On the Kirra road, the sign’s been blinking for weeks. Quiksilver Pro — 5 days to go! 4 days!! 3 days!!!

In the lineup at Snapper, there ain’t any signs…though maybe there should be.

“This is the most dangerous surf I’ve had in ages,” muttered Damien Hobgood, duckdiving a 3-footer next to the legendary Snapper Rock itself. Just to his left, three surfers took off, trapped each other in a horrid tangle, and went over the falls on top of a Japanese backpacker, just as two bodyboarders dropped in on a longboarder down the line.

If you’ve been harboring visions of the Gold Coast points as quaint Down Under getaway spots, peopled by amiable, crusty locals and a few holidaymakers from Asia, forget it. Snapper Rocks is Out Of Control.

Word of the Superbank has long since spread through one of this nation’s biggest surf populations. As the late summer swell season has built, more and more of ’em have invaded Snapper until now — on the eve of 2003’s first WCT event — it’s literally impossible to surf the place.

Well, you can take off … but forget about turning. Unless you enjoy running people over.

“It’s always crowded. But it’s never been this crowded,” said local shaper/surfer John Harris, watching from the beach last Friday afternoon. “I can’t surf out there right now.” He must have been the only surfer within {{{100}}} miles to make that choice.

Snapper’s an intriguing lineup. A long, broad slab of rock runs across the face of incoming swells, giving way almost immediately to a broad half-mile stretch of sand known as Rainbow Bay. Rainbow is buttressed at its other end by Greenmount Point, a beautifully shaped lava-rock headland which leads down to Coolangatta Beach and finally to the gold of Kirra Groyne.

Waves are surfable all the way down this vast stretch. But Snapper’s at the head of the line, and at any time between dawn and dusk during the pre-contest countdown, masses of surfers — sometimes 15 or 20 at a time — could be seen gathering behind the rock ledge, ready for a quick run-and-jump into the takeoff zone.

If you were a pro trying to psyche up, it was a pretty dang weird scene. Brazil’s Peterson Rosa chose to paddle way out off the back of the Rock and wait for a single set wave. The Hobgoods chased anything resembling a lip, Heather Clark and Melanie Redman-Carr sat halfway down the line dodging the longboards, and Sunny Garcia just sat square in the middle and took off on anything he wanted.

Top gun local Joel Parkinson was just one pro happy to avoid the chaos. Physically fit thanks to pre-season training sessions in the pool and with more hours of Snapper in his boardshort pocket than anyone else, Parko is deliberately starving himself of surf time in order to feel fresh. “We’re going to be doing a lot of surfing in the event,” he said. “I don’t want to run out of enthusiasm halfway through.”

The Quiksilver Pro and Roxy Pro are being held concurrently, with a waiting period from March 4 – 16. Surf forecasts are optimistic for swell but uncertain for weather, with Tropical Cyclone Erica already active in the Coral Sea north of the contest site, and the possibility of strong winds and rain accompanying the waves. We’ll keep you posted.

(Check the Quiksilver site for score updates through the event.)

—— The event trials, run on Monday March 3, found the same winner as last year: Gold Coaster Luke Munro, who got the edge over fellow point local Will Lewis in fun three-foot waves. Munro will draw reigning world champ Andy Irons and Australia’s Lee Winkler in the “warm-up” three man round one. Ventura’s Tim Curran makes his return to the WCT in heat six of that round, competing against two of 2002’s star attractions: Neco Padaratz and Mick Fanning.

—— Ross Clarke-Jones has won the inaugural Oakley/ASL Big Wave Award. RCJ collected $20,000 for his rather baffling ride at Shipstern Bluff, Tasmania, last September. The award was presented at the ASL Surf Industry Ball in Jupiter’s Casino on the Gold Coast Saturday night. “I didn’t know if I would win,” Ross told the crowd. “I kept thinking there’s other entries, they could easily beat me. But my wife Marcia kept telling me: ‘Be positive!'”

The glory didn’t last long, however — later that evening, the big check was literally bitten in half by a rampaging Gary Elkerton. It was rendered impassable, which according to Ross, was just as well: “What were they thinking, giving me $20,000 in a casino??” More news to come from the Gold Coast’s social hell during the event….

— Nick Carroll