SURF: Overhead, light offshore and pounceable to crumbly, inconsistent and pounceable
EVENTS HELD: Round Four ’til the glorious end
NATURE’S CALL: This wall’s for you, Lowey
PREDICTED: Sudsy streets in Coolangatta
It’s a new year with new energy, new, fresh faces on tour. . .and a new world ratings leader. But it’s not who you think it is. It ain’t Parko or Dean Morrison, who were way too eager in their Round Four heats. It’s not {{{CJ}}} Hobgood, whose flawless backhand form in Round Three crumbled against Andy Irons. And it’s not even Slater, who lost his impeccable rhythm in the quarters. No, the new world ratings leader after the first WCT of 2004 is. . .Mick Lowe?That’s right. Mick Lowe, the 26-year-old powder keg from Windang, Australia, who’s capable of amazing destruction when he gets on a roll. Normally a scary presence in danger lefts, Lowey proved his backhand can be just as frightening, taking out Neco Padaratz, Kelly Slater, Taylor Knox and world champ Andy Irons in waves tailor-made for explosive regularfoots. “There’s always a zone out there,” says Mick, “and if you find it, you can beat anyone. I just lucked out today and happened to get in that place.”Lowey credits his wife Amanda, a few days of “punching nippers and catching flathead” at nearby Tallebudgera Creek and surrounding himself with friends and loved ones in Australia’s most intense surfing zone. “Haven’t even surfed too much outside the contest,” he admits. “Too crowded.”It sure didn’t look that way. Because if Lowey’s going to pinpoint reasons for this win, he should start with wave selection. Picking the “runners” or “growers” made or broke every heat. If you picked the waves with a long, expanding wall and did the job, you’d beat your opponent no matter who he was or how many autographs he signed afterward. Lowey outfoxed Slater with selection, did it again when Taylor Knox gave him a heat-winning “runner” in the semis and did it once again in a slow heat against Andy. As Occy said after beating Parko with masterful wave selection, “Sometimes you forget, but you really gotta pick ’em out there.”Lowey should also credit his tour typology since he and his kind were in full force at this year’s Quiksilver Pro. Their name? The goofyfoot X-factor. There aren’t many goofyfoot X-factors on tour these days, but the ones remaining continue to shock the favorites. These are the guys who never get much press, fly under the radar most of the time but are capable of scoring 10s in any heat. Guys like Guilherme Herdy, who took out Luke Egan and had a good go at Slater in Round Four. Or Mick Campbell, who was the event’s best surfer in Round Two. Even Victor Ribas achieved goofyfoot X-Factor status at this event, taking out superfly Taj Burrow in Round Four with a relentless series of snappy backhand arcs that wound from the rocks at Rainbow Bay way past the point at Greenmount.

Mick is the king of these twisted screwfoots, as he’s proven time and time again with big results at Pipeline and his last win at the 2002 Quiksilver Fiji Pro. He proved it today versus Kelly Slater, who — up until then — surfed like he had a date with Andy in the final. Lowe admits he was feeling “a lot of nervous energy” in his heat against Slater, especially since Slater had beaten him at Mundaka last year after Lowe posted a 9.5. But Lowe’s surfing in this heat showed why the “goofyfoot X-factor” typology had the upper hand. The Superbank sandbar is less Sandspit and more Lower Trestles these days, making for a long, semi-fat wall with the occasional bowly section. Once the in-form backhanders got their wind-ups going, they didn’t stop the hits ’til the wave petered out. Lowey’s big scores against Kelly — a 9.0 and 9.5, respectively — each included nine or 10 vertical backhand blasts. ASP Pres and Snapper local {{{Rabbit}}} Bartholomew, who nabbed a few waves this morning then spent the rest of the day watching the event, was wary of the goofies. “This version of the Bank just suits them better,” he said this morning as he chased his son Jaggar