FAVORITES KEEP FLYING: Quiksilver Pro Sees World's Best at Their Best in Rd. 3

If the first event of the year is any barometer of what the 2008 season has in store for the world, we're in for a hell of a show. Ask any ASP pundit and they'll tell you there's more talent on tour today than ever before. But maybe more than simply the surfers' abilities, there's seems to be a newfound sense of focus amongst all the key players.

Of course one had to figure Mick Fanning was going to come into the season at the top of his game, as time goes on that's just becoming a given. But considering Mick beat his best mate Joel Parkinson to the title, it's safe to say old Parko's had a fire lit under his ass. He hasn't sacrificed any of his trademark smooth-as-butter style, but he's taking care of the extra little things that could put him in serious contention come year's end. On the down days he's been logging serious water time, making sure to stay sharp. And when the contest has run he's showed up early, kept an eye on what the conditions and been ready for whatever's on tap.

Then there's Taj Burrow, who tallied the highest heat score of the event in his Round Three heat. "After that second nine Mickey asked me if I wanted to just go in," told Taj while getting a bit of lunch after the heat. "I kinda felt bad, he was rattled."

But the fact is, Taj earned it. Taking a page out of Mick's book, he spent the offseason working with a trainer, which has translated into him surfing faster, sharper, and more on point than just about anybody.

Heck, even Kelly Slater was spotted in the competitor's area stretching out his back on an exercise ball. If ever the champ was going to rise to the occasion, this year would be it. With Dane Reynolds and Jordy Smith flaring up like a bad case of hemorrhoids, Kelly may just feel the need to assert his dominance over yet another generation.

And speaking of Dane and Jordy, if you saw their heats today you know, they're certainly living up to the hype. Dane very easily could have taken down Dean Morrison today if the judges had been able to figure out what the hell he was doing.

"He did the two most massive turns of the contest so far," said Taj. "There was one turn in particular, it was pretty full-on."

"Dane might be the best surfer in the world," a bewildered Kolohe Andino explained later in the day. "After watching everything today, there aren't many people that can touch what he's doing.

And as for Jordy, if Bobby Martinez wasn't such a cool customer, one could easily say the Santa Barbara goofy-footer was rattled. Bobby had a fighting chance for awhile, but starting about halfway through the heat the wheels came off and the waves stopped coming.
"Bobby's like the gangster on tour," said Jordy after their heat. "He's tough anywhere, so I was just stoked to get past him."

And even if officials called the contest early today, before Kelly and Andy paddled out for their heats, one gets the overwhelming sense that this is going to be a year to remember. The boys are throwing it down harder than ever, performance barriers are crumbling, and as we come down to the final rounds of the Quikky Pro, whoever wants to advance is going to have to put it all on the line.