When World Tour events finish, it usually takes me a few hours--even days, sometimes--for everything that happened to fully register. Not today though. Not when the final day of Snapper is held in 2- to 3-foot slop and everything reverts to script. But in spite of mediocre conditions, a few pivotal moments stand out.
Josh Kerr, after going 0-4 vs. Slater in quarterfinal appearances last year, finally got through to a semifinal, defeating Kelly in decisive fashion. Throughout numerous heats, Kerr showed off improved combinations, connecting maneuvers that compliment the most complete air game in the world. Kerr is a very stable, dangerous threat on Tour. Uncharacteristically, Slater came up short in their match-up, and when Kelly loses, he loses interest in the not-so-dreamy "Dream Tour." It had to happen eventually.
Jordy Smith looked like the Jordy Smith of years past, when we were all certain that he would one day hold the World Title. Boy how time flies: Jordy is now a Tour veteran and Dane Reynolds is retired. Yet I still write about them together as if they are conjoined twins. We compare and chart Jordy and Dane's surfing over time with one another because no one else compares to them. Jordy impressed at Snapper with a smooth, powerful variety of complete rides. If the waves were just a hair more powerful he would have been looking better than Taj (who, along with Adriano, had a tremendous advantage in the weak surf). Dane on the other hand has no need to accumulate heat wins, only clips for his next drop on Marine Layer Productions. I'm pretty sure there are as many jaw-dropping highlights from Dane's two heats as Taj's entire trip through the final.
Taj Burrow had his hands full back in Round 2 with Dane. A hard fought win then set him on cruise control all the way to victory at the first event of 2012. He did this by outclassing the field in the same blistering form he's shown since '99 when he finished runner-up for the World Title. Now he looks primed to finally go one better…again. Looking the World Title favorite in his 14th year on tour is a hard weight to bear for very long. Lucky for Taj--and unfortunate for us--with only seven events counting this year, and Taj having much better results over hot streaks than prolonged consistency, this could finally be his year. Can he be the 2012 World Champ?
There are always a lot of "ifs" when it comes to the circumstances required for Taj to be on top at the end of a World Tour season. First and foremost is Kelly f–king Slater and his 11 world titles, which have showcased a number of soul-crushing defeats over Taj--Slater has effectively made him his bitch when it comes to man-on-man, World Tour surfing. Even if Kelly doesn't push hard for a 12th title (he's already suffered enough waiting around Snapper in crap surf while a number of locations around the world went off) the events he does participate in will still play a major role in deciding who does take his title in 2012. Kelly's only true weakness is disinterest, as he will sometimes lose due to a lack of engagement in a situation. But any heat vs. Taj, Kelly gives it his all, as if he was Michael Jordan in Game 7 of the NBA finals.
Champions give their all in competition when it matters most, finding levels of performance that even surprise themselves. Taj has never been able to match Kelly, or superstars from other sports, with intensity at decisive moments. There will be a moment in 2012 where Taj is either elated for taking that moment for himself, or, as in years past, returns to the beach in a mess of self-induced anguish at missed opportunity.
At the beginning of the Snapper final, it looked as if Taj would falter in a pivotal moment once again. Everyone's arch nemesis, Adriano de Souza, was only a judge's conscience away from the win on his last ride. But they just couldn't give him the score without a better wall through the inside--despite the best moves of the heat out the back. Adriano's ability to keep improving year after year is uncanny. Once known as a master tactician for connecting A-Z with floaters, snaps, and cutbacks, he now begins and ends every wave in a much more Josh Kerr fashion than I would have ever predicted. Taj took an extremely close heat win vs. Adriano last year at Snapper, and an even closer final this year. But Taj can't win every split decision, and if Adriano never backed down to Slater during his title runs, you better believe he's not going to for Taj.
With such a short season, a good start is a must. Come Bells, any surfer looking to make a move for the No. 1 spot had better post a great result then. Hopefully our prayers for any kind of swell at Bells are answered. It would be a pleasant change from sitting through 30-minute webcast heats, watching two surfers bob up and down like they were in a washing machine on gentle mode. Good waves will allow us to focus on the action at hand, which will be nothing short of phenomenal. When looking at the surfers on Tour, we see the most high performance group of surfers ever compiled to decide a world title.