By Nick Carroll
Photos (at bottom) by Jeff Flindt
Losing's never better than winning, and don't you believe any bastard who tries to convince you otherwise.
But it can be a growth experience, as we witnessed yesterday at Teahupo'o, where a dozen surfers were cut from the top end of their glamorous, haphazard and sometimes ridiculous profession, and in the process showed a class and grace they rarely get a chance to demonstrate.
As you may have had shoved down your throat by us and every other scion of the surf media, the Billabong Pro Chopes is the last 48-man world title event. Excluding wildcards — sorry about this math, folks — only 32 of the top 45 seeds will head to Trestles in a coupla weeks.
It'll be a tougher, better competitive scene for the change, but somebody has to pay the price. The fallen soldiers went out in ways that, almost to a man exactly reflected their personalities. Tanner Gudauskas tried his heart out against Andy Irons and couldn't quite find a line, but you could see the potential on every wave and you know he'll be back.
Neco Padaratz went out in a blaze of magnificently irrational glory, pulling a drop-in on CJ Hobgood on the wave of their heat. Nobody's ever known what Neco would do next, but he's got a big heart. As long as there's Prime events in Brazil, he'll be knocking on the 32's door.
The Aussie rear guard went out the only way they know how — fighting. Mick Campbell — ancient foe of Slater and, at 36, almost as ancient in years — was too far back in the field to have much of a crack, but he still deserved better than a black eye from the judging panel and a .04 point loss to Adam Melling via a dubiously mega-scored closing ride from Adam. Tom Whitaker and Dean Morrison put on a flaring, emotional heat, probably the best of the contest so far; Dingo won, but to no avail, 'cause he immediately went out and dropped the next heat.
With sadistic irony, Kieren Perrow — brain trust of the ASP's technical committee and key architect of the new tour system — was 12th man out. Only two players are left in this mad game of musical chairs: Pat G and Marco Polo, the freakshow defeater of Bobby M, who needs to make the semis and will have to knock off Damo Hobgood, AI and Kelly on the way. Fuck! Well, ya never know. Maybe Marco's the Cinderella Story here. Maybe he can win that game of Russian Roulette.
And the winners! Jeez, how could I forget. Manoa Drollet added Jordy to his list of Celebrity Super Scalps with wave selection that looked flukish but wasn't. If all the contests were here, he'd be a legitimate world title contender. Meanwhile, the legitimate world title contender (Jordy) got the first wave, used priority, waited in the time-honoured manner, then fucked his chance up on an excellent pit. That must have hurt.
Owen Wright fits this wave like a silken glove and absolutely blew Jay Thompson out of their heat.
I'm not buying Kelly's chances yet; the judges are. Heiarii Williams, the other great Tahitian wildcard, had KS pinned to the wall like a butterfly in the closing minutes of their heat. Heiarii had surfed the heat like a nine-time world champ while Kelly had caught everything he could, clearly intent on working his way into the wave rhythm by hook or crook or whatever. With his last throw, KS got a moderate wave and dragged absolutely every body part he could find in the wall in order to conceal himself within it, then came out to a nice snap and a clean finish. He needed an 8.71; three judges gave him an 8.8.
I think the panel in general is doing a great job here, but this felt way too pat. The rest of the top seeds are pretty much cleaned out. This is Slater's chance to grab the lead and run. Let's see if he can lift his game to do it.
The Glorious Fallen (Off the World Tour)
SURFING'S Favored Sons (with rough odds of victory)
Owen Wright — 8/1
Freddy P — 8/1
Kelly Slater — 12/1
AI Mick Fanning — 20/1
Manoa Drollet — 30/1
Adriano de Souza, the Hobgoods, Jeremy Flores — 40:1