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With just on two weeks before the ASP Banquet and launch of a the 2008 ASP World Tour, it is timely to have a peak at some of the new talent stepping out onto the world stage, welcome back some returning to the major leagues and acknowledge those who, after years of battling in the WQS trenches, and a bunch of near misses, have finally arrived on their respective Dream Tours.
Meanwhile, on the WQS front, with only one 5 Star in the bag for the Men and an important 6 Star for the Women, still very early days. At the moment we are coming into the final days of the waiting period for the Monster Energy Pro presented by Billabong. It may only carry 3 Star points, which will be of little relevance on year end qualifying averages, however this is not only a fiercely contested event for individual honours at Pipeline, but it usually gets a great run of surf. Organizers have had to pick their way through a surf challenged window; however the early images of Pipe and Backdoor have still been quite impressive.
The two most talked about surfers outside the Big 5 over the past year are Jordy Smith (pictured above) and Dane Reynolds. Both are strapping young men with a ferocious repertoire and predictably they cut through the WQS like butter. By virtue of their 1-2 finish they have secured mid range seedings and will not meet guys like World Champion Mick Fanning, Taj, Kelly, Joel, Bede and Andy until at least the round of 16. In the past they have participated at CT level as wildcards and met the top seeds early and head-on, with mixed results, but they now have earned a proper seeding that should serve them well in their bid to make an early impact.
Jay Thompson and Tiago Pires have been knocking on the door for some time. Both have experienced close shaves however in 07 all the planets aligned and they both qualified quite comfortably. Without the schitz that accompanies last gasp efforts Jay and Tiago have been able to mentally prepare for this new phase of challenge and will no doubt appreciate the personal sacrifices made to reach this career plateau. “Bottle” is a Burleigh local and will enjoy the home waters of the Goldy for his debut and Tiago, Portugal's first WCT starter, is already in town acclimatizing with Snapper and accompanying breaks.
Ben Bourgeois, Kieren Perrow and Roy Powers return to the top tier with outstanding credentials. Ben, like Bottle and Tiago, has come tantalizingly close for years and arrives back all battle hardened and happy. Kieren, after a couple quiet years, zoomed back into the major league with stellar performances at well chosen events. The former World #6 & 7 gasped a huge sigh of relief, it was painful watching from the sidelines and Kieren will relish the opportunity to take his place amongst the elite. Roy Powers did not much appreciate his relegation and although he waited until Haleiwa to produce his best, turned the one year hiatus to the WQS a glitch as opposed to a trend.
The Europeans are here in force. Apart from Tiago and Rookie sensation Jeremy Flores, Aritz Aranburu and Mikael Picon make up a very solid Euro contingency on the Dream Tour. There have in the past been one-off appearances by Russell Winter, Eric Rebierre and Picon, however having a quartet will not only raise the profile of ASP Pro Surfing throughout Europe but will provide the much needed support systems that the Aussies, Brazilians, Americans and Hawaiians have benefited from over the decades.
The Brazilian pair of Jihad Khodr and Heitor Alves have been around the traps for several years and join the likes of Adriano de Souza as new generation Brazilians rising to the world challenge. Always a fixture on the World Tour, six Brazilians take to the waters of Snapper Rocks in an attempt to crack the Top 10 and reconsolidate Brazil as a powerhouse surfing nation. The #45 seed, Angourie boy Daniel Ross, had much to celebrate after a stunning and sustained application at Sunset Beach. Dan proved that not only does perseverance have a pay day but that you don't need to come from a major surfing centre to be a world class competitor.
These guys join the established order in 08 and we all look forward to watching their respective campaigns unfurl.
Two new faces join the elite Top 17 on the ASP Women's Tour in 08. Karina Petroni and Nicola Atherton are both super talents. Karina would spend season after season developing her surfing skills alongside Stephanie Gilmore at Snapper/Rainbow as well as Panama, California and Florida. It was like watching mini-me versions of Layne Beachley and Lisa Anderson, they were both so awesome at like 12 that their destiny on the WCT, save for any mishaps, was a cert. Great to see Karina take her place amongst her peers.
Nicola Atherton followed a time honoured path of winning the ASP World Junior Title then qualifying in the same year. Well, we had only had one World Junior before that and Jessi Miley-Dyer set this standard and her protg, Nicola Atherton, followed suit. Nicola is a powerful surfer and will relish the opportunity to strut her stuff on the world stage. It is also great to see the return of Serena Brooke and Julia Christian. Serena, one of the most glamorous pro surfers ever, battled her way back from a couple tough years in the WQS, whereas Julia returned with a touch of luck when former World Champion Chelsea Hedges withdrew from the 08 tour to make babies.
Speaking of which, big congratulations to former World #2 Melanie Redman-Carr on the arrival of her firstborn in recent days. Mel can now take her spot on the tour, albeit with a few sleep deprived nights under the belt. Great to see a joyous occasion for one of our touring pros.
As we move closer to the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro I'll take a gander at the pointy end of the world rankings, including champions Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore.
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