Conditions: 4-6 foot, bumpy and sunny
Heats run: Round 4, quarters, semis and final
Predictions: A huge night!
What a day here at Praia da Vila, Brazil. In a few hours, charged with tension and emotion, we witnessed history being made. Mick Fanning rose above the rest and proved to be a deserving World Champ, surfing at his very best while the other two contenders – Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow – buckled under pressure.
Mick's historic day started off in a tense way. Quiet and focused, he isolated himself in a corner, iPod blasting on his earphones, looking determined to let nothing stop him. Slater sat closeby, as did Taj, and everyone around could feel that something huge was about to happen. And it did.
His first step was to beat Luke Stedman in round 4, which he did with authority. Slater went out in the very next heat, but had a terribly uncharacteristic performance. The eight-time World Champ never got a score over 4 and got comboed by the contest's dark horse, rookie Kai Otton. While nobody could believe what had just gone down, Mick was doing the math. One contender down, one to go.
As Slater saw his hopes for title number 9 vanish, he became visibly upset. Nevertheless, he composed himself and spoke about the future. "I don't see myself having the drive to do another year on Tour," he said. "I wanna build a house and work on some projects of mine, like a movie, a wave pool and a contest with a completely new format. I will be surfing the first event of 2008 on the Gold Coast, but I'm not sure what's gonna happen after that."
Slater was out, but Taj wasn't gonna go down so easily. He beat Ricky Basnett and also advanced to the quarters – keeping himself in the race.
Fanning didn't even flinch and went out and dominated his heat against crowd favourite Neco Padaratz. He took his time to find the better rights, and when they came, he delivered. One hour later, while he paddled out for his semi-final against good friend Joel Parkinson – who surfed amazingly today – Taj Burrow had only 5 minutes to turn his quarter-final heat against Tom Whittaker around and keep his hopes alive. But that never happened. Taj lost and Mick, sitting in the line-up with Joel Parkinson, about to start their heat, was declared World Champ.
The competitor's area went crazy, with Australians screaming and hooting and beer flying around – all the while Fannning and Parko battled for a spot in the final. With the confidence only a World Championship brings, the new "number 1 of surfing" killed it and advanced yet another heat.
When he came in, organisers called a break before the next semi and Fanning celebrated with the aussie surfers, Rip Curl heavyweights, Bruce Irons, his "coach" Matt Griggs and an emotional and partially-drunk Occy. Champagne and beer started flowing, and nobody seemed to care he still had another heat to go.
That's when something truly special happened. The ASP people brought around an old trophy, and Kelly Slater presented it to Mick after a long hug and a skull of beer. Like a true gentleman and great sportsman, Slater made a point to stay in the contest area and pass the trophy to the new Champ. It was an emotional sight, teary eyes all around. "He was the only surfer who came to my party when I won last year. I have lots of respect for Mick and I admire him very much. I know he'll be a great champion, he's polite and gracious and I'm honestly happy that he's the one getting this trophy." Even in defeat, Slater is great. In return, Fanning gave him his winning board – a souvenir Slater's sure to keep safe in a special place.
It was almost just a formality, but the 2007 Champ had to go out and defend his WCT Brazil title – he won here last year too. Against Kai Otton – who beat Whittaker and made his first final ever – Fanning didn't look as if he had just downed 4 beers and surfed without pressure and with tremendous flair. Needless to say, he won that heat too – his fourth of the day.
After all has been done and said, we have a new World Champ – and a great one at that. After 8 years, Australia brings the title home. But more than that, the world can rest assured that if Mick's crown will mean the end of the Slater era, an exciting one has just begun. Reef team manager, Heath Walker, said it best. "Mick deserves it more than anyone. He did a wonderful job. Now it's time for Eugene to celebrate. Prepare for a huge night!" And a huge one this will definetely be.
HANG LOOSE SANTA CATARINA PRO FINAL:
(1st wins $US 30,000; 2nd wins $US 16,000)
Mick Fanning def. Kai Otton
COMPLETE SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
(1st advances to Final; 2nd finishes =3rd)
Heat # 1: Mick Fanning def. Joel Parkinson
Heat # 2: Kai Otton def. Tom Whitaker
COMPLETE QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
(1st advances to Semis; 2nd finishes =5th)
Heat # 1: Joel Parkinson def. Heitor Alves
Heat # 2: Mick Fanning def. Neco Padaratz
Heat # 3: Kai Otton def. Leonardo Neves
Heat # 4: Tom Whitaker def. Taj Burrow
COMPLETE ROUND 4 RESULTS:
(1st advances to Quarters; 2nd finishes =9th)
Heat # 1: Heitor Alves def. Michael Campbell
Heat # 2: Joel Parkinson def. Rodrigo Dornelles
Heat # 3: Neco Padaratz def. Dayyan Neve
Heat # 4: Mick Fanning def. Luke Stedman
Heat # 5: Kai Otton def. Kelly Slater
Heat # 6: Leonardo Neves def. Shaun Cansdell
Heat # 7: Taj Burrow def. Ricky Basnett
Heat # 8: Tom Whitaker def. Bede Durbidge