Kelly Slater (USA), 37, reigning nine-time ASP World Champion, has claimed the 2009 Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro over an in-form Adriano de Souza (BRA), 22, in clean three-to-four foot (1 metre) waves at the main site of Praia Vila.
Event No. 4 of 10 on the 2009 ASP World Tour, the Hang Loose culminated in a dramatic finale with perennial ASP World Title threats all pushing one other towards the finish line.
Despite the Brazilian smashing his way out to an early lead, Slater found his form mid-heat with a 9.27 out of a possible 10 for a series of high-risk maneuvers, exhibiting a near-perfect variety of repertoire. Not satisfied with only one high score, Slater nailed the coffin shut with an 8.67 in a dying minutes to secure his 41st ASP World Tour victory.
"There were much better waves in the Final than there were for my Semifinal," Slater said. "Adriano (de Souza) found a pretty good rhythm early on and posted some pretty good scores, but I felt comfortable out there and felt that the waves would come to me if I were patient. Both of my scoring rides allowed me to execute a bunch of maneuvers and I felt that the scores were maybe a little high, but I haven't had many good scores this year, so it was bound to go my way at some point."
Nearly pulling out of both the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro and the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay altogether, Slater made a last-minute decision to come to Brazil for the fans, but his journey here was riddled with delayed flights, visa complications and missing baggage. After a Round 1 loss on a borrowed board, the Slater juggernaut built momentum throughout the event, riding everything from self-shaped, asymmetrical quad-fins to epoxies to his bread and butter performance boards.
"I definitely feel like I sharpen as the event moves into the later rounds," Slater said. "I started out pretty slow in Brazil, and I wasn't even planning on coming initially. I rode borrowed boards, ones that I shaped, epoxies, everything and I definitely think I found my formula today. I actually called my girlfriend before the Final and said, 'every time I show up to an event after trying to pull out, I win.' I guess that held true today. I have less pressure on myself and am free to perform to the best of my abilities."
Slater's win today breaks his worst slump ever as an ASP World Tour campaigner, three 17ths in three events in 2009, and rockets the Floridian from 25th to No. 9 on the ASP World Tour ratings. Although a mountain of challenges still stand between Slater and an unprecedented 10th ASP World Title, today's victory has re-ignited the competitive fire for him.
"I feel like I have all those guys (ASP World Title contenders) right where I want them," Slater said. "I don't feel like I have any pressure on me, and I tend to do my best when I have no pressure. We're coming up on Jeffreys Bay, which is probably my best event historically and hopefully I can build off my result here today."
With the support of Brazil evident in the thousands on the beach, De Souza wasted no time in putting the Floridian on the ropes in their Final, collecting a 6.67 and an 8.00 in the opening half. However, despite an impressive opening, Slater would ultimately eclipse De Souza throughout the back half of the affair, rendering the Brazilian with his second Runner-Up finish of 2009.
"I felt like I peaked in the Final," De Souza said. "I don't think I could have surfed any better. I thought I had him (Slater), but he's the nine-time world champ, and you have to be perfect to beat him. I'm still very happy with my Runner-Up finish. It is my second of the year and puts me in a really good position heading into the next event."
Today's finish advances De Souza from ASP World No. 5 to ASP World No. 2 heading into the next stop on the ASP Dream Tour, rendering the former ASP World Junior Champion (2004) a major threat in the race for this year's ASP World Title.
"It is a huge deal for me to represent my country so well here today," De Souza said. "I could feel them supporting me on the beach every time I stood up. It was an amazing feeling. I felt strong and confident and I think I made Brazil proud with my performance today."
Having failed to advance out of Round 3 at the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro in several years of attempts (first as a wildcard, then as an ASP World Tour competitor), De Souza's Runner-Up finish today marks the first time a Brazilian has made the Final since 2005.
"When I was a little kid I used to come to the event and dream of competing here," De Souza said. "To be here today, in front of all my friends and family, competing against my hero in the Final, is a very special moment for me and one I will remember for the rest of my life."
C.J. Hobgood (USA), 29, former ASP World Champion (2001) and current ASP World No. 3, edged past Michael Campbell (AUS), 35, and Mick Fanning (AUS), 28, en route to his first Semifinals berth of the season, but inconsistent conditions would give the nod to eventual winner Slater, resulting in Hobgood's equal 3rd finish at the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro.
"There just wasn't anything I could do out there," Hobgood said. "There were no waves that allowed me the opportunity to even get a decent score. We were talking about holding out for a restart, but Kelly (Slater) took a bad wave and that sort of ended that possibility. A 3rd is a good result, but I'm just really bummed about my Semi. I keep telling myself that I tend to get my best results at the end of the year so hopefully that will complement my good start."
Joel Parkinson (AUS), 28, current ASP World No. 1, was in sensational form through the final day of competition, dispatching of ASP Dream Tour rookies Kekoa Bacalso (HAW), 23, and Dustin Barca (HAW), 27, in his Round 4 and Quarterfinal heats respectively. In a grudge match re-igniting their Final bout on the Gold Coast during the season opener, Parkinson and De Souza went blow-for-blow in Semifinal 1, with the Brazilian claiming victory this time around, advancing in front of an ecstatic hometown crowd.
"I'm really frustrated as I wanted to win that one," Parkinson said. "I had an okay start, but Adriano (de Souza) picked up a few good scores towards the end. I got him at home and the Goldy and he got me here in his home country – that's what is great about the tour, everyone surfs in their own country at some point. I'm disappointed, but an equal 3rd is a good result for me and I'm feeling confident heading into the next event at Jeffreys Bay."
Next stop on the 2009 ASP World Tour will be the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay in South Africa from July 9 – 19, 2009.
Highlights from the Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro will be available via www.aspworldtour.com
For more information, log onto www.aspworldtour.com
HANG LOOSE SANTA CATARINA PRO FINAL RESULTS:
1 – Kelly Slater (USA) 17.94
2 – Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.67
HANG LOOSE SANTA CATARINA PRO SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
SF 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.97 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.86
SF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 12.16 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 6.93
HANG LOOSE SANTA CATARINA PRO QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
QF 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.67 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 11.33
QF 2: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 16.73 def. Dustin Barca (HAW) 13.04
QF 3: Kelly Slater (USA) 13.60 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.17
QF 4: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.87 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 9.17
HANG LOOSE SANTA CATARINA PRO ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 16.90 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 13.50
Heat 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.60 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 10.00
Heat 3: Dustin Barca (HAW) 11.17 def. Bobby Martinez (USA) 8.80
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 14.66 def. Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) 13.33
Heat 5: Taj Burrow (AUS) 13.20 def. Tim Reyes (USA) 12.33
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.10 def. Tom Whitaker (AUS) 11.67
Heat 7: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.84 def. Mick Campbell (AUS) 13.16
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.20 def. Chris Ward (USA) 8.14
CURRENT ASP WORLD TOUR TOP 10:
1 – Joel Parkinson (AUS) 3876 pts
2 – Adriano de Souza (BRA) 3206 pts
3 – C.J. Hobgood (USA) 3072 pts
4 – Taj Burrow (AUS) 3050 pts
5 – Mick Fanning (AUS) 2940 pts
6 – Bobby Martinez (USA) 2625 pts
7 – Tom Whitaker (AUS) 2532 pts
8 – Jordy Smith (ZAF) 2486 pts
9 – Kelly Slater (USA) 2430 pts
10 – Damien Hobgood (USA) 2342 pts