Ten to 15-foot surf and the entrance of surfing's biggest stars guaranteed a highly charged day of men's competition at the Reef Hawaiian Pro today, stop #1 for the men's Vans Triple Crown of Surfing.
The drama came thick and fast in the shape of high-speed wipeouts, broken surfboards, near-perfect scores, spectacular victories and hushed shock losses.
On the winning end of the deal, world champion-elect Mick Fanning (Australia) grappled with the hefty conditions in the early stages of his first heat of the competition, but slipped into gear to thrill the capacity crowd, who enjoyed a celebratory “Aussie BBQ” on the beach while he surfed.
Fanning, who sewed up the 2007 world title battle in Brazil a couple of weeks ago, looked relaxed and ready to do business. With the world title safely locked away, the highly coveted Vans Triple Crown title would be a dream conclusion to the year if he can keep his run on track through the Hawaiian leg. His bid began well with the top score of the day – 17.5 out of a possible 20 points. His last ride of the heat was his best, scoring 9.1 for a dredging barrel and impossible close-out re-entry. Fanning will next face Taylor Knox (USA), Ian Walsh (Haw) and Rodrigo Dornelles (Brz) in the sixth round.
“I think the Triple Crown is the next big thing next to the world title and I come over here and I always want to do well,” said Fanning. “I've come close one time and I hope I can get there one day.
“This is pretty much the only place where you can have three events in three amazing locations. I'm real excited to be apart of it.”
Equally impressive today was 19-year-old Jordy Smith (S. Africa), leader of this year's World Qualifying Series who is rumored to have recently signed a sponsorship deal worth in excess of $1 million. Judging by his opening performance today, he is worth every cent and more.
As one of the largest surfers in the event at 6'2″ and 200 pounds – far bigger than the average pro surfer – Smith was the perfect fit for the burly conditions on tap today and proceeded to part the seas with a powerful, carving repertoire.
It might be 30 years since his fellow countryman Shaun Tomson wrapped up the world title here in 1977, but South Africa is definitely back on the map with Smith.
“”It would be great if I could contend [for the 2007 Vans Triple Crown of Surfing title], but there are a lot of good surfers so I'm just trying to stay up there with all those guys,” said Smith.
“Mick just won the world title and he's looking for a Triple Crown title so I'm going to give it everything and hopefully get a double crown,” he said with a laugh, referring to the fact that he isn't a starter for the Pipeline Masters at this stage. He will have an opportunity to surf at Pipe if he is a contender for the Triple Crown title after the first two events.
“I'm just going to push hard for the flag and do it for myself.”
Smith's well-paved road to success isn't just about personal triumph but is also a high-point for his country, particularly given his rags-to-riches story.
“It's a big thing. Every year we get more and moreSouth Africans on tour so it's definitely a confidence booster for the young ones. There's definitely tons of talent in South Africa so it just gives them something to look forward to.”
Californian Dane Reynolds, 22, another highly-touted new qualifier for the 2008 ASP World Tour, turned up the heat and posted a win to advance to round six, the round prior to the quarter finals. In his first Triple Crown season, Reynolds, like Fanning and Smith, is simply eager to get to work on the North Shore and expand his already-impressive resume.
“It's awesome to be here and I'm pretty excited,” said Reynolds. “I just want to surf my heats and challenge myself.
“I'm definitely excited to qualify for the WCT before coming here because these are the most difficult waves in the world. I would be tripping out if I needed to qualify here.”
Reynolds scored a two-wave total of 11.84 points to defeat Matt Wilkinson (Aus), Cory Lopez (FL), and Luke Stedman (Aus).
The biggest upset today was the elimination of 6-time Vans Triple Crown of Surfing champion Sunny Garcia (Hawaii), who left himself short after arriving to the beach five minutes late for his heat. Citing intense traffic, generated by visitors eager to catch a glimpse of the big swell, Garcia paddled out with less than 20 minutes of his 25-minute heat remaining, posted one ride of 5.67 points, but failed to get the small 2.44 score he needed to pull up into the advancing two spots of the four-man heat. He lost to Frenchman Mikael Picon and Maui's Granger Larsen.
There will be no competition tomorrow – Thanksgiving Day. Organizers are looking forward to running with the final day of action on Friday, surf permitting. Saturday is the final day of the holding period for the Reef Hawaiian Pro.
The REEF Hawaiian Pro is the first jewel of the 25th anniversary Vans Triple Crown of Surfing. Carrying the highest WQS rating of 6-stars, for both men and women, this event is critical in determining the lineup for the elite World Championship Tour next year.
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