With the tour trimmed to 35, heats were stacked and every matchup captivated during the opening round. Still, it was the familiar names that progressed, including two locals and a reigning champ.
Taj Burrow’s hopes of making it consecutive Quik Pro titles gained further momentum after he racked up the day’s highest combined total (16.67) to beat Freddy P. and Raoni Monteiro. Taj enters the event on the back of a win at the four-star Breaka Burleigh Pro — as he did last year — and he threw down the ideal mix of prog-flair and full-bodied turns — as he did last year – for the win. Following the heat he revealed an epiphany he had in the off season.
“I’ve been told my whole career to be careful and not to fall off a wave in heats, and surf to the criteria,” said Taj. “Now I’m just surfing how I want to. I just realized that it’s time to have fun and I love little rights and hanging my fins out. Which I’ve always resisted doing.”
Cooly Kid and event favorite Mick Fanning was consummate in his defeat of Cory Lopez and Bobby Martinez. The bank at Snapper is impeccable and Mick, who spent a large part of the off season surfing at home, won the heat on supreme positioning and wave selection. Within the first ten minutes, Mick racked up the day’s highest score with a lazy, stand-up tube. Following the heat Mick said he felt “more relaxed” and wasn’t “stressing as much” upon his return to competition.
His opponent Cory Lopez, who has spent three years in the pro surfing wilderness, admitted to failing to slot back into the competitive head space.
“I made a mistake by letting Mick get deep priority at the start. I wouldn’t have made that three years ago,” he said.
He also noted that although the criteria has changed, “Kelly, Mick and Parko were here when I left and they’re still at the top.” Also, that, “I’ve always been an aerial surfer, so that’s gonna suit me when we go to those kind of events.”
The other Cooly kid in the draw, Joel Parkinson, revealed just how important local knowledge is when confronting the warbles, wedges and growers behind the rock at Snapper.
“You know your way around it, where to sit, which ones to go when you’re at home. It’s still a guessing game but it’s less of a guess when you’re at home.”
He beat Brazilian duo Adriano de Souza and rookie Alejo Muniz in funky, high tide conditions.
“When I saw it this morning, I knew where to sit and I knew how it would be at lunch [during his heat],” Joel said.
World No. 2 Jordy Smith recovered from a mid-heat blue bottle sting and subsequent swollen gland in his groin to beat Pat Gudauskas. He rode an experimental new Merrick model to victory — a 6’1″ x 19 ¼” x 2 ⅝” with a wide swallow (a mix between the Flyer and T. Knox) — of which there are only three in the world right now. “It’s amazing. It went really, really good for me,” he said of the sled.
Jordy was pleased with his performance and said he’d undergone an all-around positive change since claiming last year’s runner up.
“A lot of things are going better for me from last year. I’ve got a chick, which has been great. She’s mellowed me out a bit,” said the known party boy.
Meanwhile, his rival and ten time/reigning world champion Kelly Slater overcame a scare from 16-year-old Australian wildcard Matt Banting to progress. Following the heat, the champ showed signs the repetition of competitive surfing is beginning to ware him down when he bristled at unimaginative questions from the media.
“And young Matt Banting, he didn’t give up?” asked one reporter.
“Why would he give up?” the champ replied, straight-faced.
Another reporter quizzed, “Where is your head with regard your future?”
“It hasn’t changed since the press conference two days ago,” said Kelly. “When it changes, I’ll let you know.” — Jed Smith