Forty-three years ago, a girl in a red convertible scooped up Michael Peterson and Rabbit Bartholomew from the San Diego Travel Lodge and drove them south through Mexico. Smitten with Peterson, his movie star looks, and his leather jacket, she spirited away the the pair who were in California for the '72 World Titles. It was their first trip to America and it was an eye opener for young Rabbit. When they pulled over on the highway and saw a perfect A-frame peak breaking with nobody on it, they thought they'd found an El Dorado in the middle of overpopulated Southern California. "We've gone, 'Holy shit! Have a go at this!'" Recalls Bugs. "The surf was pumping, and we've gone, 'Let's go!'" They parked up the beach and ran down the empty beach, two Aussie kids living the California dream. Of course, within minutes they were frog-marched off the beach by military police from Camp Pendleton, MP on MP, and the clueless kids struggling to comprehend why they, like, couldn't just go surfing. "We didn't understand any of it," recalls Bugs.
Today Rabbit got to surf Lowers.
He paddled out with Shaun, Cheyne, Simon and Uncle Mike Ho to surf the best WSL Heritage heat yet. Man, how much fun was that? While Curren and Occy at J-Bay last year was too close to contemporary to be considered "heritage" – Curren outsurfed most guys in the actual contest – these guys today form a legit seniors tour, although you wouldn't know it by the competitiveness in the water. They come, of course, from the most competitive era pro surfing has ever seen – they're guys who would sell grandmothers, walk over broken glass, and soap boards to win heats – and while back then the goal was world titles and prize money, today the goal was simply don't look old. They didn't have to worry. They ripped. Shaun in the pocket, Rabbit down the line, Cheyne on the back foot, Simon standing tall and Uncle Mike on all the best ones. It was a hugely entertaining hour.
But it was a future member of the seniors tour that generated the most interest in the water today. Kelly Slater started his heat with Mick Fanning looking to shake it up. In an effort to contrast his surfing with what he knew Mick would deliver – bread and butter high-torque rail – he opened the bag of party tricks. He started on a left with his version of Toledo's tweaked out backhand rotator from last year. He never looked like making it, but somehow landed prone on his board and kept surfing down the line. Nat Young (Aussie Nat) used to claim his favorite board "Sam" would come back to him all on its own, and it was almost like Kelly's board had positioned itself in the whitewater to catch its owner. Kelly sprung back to his feet like a cat, pulled a backhand spinner, then nailed two more backhand blasts. The crowd responded to their favourite showman as they have here for 20 years, by politely losing their minds. The judges responded by giving it a four, and the crowd was silenced.
It was a pivotal heat for both Kelly and Mick. A win here at Trestles for either would shift the world title paradigm strongly… for Mick it would make him the new favorite, for Kelly it would put him back in the game. But while Kelly was preaching diversity on a wave, Mick was doing what Mick does, slicing the rights to pieces and winning fairly comfortably. Kelly sensed the end of his chances for this season, flagging his intention to skip Europe altogether, and without the obligation now of having to turn up to Quiksilver's French event he will probably do just that.
And then there were five…
If ever there was a sign of a changing landscape, an entire half of a world championship draw today consisted entirely of Brazilian surfers. The top half of the draw consisted of Felipe Toledo, Miguel Pupo, Adriano De Souza, Italo Ferreira, Wiggolly Dantas… and Joao Parkinho, who with his swarthy Latino profile photo actually looked part of the Brazilian Storm. Parko took down Miguel Pupo with his trademark "hot knife through butter, buttery butter-butter" turns and is now drawn against Filipe Toledo in the quarters, a heat that will contrast the two schools of Lowers surfing, and a heat that will have some big world title implications.
Then Owen Wright, currently parked at number three in the ratings, was drawn against Nat Young (the one without the trained surfboard) on the back of a big roll out of the Pacific leg. Owen had a chance to make a move on the title, but ended up sitting there for 20 minutes scratching his butt. As Monty Python would put it, "he only did more than not anyone, but only did more." It was a confusing start as the pair let a couple of waves go, had the restart waved, then had to surf what was essentially a five minute heat, which Nat won. Owen was venting afterwards over the failure to restart, but regardless remains neck-deep in this world title. He just needs to hang in there ’til Pipe, then the advantage switches to him.
The girls quarters were great, and again showed why Lowers is such a good venue for the women's tour. Every girl in the field has had a groove going with the Lowers rights this week, although it was the two power surfers in the field who would be the story of the quarter finals.
When Lowers stops pushing back it becomes tougher for a surfer like Courtney Conlogue who plays the power game, and that's what happened as she went down to Lakey Peterson, potentially forfeiting the ratings lead. The really interesting quarter however was next. When Tyler Wright opened her heat with a near-perfect 10, it appeared Carissa Moore's chances of taking the ratings lead were shot. But just like her brother Owen had done an hour earlier, Tyler waited, and waited…and you sensed the longer she waited the more the door was left ajar for something weird to happen.
Cue the weirdness. While Tyler's wave had been all big, backfoot turns, Carissa's final wave was a runner that she danced all over, all the way down the beach. Cue the drama. The producers in the broadcast were salivating as the judges delayed the scores, building the tension. Five minutes passed before they announced Carissa's last wave had won the heat. She broke into tears, Tyler broke into tears, the commentary broke into apoplexy, and you figured that we'd just seen the "clutch moment" (a WSL trademark) of the girls tour this year.