Surf: Three to feet, good (again), offshore/sideshore winds (again) Events Held: Roxy Pro to final, remaining men’s round three Nature’s Call: OK, it’s no the sand dredge, it’s the swell Predicted: Dropping swell, then increase in 48 hours

Gold Coast, Australia: Layne Beachley started signing autographs straight after stepping off the presentation dais. She was still at it 10 minutes, 15 minutes later. In that time, she had her picture taken with at least two dozen separate people and signed her name — Surfing counted ’em — 122 times.

Ms. Beachley does not shrink from autographing. “It’s such a simple thing!” she claimed. By now she’d escaped the signing and was safely hidden behind her big black {{{BMW}}} wagon, busy squirting bottled water all over herself. (The Gold Coast is in drought; the beach showers don’t work.) “I don’t believe surfers who won’t go on autograph tours. Ten seconds of your time and you can make a kid’s day.”

Can make your own day, too, perhaps. “Well, it won’t last forever,” she admitted.

Truthfully, Layne seemed mildly baffled she’d won this, the first girls’ WCT of her fifth title defense, the defense that if successful will give her the right to claim pro surfing’s all-time title record, men or women.

“I had no strategy, no preparation, nothing, except to sit a little bit down from the Rock and find waves with a bit of a wall,” she said. “I’m so relaxed! I was questioning myself over my physical preparation for this event, I’d hardly done anything at all. Brooke (her assistant) said, ‘Do it on adrenalin!’ But I didn’t feel any adrenalin, I didn’t really feel ANYTHING.”

Which is odd, because this was Ms Beachley’s most complete, least stressed performance in a long time. Beachley is still way on top of the opposition and proved it heat after heat, her style more powerful and sophisticated, her technique allowing better angles out of the lip, her attitude unnaturally mellow — like someone with nothing particular to prove. Even more remarkable considering the clear increase in standard shown by all the women competitors here.

Rumors persist of her unpopularity among the other women, but today many of them sat in the surfers’ viewing area, watching intently and applauding Layne’s every move. Perhaps they just wish they were at her level.

Her surfing begins to show traces of the artistry some have accused her of lacking. “That four years with Ken (Bradshaw), intense, hard work and training, I’d show up and be so full-on,” she reckoned. “But if I hadn’t done those years, maybe I couldn’t relax the way I am now.”

She turned around and looked past her car, where several Japanese girls had gathered, holding their event programs hopefully. “122, did you say? Well, let’s see, there’s 123, 124, 125, 126, 127…” And she turned to the task with gusto.

Meanwhile, the remaining men’s round three heats were kicking down. Your correspondent frankly doubts the wisdom of combining men’s and women’s WCTs. It may make marketing sense — connecting the dots between your Big Brand and the key specialist label, and doing it all in a concentrated lump of media, beach presence, etc — but in almost every other way, it leads to friction. The men resent it; the women feel put down; it takes risks with the waiting period. Event director Rod Brooks took considerable heat from more than one male pro when he chose to run the Roxy in prime morning offshore conditions, instead of giving the men priority . . .