It's hard to put a finger on what exactly starts a winning run, especially one as prodigious as Taj Burrow's. Not even the guy himself can work it out. What Taj is doing is nothing seismically different from what he's done over the past three years, but he's now lost just one heat in the past five months, and that took a five-minute airborne blitzkrieg by Josh Kerr to do so in the final at Margaret River. Over the New Year break he went pretty hard in the slipstream of his Pipe Masters win. "I woke up on about the third of January with no voice and I was so sick. I had a knee the size of a basketball. I think it was full of Corona and it just needed to drain itself." He was back in shape by the Gold Coast, where he duly won both events. Is it the fact that in regards to the world title, after so many empty years, he's lost the fear of failure? Has "now or never" become "now or whenever"? "It was a horrible feeling for a few years, but I don't have that feeling anymore. I'm still thinking about the title, but it's not do or die. I won't feel like I've failed if I don't do it." Whatever alchemy is going down between his ears, it's working.
Taj won through to the quarterfinals of the Rip Curl Pro at Winkipop by dispatching Matt Wilkinson and Andy Irons in succession. But it wasn't the wins themselves, it was the way he pulled 'em. Surgical. Flashy. Smiling. The only thing that might scupper another Taj Burrow victory here in the next few days is a conspiracy of fluky surf and the form side of the draw he finds himself in.
Likewise, it's equally hard to exactly pinpoint what stops a winning run. Andy Irons had us daring to dream in round one in the Bells Bowl. He showed just enough of his old chutzpah to indicate that maybe, just maybe, he was going to be a key player on this year's tour. The cat amongst the pigeons. Andy progressed through his round three heat this morning, but Kai Otton lost the heat more than Andy won it. The three-time world champ then had the misfortune of drawing Taj in the round of 16. Suddenly he found himself sitting out there alone with a guy at the top of his game, surfing waves that required a technical read. Taj had him comboed within minutes. There was nowhere to hide and halfway through you knew he wanted the ocean to just swallow him up. Andy's worked hard over the past few weeks, the past few months actually, training with Wes Berg, the same guy who whipped Parko into shape last year. But out in the water against Taj it seemed the harder Andy tried to clutch the old magic the more it slipped through his fingers. Whatever Great Intangible is missing, I, like every other surf fan on the planet, hope he finds it. Amongst the other intriguing subplots going down on this year's tour, the story of a rampant Andy Irons could dwarf them all.