles.”
Tim Curran (CA, USA) – winner of the last Japanese WCT held in 1999 – faced Luke Egan (Gold Coast, Aus) and Guilherme Herdy (Brz) this morning and quickly established a commanding position with some wider breaking set waves. The goofyfooter belted his way down the relatively short rides, for his first win since returning to the elite WCT ranks this year.
“I’m very, very happy to win,” said Curran. “I was really frustrated with the start of my year since I kept losing heats. It feels good to finally win my first one this season. I think Quiksilver made a great call by splitting the backs this morning. It doesn’t seem like we’re going to have a lot of swell, so it’s good they’ve powered through it. I knew there was a couple of wide ones and I just decided to sit down there and thankfully the waves came.”
Brazilian Paulo Moura then used similar tactics to overcome Quiksilver Pro Fiji runner-up Cory Lopez (FL, USA) and Naohisa Ogawa (Jpn). Moura also sat wide and displayed a great backhand attack to advance.
“I saw Tim find some waves down the beach so I kept me focus on those,” explained Moura. “I found two good ones and won the heat. The other boys surfed really well, and I was scared at the end cause Cory got a good wave. I’m just happy to make it and go straight to round three.”
World #2 Joel Parkinson (Gold Coast, Aus) was beaten in round one this morning but then eliminated Masakazu Kono – the eighth Japanese wildcard in the tournament -after competition relocated this afternoon. Kono replaced Richie Lovett (Manly, Aus) in the Niijima Quiksilver Pro after the Australian was forced to withdraw due to family matters, but was unable to match Parkinson’s fluid forehand style and commanding scores including an 8.5 in his total.