b>Surf: Overhead and firing
Event’s held: Round four heats four through eight
Nature’s call: Stay put, boys
Predicted: Swell holding steady

“‘Apart from rally car drivers, do many other pro athletes spend this much time behind the wheel of a car?”‘ asks sarcastic ASP staff photographer Pierre Toastee somewhere near 10 this morning and in the middle of pretty, bucolic nowhere. We’re on our way to Johanna Beach, Rip Curl’s back-up station to Bells. It’s about two hours away and we’ve already driven half that, while hoping not to have to go all the way. And our hopes are fulfilled. The cell phone rings, event director, Damien Hardman’s made the call — back to Bells. It’s too big and a bit windy, but very well; that same swell is on its way.

I can’t imagine how big Luke Egan and Andy Irons must feel, as they race back, pedal to the metal, hoping to beat the Bells’ cursed high tide. Are they pissed? On a side-note, Andy and girlfriend Lindy are actually pulled over by a police officer along their mad, high speed dash, one who turns out rather understanding, or as Andy puts him, “‘that cop was pretty cool.”‘ Come heat time both these two are tough cookies, though Andy does make a few early mistakes. Is it a bad case of road legs? Nah, Luke’s not buying that, he opens with a deep line driving speed float combo to roof-look hook at 8.5. Andy bites back with the full bag — Vert-Doggs, lip line mambo, Round-O’s – it’s an 8.9. Big L. is not flustered; he brings his “‘Ode to OCC”‘ for 9.17.

This heat is steamy. It’s four minutes remaining and AI needs an 8.6, which is nothing for him, right? That’s what you’d think, but his next wave makes you wonder. Its head-high and he rips it valiantly– speed slice, loose float, straight up, layback Kauai Boy bravado — it’s an 8.33. Not enough, plus, Louie’s out back on the next one launching into like eight hooks. He bags an 8.77 making AI now froth for a 9.05. With thirty seconds to go! When a BIG set looms on the horizon, and AI has priority. He snags the first one for a HUGE arc, to vert climb, to bad man bash to end. Luke’s up next, it’s foamy, he trims past the first part then lovely float, bunyip dreaming roundy, conservative end snap . . .scores, waiting, waiting, Andy floating in the wash…what’s he get? It’s a 9.4…and Luke, a 9.13. Andy wins! For Luke — its four-letter words, sand kicking, board smack against the rail. It’s No!! Andy rolls up, like, “‘Uuuhhck — that was scary, man. I was freaking when I saw that last wave, but, whatever — backs a little sore from that drive, why’d we drive there anyway? We could be getting this thing done already.”‘ This dude’s all business.

So is Kelly. Nathan Hedge wanted to change that, he’d said earlier of him, “‘He’s had enough,”‘ defiantly. But Slater never has enough. He has a quick warm up wave, little air, then, 9.0 — he does this one arc that’s been setting him apart a bit; a gladiator kind of 180 pivot that would chop a few lions heads clean off. Andy’s overall swing is still stronger, although Kelly does go absolutely nuts on his last wave to blow some ruthless tail. It’s an 8.83. Hedge surfs well, but mostly gets annihilated. Kelly walks in and up to all us “‘journos”‘ with his backup stick hoisted on shoulder like a thugged-out boom box, while some corpo Quik guy slaps a team hat on him. He’s smiling big. “‘That’s the first quarter I’ve made here in like six years.”‘ He’s smiling ruthlessly. Is that because he’ll meet good friend Pat O’ Connell in tomorrow’s quarterfinal number three?

Pat rides quite loose today, all over Danny Wills, and with much aplomb. Danny’s wave selection is excellent and his timing beautiful, his trip and fades, but off the top he’s a bit stiff. Pat beats him with an 8.0 and 6.97, which is a good way to read how gnarly the “‘gnarly guys”‘ really are.

AI, Kelly, TB, they don’t get 6.97’s. Pat and Wills are two of the cleanest guys around, but Kelly, Andy, these dude’s are freaks — they’re “‘SICK.”‘ TB destroys Paulo Moura, puts a rusted tetanus infested nail through his heart. There’s something for everyone here in Proland. Bells doesn’t really suit Taj either, well, it does a little; he does do a ridiculous float worth 9.17, but it looks like he wants to do three more in a row. No matter, it’s sixteen minutes left in the heat and for Moura it’s goodnight. The West Australian race- car does one more over the lip disaster slide to fakie up in yo’ grill and that’s it. And he says, “‘I was feeling a little shaky out there, though I got the big scores.”‘ Yeah right.

He better not feel shaky in his quarter match tomorrow, against Occy. That man ain’t looking shaky at all. Can you say bottom turn? You can’t say it enough with the OCC. His style; he’s like a poodle and a pit bull all rolled into one. He’s the best. Today he lacerated one of his own kind, Taylor Knox, but he should have some trouble with TB — there’s just too much variety in that boy. But then again, there’s a lot of charisma in the OCC, and isn’t that what this whole pro surfing gig needs? OCC for world champ, no who could think of that. But he is only thirty-seven and he’s won Bells, Tahiti and Fiji all once before, our very next three events on this mad wave sliding circuit. Could it be? He wins his heat today and shrugs, “‘Now, I’m a bit disappointed with my fifth on the Goldie, and I’m pleased to make the quarters here, so…”‘ He shrugs his shoulders and grins. Hagan Kelley

Rip Curl Pro Round Four Heats (1st>Quarterfinals; 2nd=9th, receives US$5,000) H4: Andy Irons (AUS) 18.3 def. Luke Egan (AUS) 18.3
H5: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.83 def. Nathan Hedge (AUS) 13.83
H6: Pat O’Connell (USA) 14.97 def. Daniel Wills (AUS) 14.3
H7: Taj Burrow (AUS) 17.5 def. Paulo Moura (BRA) 12.83
H8: Mark Occhilupo (AUS) 16.17 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 11.83

Upcoming Quarterfinal match-ups (1st>Semifinal; 2nd=5th receives US$8,000)
QF1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS)
QF2: Toby Martin (AUS) vs. Andy Irons (HAW)
QF3: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Pat O'Connell (USA)
QF4: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Mark Occhilupo (AUS)