Surf: Four to six feet, onshore/sideshore winds Events Held: Remaining Round Four, quarterfinals Nature’s Call: Let’s see how hot you all really are Predicted: Stable swell conditions
The contest call is a 7 a.m. decision at Johanna. By 5:30 a.m. the convoys are roaring along country backroads, through an obviously building onshore wind and some nice cold rain. At Colac, a town halfway between Bells and Johanna, they stop at a bakery and listen to event director Damien Hardman’s cell phone message: “Yeah, it’s messy, and we’re running anyway . . .take your time. No rush.”
All this driving is taking a toll. Surfing pulls up in the cow paddock just over the sand dune from Johanna’s main sandbar to find Kelly Slater’s and Shane Dorian’s rental car parked just opposite. The whole front end is smashed, headlights hanging out of their sockets, the guards buckled, the bonnet pushed in and back a good six inches. The car’s become a cartoon. Whaa…? “Hit a kangaroo,” says Shane, rolling his eyes.
Bam! Little does Kelly know, as he drags on a wetsuit for the warm-up sesh, he’s about to be hit by another kind of kangaroo altogether.
Your correspondent decides to wash off the road dust over the contest sandbar. The swell is solid, the wind dead onshore and blowing 10 knots and a little stronger. In the lineup, it’s a shock to discover the sheer ruthless energy of the rip; it’s drawing straight across the sandbar and sucking out way faster than you can paddle. Ten inattentive seconds and you’re off the bar and pulled too deep to make it, and have to pick off a closeout to the beach.
Fanning, Slater, Dorian, A.I., Phil Macdonald, Cory Lopez, Parko and a few others are out there making the rip bowl look like heaven.
Kelly and Occy are the guinea pigs. This wave, with its bowliness and added Flowrider-type energy from the rip’s movement, is tailor-made for Slater’s style. He’s not the slightly uninvolved surfer of recent WCT vintage; Kelly’s been working on his enthusiasm, he’s looking fantastic, and he’s been free-surfing Johanna for days. By contrast, Occ looks less than excited by the conditions. He gets sucked out the back and worked repeatedly, having to come in and go around each time.
Then in 10 minutes he turns the whole heat around. One solid blasting set of backside snaps, then another. Suddenly there’s four minutes remaining, Kelly’s got 13 of his 15 allowed rides, and needs a major score — 7.7, the highest of the heat — to win. Of course he can’t find it amid all that chop.
It comes totally against the run of play and must confuse the shit out of Kelly, but we won’t know for a little while, because he’s gone off the beach within seconds of returning to shore. Occ comes up with a huge smile and confesses he’s a bit surprised by the shift in fortune. “I got worried because my toes started going numb,” he says, “and I can’t surf when my feet are like that. So I thought the only chance I have is to get the very best waves that come through. I still had a chance because (Kelly) had a six or something in his scores. That left the door open.”