I can’t remember if it’s day eight, or nine, or even maybe day 10 of the Billabong Pro, Tahiti. But Damien Hobgood surely knows what day it is. Being in the first heat of the draw for an event that takes place a half-mile out to sea and has been on call at 6 a.m. (and numerous other times throughout the day) can take its toll. Even the most devoted competitor can become resentful. While Damien wakes up in the dark and goes through his pre-heat ritual as if his heat will run, surfers such as, say, Freddy P. in Heat 13, lay in bed nursing a mild hangover, waiting on the Twitter call telling him the contest is either on or off. Fred knows he has a minimum of six hours from the start of competition to prepare for his heat. So, while he chills out spear fishing and partaking in numerous other tropical vacation activities, Damien has been a victim of circumstance and forced to focus on Heat 1, Round 1 of the Billabong Pro, for an extended period of time.
When Damien finally put on the red jersey this morning, it took only a few moments for him to put all that potential energy to use and lock in an 8.17, and the heat win. Besides that wave, nothing else of interest happened in that first—or any of the following heats. Teahupoo was barely breaking, and the little size that was coming through was extremely inconsistent. If I’m watching a contest—or competing in one—nothing is more frustrating than long lulls. And when a wave finally comes through, the pressure to perform without error grows exponentially until a basic bottom-turn can send you head over heels in disgrace.
Then came Jordy Smith’s heat. It's becoming clear as day that the consistency and variety of big, progressive maneuvers in Jordy's repertoire are unmatched by anyone on Tour (Josh Kerr may be the only other person with a similar skill set). In his heat today, the air he performed flawlessly was a perfect example of not only this, but demonstrated what a firm grip Jordy has on the new judging criteria. And that he belongs at the top of the ASP rankings. Since Taj lost to Manoa Drollet in Round 2, it’s looking more and more like a two-horse race between Jordy and Kelly. Even with Dane winning his heat with some fine surfing, I still can’t take him seriously as a world-title contender, just as Dane can’t take himself seriously…at anything. It may not always be the case, but greed, selfishness, and an unwavering need for ego-stroking are some of the more vital qualities needed to reach the pinnacle of any sport. Dane exhibits none of these.
But so far the big story at Teahupoo is who’s losing. Bobby Martinez is out, losing to Marco Polo. Jadson Andre got dealt his second 33rd in a row after getting out-surfed by Nate Yeomans, who sits in the precarious position of needing a huge result to stay on Tour during his rookie year. Of all the surfers in jeopardy of losing their spot on Tour, none are out of contention just yet. But come tomorrow, somebody's season will get cut short.
Speaking of which, I find it highly suspect that Kieren Perrow, the ASP Surfer Representative, is confused, at a loss for words, and even speaking out against the mid-year cut to 32 and season ending cut to 22. In my experience with Kieren, he is the most knowledgeable surfer on Tour, a man who knows the innermost workings of the ASP. Kieren knew a change was needed in the structuring of the ASP events, but I think he also knows that this is not the right change. When the format changes and new point systems were first made public, I heard Kieren say something to the extent of: "Once we see how everything starts to pan out, we may have to make changes to the system." I'm paraphrasing here, but you get the point.
The first and most obvious problem with this is that something as large as the ASP shouldn’t put something in place they aren’t 100 percent sure of. The second problem is this: I've heard the main reason for cutting the field to 32 after Teahupoo is to make the event three days instead of four. But Mike Parsons said on the webcast today that the 32-man field will still take three and a half days to complete. If this is the case, let rookies such as Nate Yeomans have a full season to make his way up the rankings before the big end-of-season-cut. Then, after further consideration to the complexity that is the top 22 format, one-world rankings, and prime/star events, you can begin the 2011 season with some sort of transparency. At the beginning of the 2010 season, nobody on Tour, in the media, or at home had a clue as to the changes being made by the ASP. Now it's only marginally better.
And that is why this year’s Billabong Pro isn’t about the individual winner; it's about the collective group of losers (surf fans included) that will go home feeling empty and cheated at the fact that something isn’t right with telling 16 world-class surfers to take a hike after just five events.
Tune in tomorrow for the live webcast, as emotions get the best of some surfers and some real opinions will be voiced. Tomorrow will be a big day for the ASP—the day they finally get to use their machete and hack careers to pieces.