There were plenty of raised eyebrows at Lower Trestles this morning when wildcard Dane Reynolds blew past world title contender Taj Burrow in the second heat of the morning thanks in part to an 8.33 he earned on the back of a healthy backside snap, along with some puzzled faces. While there was no question Reynolds was on his game– looking impressively fast and loose in the challenging conditions–there was plenty of questions among onlookers when the 8.33 score was announced, especially considering shortly after the move he failed to complete the ride, and the snap, while certainly solid, couldn't be called spectacular considering what Reynolds dished out in Round One.
While a minor detail, the unusually wide spread between judges scores (the high score was a 9.0, the low a 7.0 on that ride) is symbolic of a new challenge judges face as the next generation of performers like Dane Reynolds and Jordy Smith climb through the ranks. "In the WQS, the judges definitely reward you for linking your maneuvers together better," explained Wildcard Jordy Smith, who upset title contender Joel Parkinson in the very next heat. "It seems like at this level they just like to see you go for it more."
If that's true, which it seems to be, then both Dane Reynolds and Jordy Smith, who've qualified for next year's WCT, stand to move up the ranks quickly with their shock-and-awe repertoires. But as wildcards this week, the threat they pose to the world title race is hugely significant in every heat. Their competition is keenly aware of the fact that the two of them are enjoying their honeymoon period with the World Tour judges, who are more likely to be stunned by their aggressive attacks than the regional ASP judges who've been seeing it more regularly in WQS competition. In fact, the two regional judges on the panel gave the lowest scores on Dane's wave.
When we asked Reynolds if he was surprised by any of the scores as they were announced over the PA, he smiled and said, "I wasn't expecting an 8.0 on that one." The 8.33 put Taj in a very tough position of needing a 9.5 in the closing moments of the heat, instead of a more realistic 7.9. That being said, Reynolds' victory ended up being decisive. Yet in the very next heat, there was some solid debate on an exchange between Jordy Smith and Joel Parkinson, in which many felt Joel got shortchanged. Of course, arguing balls and strikes is part of the game, and it's to be expected at any surfing contest, but with such high stakes on the line, along with such high-profile wildcards in the race, there's no question people will be keeping a close eye on the judges.
On Thursday, should the competition resume, Young Gun Dane Reynolds is slated to face tour leader Mick Fanning in Round Three, while the red-hot Jordy Smith will square off with Andy Irons. The final key match-up of the round will be Rob Machado vs. his buddy Kelly Slater.