You didn't have to be a surf-industry insider to know that the Quiksilver Pro's Sunday, Round Three match-up between nine-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater and 21-year-old Quiky Pro wildcard Julian Wilson was going to be momentous. Slater's dominance of the World Tour since the early 1990s is essentially the bedrock of modern surfing, and Wilson's recent arrival on the world stage has been viewed by many as a breath of fresh air in a sport dominated by a handful of surfers for almost a decade.
But when Wilson beat Slater on Sunday afternoon in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Snapper Rocks, the thousands of onlookers stood stunned…then erupted. The volume of spectators, and the sheer volume, made it feel more like a final than Heat Eight of Round Three.
Wilson Takes Early Lead
Wilson jumped to an early lead when he hooked into a solid wave that presented lots of scoring opportunity and finished it with a well-punted air. The surf on hand was far from ideal, with chest-high sets and a quickly fattening high tide, but the commentators had been hyping the clash of teammates and Kelly's equipment (he's been riding a self-designed 5'3" fish-disc-shortboard hybrid all week on the Gold Coast) for the entire afternoon, so conditions were the last thing on the collective conscience of the beach.
After Wilson's wave, the two engaged in a protracted tactical positioning match full of technical uses of priority, and Wilson seemed able to hang with a first-rate surfing mind like Slater's.
Slater got waves, but his board seemed to be getting caught in the lip when he went to do top turns, and in the first heat he uncharacteristically fell on a couple maneuvers that looked from the beach like they might have something to do with that skatiness and size of his board.
At the mid-way point of the heat, Wilson hooked another long ride, earning an 8.5 and combo-ing Slater, a position the reigning champ isn't often in. Slater answered back, though, milking a wave all the way to Rainbow Bay, but only scored a 6.2. Julian's score seemed a bit high, but Slater's wave was certainly NOT 2.3 points lesser. The inconsistent scoring in the exchange may have made the difference ultimately, but with five minutes left, Slater was still in the hunt, and got a "grower" that he shredded with tailslides and hacks again all the way to Rainbow.
Slater Narrows The Gap
Slater was closing the gap, but still needed another big score to pull off a come-from-behind victory. A long flat spell followed Slater's wave, and with two minutes left he found an average-ish one that he did several turns on, though when he went for the money move (a frontside air), he was unable to pull it, and Wilson was walking up the beach a newly minted superstar a couple minutes later.
"I'm over the moon right now," an elated Wilson told interviewers on the beach. "I was so nervous before that heat just thinking about what I could do to beat Kelly. For so long, he has been unstoppable…It feels so good to beat him."
“The waves I got were bad," Slater said in defense of his equipment, which was instantly assumed to be the reason for the loss. "I surfed alright on one wave and I am frustrated obviously, but I would have had the same result with the best board of my life so it definitely wasn’t the equipment thing. A lot people want to put it down on that, but I am excited about my boards, and I have a lot more fun riding these boards.”
Race Is Wide Open
Slater's elimination will have ripples not only through the rest of the Quiksilver Pro but possibly on the outcome of the 2009 World Tour campaign, and with the much-hyped tenth world title in the balance, Wilson's victory could prove monumental.
But the two Quiky team riders weren't the only heat of the day, which saw Steph Gilmore crowned the winner of the Roxy Pro (she beat Mel Bartels in a close final Sunday morning), an expression session, and seven other heats of Round Three.
Other Sunday Standouts
Sunday afternoon standouts included C.J. Hobgood and Jihad Khodr, who beat Dustin Barca and Kieren Perrow, respectively. But it was Gold Coast favorite sons Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson who simply destroyed their competition today, and with Kelly now gone, each sees an opportunity to get out in front of the pack early.
The tide had killed the surf by the end of Heat Eight Sunday, so officials put the second half of Round Three on hold until Monday morning Gold Coast time. Suddenly, it looks like anyone's event…
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 16.50 def. Dustin Barca (HAW) 6.50
Heat 2: Jihad Khodr (BRA) 18.26 def. Kieren Perrow (AUS) 16.30
Heat 3: Chris Davidson (AUS) 13.67 def. Dayyan Neve (AUS) 8.27
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 18.50 def. Tiago Pires (PRT) 14.50
Heat 5: Mick Fanning (AUS) 18.10 def. Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 14.50
Heat 6: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 12.83 def. Nic Muscroft (AUS) 11.07
Heat 7: Damien Hobgood (AUS) 14.34 def. Heitor Alves (BRA) 9.00
Heat 8: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.33 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 13.84
Remaining Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 3 Match-Ups:
Heat 9: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Jay Thompson (AUS)
Heat 10: Taylor Knox (USA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Heat 11: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Greg Emslie (ZAF)
Heat 12: Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) vs. Josh Kerr (AUS)
Heat 13: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Drew Courtney (AUS)
Heat 14: Dane Reynolds (USA) vs. Roy Powers (HAW0
Heat 15: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Tim Boal (FRA)
Heat 16: Tom Whitaker (AUS) vs. David Weare (ZAF)