“Yeeehawww! How ’bout them waves, Rob?!”

“Jacksonville Jeb” wasn’t the only local screaming as Cardiff, CA’s Rob Machado accepted his $5,000 first place check, beaming his hippy smile. And no wonder: for a competitor who came {{{80}}} points from taking the ASP World Title from Kelly Slater in 1995 (the closest ASP World Title finish on record) — who has expressed much bitterness over being denied a 2002 wildcard injury spot by his WCT peers — Mob’s victory at this year’s inaugural Foster’s Jacksonville Pro is just as noteworthy as the venue where it occurred.

Not since the Hixon’s Pro in 1984 has the ASP visited North Florida. And as the opening event of the 2003 Fosters Pro Surfing Tour, the sand stayed lined with spectators for the weekend of March 20, all anxious to see an international crew battle for WQS points and $25,000 in prize money.

“We had an enthusiastic showing,” understates ESA Executive Director and contest organizer Kathy Phillips. “Some surfers here have never even seen a pro contest of this magnitude.”

Even the most clueless tourist would have been impressed by the performances as Friday’s head-high peaks reformed on the inside sandbar for fast bowl sections that surprised many of the competitors.

“I thought I was at G-Land or something,” laughed Machado about his first heat. “Wait, I can’t say that. But one left was a full-on bomb.”

A bomb that soon disintegrated. By the time the final 30-minute heat hit the water, the waves dropped to waist-high, but performances only got scrappier for Machado, Dane Johnson, Mike Losness, and Australia’s Heath Walker. All were foreign to the North Florida lineup, but you’d have thought each was a homegrown gator the way they ate up the gruesome, waist-high conditions. Walker and Losness traded the lead several times – Losness even punted a shorebreak air in the final minutes — but it wasn’t enough to match Machado’s strong selection of vertical turns. As the beach whispers predicted for days, the win belonged to Cardiff’s one-man-mafia. But even if he isn’t a Florida boy, Mob displayed trademark southern hospitality.

“The East Coast is important,” Machado proclaimed, tipping a Foster’s Oilcan to his hosts. “There’s a lot of good surfers out here. I’m stoked to go home with this first place check and I’ll see you guys back here next year.” — Mike Fish/ESM

Results for the Foster’s Jax Pro 2003: 1. Rob Machado ${{{5000}}}
2. Mike Losness $2500
3. Heath Walker $2000
4. Dane Johnson $1700