around the Rainbow Bay sandbox. “They’re gonna do some damage today.”Even Andy Irons — clearly the best surfer in the world right now — knew he’d have his hands full in the final. As he watched Mick do battle with a carving Taylor Knox, he rooted for “Bonehead.” “I want Bones in the final,” he said. “I know what Taylor will do, but I never know what Mick’s gonna do.”Turned out he was right. Mick started the final with an 8.17 — all aggression and lower-body torque — clear down the point. Andy followed with a strong 7.83, but seemed a little tighter than in his earlier heats. Then when Lowey found one under Andy, turned on the whack machine and produced a 9.17, the two-time world champ called it quits.Irons should feel good, though. Up until that final, he was a competitive Godzilla, smoking every single one of his opponents out of the contest zone. His quarterfinal heat against Jake Paterson was the best example of this when he posted a 9.63, then found the only 10 of the event with four mega-snaps and an alley-oop on the inside. It was so impressive, so right now, even air pioneer and commentator Martin Potter was at a loss for words. “How was that alley-hook 360 air sort of thing?” he said. “I don’t even know what you call it.”But Irons know what to call it: a good start to another pressure-filled year. A year filled with more cameras in his face, more autograph signings and more nagging reporter questions than ever before. But Andy had the formula at this event. He hung low-profile, away from the sun, in a tent on the beach. He was asleep by 9 every night this week and surfed a ton on a brand new, 6’2″ x 18 5/8″ x 2 1/4” JS squashtail — a board he called “butter.” “I know what to do now,” said Irons. “I’m just enjoying myself and having fun. Treating this like another day at the beach. I mean, how can it not be fun? This is the best high-performance wave in the world, and there’s normally {{{300}}} guys out here. I’m surfing it with one guy.”There’s only one sticking point in Andy’s happy-go-lucky formula: just don’t mention the “S” word. “I’m sick of talking about Slater,” he said after Kelly lost his quarterfinal. “He gets enough press. Let’s focus on the guys who are winning.”Maybe Andy has a point. Because as Mick Lowe proved at this first WCT of 2004, there’s no such thing as a sure bet.— Evan SlaterThe Quiksilver Pro presented by Boost Mobile marked the first event on the 2004 Foster’s ASP men’s World Championship Tour (WCT). Quiksilver Pro presented by Boost Mobile
1st Michael Lowe (Aus) 17.34 – US$30,000
2nd Andy Irons (Haw) 14.16 – US$16,000
Semifinals (1st>Final; 2nd=3rd receives US$10,000)
SF1: Andy Irons (Haw) 16.16 def. Tom Whitaker (Aus) 2.34
SF2: Michael Lowe (Aus) 15.07 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 12.9
Quarterfinals (1st>Semifinals; 2nd=5th receives US$8,000)
QF1: Tom Whitaker (Aus) 13.77 def. Mark Occhilupo (Aus) 11.26
QF2: Andy Irons (Haw) 19.63 def. Jake Paterson (Aus) 12.0
QF3: Michael Lowe (Aus) 18.{{{57}}} def. Kelly Slater (USA) 12.67
QF4: Taylor Knox (USA) 15.83 def. Victor Ribas (Brz) 15.37
Round Four (1st>Quarterfinals; 2nd=9th receives US$5,000)
{{{H1}}}: Tom Whitaker (Aus) 15.83 def. Peterson Rosa (Brz) 14.76
{{{H2}}}: Mark Occhilupo (Aus) 17.17 def. Joel Parkinson (Aus) 13.34
{{{H3}}}: Jake Paterson (Aus) 13.66 def. Dean Morrison (Aus) 13.5
H4: Andy Irons (Haw) 17.07 def. CJ Hobgood (USA) 16.53
H5: Kelly Slater (USA) 19.03 def. Guilherme Herdy (Brz) 15.17
H6: Michael Lowe (Aus) 12.84 def. Neco Padaratz (Brz) 11.07
H7: Victor Ribas (Brz) 17.6 def. Taj Burrow (Aus) 13.84
H8: Taylor Knox (USA) 13.5 def. Paulo Moura (Brz) 10.0 Official Ratings after WCT Event# 1/12
1. Michael Lowe (Aus) 1,{{{200}}}-points
2. Andy Irons (Haw) 1,032
=3. Tom Whitaker (Aus); Taylor Knox (USA) – 876
=5. Mark Occhilupo (Aus); Jake Paterson (Aus); Kelly Slater (USA); Victor Ribas (Brz) – 732
=9. Peterson Rosa (Brz); Joel Parkinson (Aus); Dean Morrison (Aus); CJ Hobgood (USA); Guilherme Herdy (Brz); Neco Padaratz (Brz); Taj Burrow (Aus); Paulo Moura (Brz) – {{{600}}}