MARGARET RIVER, Western Australia (Wednesday, April 6, 2011) – 10 – Time ASP World Champion and surfing legend Kelly Slater (USA) made a highly anticipated return to the south-west corner of Australia, pulling on a contest jersey at the Telstra Drug Aware Pro at Margaret River for the first time since 1993.
Slater had only one world title to his name the last time he competed at the West Australian river mouth, and surf fans grabbed every vantage point to get a glimpse of the sporting legend.
In the peaky two-to-three metre waves, Slater did just enough to finish in first place ahead of relative unknown qualifiers Billy Stairmand (NZ) of New Zealand, Gony Zubizarreta (ESP) of Spain, and Brazilian David do Carmo (BRA) to advance to the Round of 48.
Things did not go all Slater's way in the 30 minute encounter – Slater trailed in third place for the majority of the heat and was at risk of being eliminated.
Wit h the dying minutes ticking away, Slater locked in his highest scoring wave of the heat, showing that trademark style and freaky repertoire that marks him as one of the world's undisputed sporting greats.
"There wasn't a lot of waves and there was some hassling going down." said Slater post heat. "It's tricky with 4 guys fighting for 2 wave sets. I wasn't too worried though, I just needed a wave. I only needed a six and if I can't get a six on an open faced wave I shouldn't be here."
Slater's two-wave combined total of 12.36, saw him progress comfortably to the next round.
Current world number 17 Matt Wilkinson had a close call in his heat up against Brazilian prodigy Gabriel Medina (BRA) and former World Junior Champion Maxime Huscenot.
"When it's this inconsistent you just have to try to pick the best waves," said Wilkinson. "I had a slow start, but I knew that after I got that one good score I could just get an average back-up and try to put the pressure on the others."
It wasn't a good day for all of the top seeds with last year's event champion Chelsea Hedges being eliminated by Paige Hareb (NZL) and Bec Woods (AUS) in their round of 24 battle. Only eight surfers remain in the women's event that is due to wrap up on the weekend.
Mick Fanning scored the day's top scoring ride, an outstanding 9.0 in his big win over Richard Christie (NZ).
With a massive four-to-five metre swell expected to hit the Margaret River region within the coming 24 hours, surf fans are in for a treat with all surfers, Slater included, preparing for conditions rarely seen outside of Hawaii.
"I looked at the maps this morning and it looks big," said Slater. "It's probably going to peak at 20 foot waves with 30 foot faces. I don't know what board I'm going to ride yet, I just show up and check the conditions. The sets could be 20 foot, but I might want to be on the 8 foot in-betweeners. I do generally try to ride the smallest boards possible though."
The event will recommence tomorrow morning, tune in to check out the monster swell.
Spectator entry to the Telstra Drug Aware Pro is free. For more information, visit www.telstradrugawarepro.com