CLICK HERE for a photo gallery of the eventThis is a new year and an entirely new kind of world championship race.

That was the underlying message behind events at the notorious Coolangatta Superbank yesterday, where Coolie Kid Mick Fanning and Redemption Psycho Chris Ward smashed their ways past ex-world-champs, wobbling, crumbly surf, and a beach crowd of historic proportions to set a brilliantly unpredictable tone for 2005.

Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson and crew could only watch as Fanning, seeming completely free of the vicious hamstring tear that wrecked his 2004, became the third Coolie in four years to win on home ground. “I think they were waiting to see how I was surfing again, to see if giving me the wildcard (for 2005) paid off,” Mick said of his fellow superpros. Well, now they know.

It was both an unlikely yet utterly fitting final between two surfers who weren’t anywhere to be seen last season. Unlikely because last year Mick was injured and Chris was unqualified. Fitting because these were undoubtedly the form surfers of the event.

Mick rode a board he’d named after his two year old niece, Timera, a 6’1″ x 18 1/4″ DHD. “Why are there names written on the tails of your boards?” asked a grommet who’d accosted him on the way up the beach.

“Um,” said Mick, “because I’ve got to, otherwise I can’t remember which is which.” His memory of how to turn his board faster and more fluently than any other surfer on earth seemed unharmed.

In the end it was Mick’s sheer speed and rail-carving firepower that whipped him home to victory. Yet this was almost the first WCT event you could honestly have said was won via air, thanks to one incredible human – Chris Ward.

Wardo! Oh my God, where do we start. This man surfed unlike any pro on tour since I don’t even know when — maybe since they thought up man-on-man heats.

Instead of doing what all sensible top-44ers do and waiting for a precise kind of wave, he basically free-surfed – caught lots of different types of waves, and often just kind of — STOOD THERE, waiting for the wave to build up.

When it did, he ripped the mask off, risking a big air or throwing down some mad combination, and daring the judges to score it. More often than not, they did, though they had a few shaky moments with ol’ Wardo. In the last seven minutes of his semifinal, he pulled a fins-out carving frontside 360; one judge gave him 4.8, another gave him 7.0.

An admirable approach! But rarely does that sort of random shit defeat Kelly Slater. Halfway through their quarterfinal, it seemed Kelly had him pegged. But Wardo ... perhaps fortune favors the psychopathic, because within a minute he’d turned the tables, riding two great waves back to back and throwing airs into barrel sections.

Wardo explained it thus: “I watch a lot of tennis, and if you hit the ball into the right place, then...that’s really all you need.

“Beyond that it’s all about tactics. You know I gave Troy Brooks priority a couple of times in (round four), that was a mistake, but I knew I’d made the mistakes. It’s up to me to iron that out.”

Coolangatta might never be the same, either. Quiksilver did their best to create a Surround-Sound event after the fashion of the great city beach contests of the 1980s, except modernized: giant instant-replay screen, endless commentary, webcast, former world champs on tap everywhere. In this nouveau tacky beachside tourist town, they hit exactly the right note, and thousands of spectators filled the sand in front of Snapper Rocks, screaming, cheering big scores, and finally getting the big payoff as Nathan Hedge and Parko ambushed victorious Mick in the shorebreak. Hedgey actually tackled Fanning clean off his board! Hamstring or no bloody hamstring.

And it’s a beer town. SURFING counted three Fosters’ passing down the champ’s gullet even before he made it to the presentation dais.

Later Mick had cooled – briefly – long enough to consider what he’d achieved and why. Renowned in days past for excessive anxiety in heats, he said he’d turned that around. “I felt really mellow, which is unlike me. I just tried to relax and it paid off. I needed a 5.77 against Andy (in the quarterfinals), and in previous situations I probably would’ve freaked out. But I just stayed really relaxed.”

He paid some tribute to orthopedic surgeon Dr David Wood, chiropractor Chris Prosser and trainer Jan Carton for helping him back from that hamstring tear. “Everything they did for me ... it was just a whole new program. I never really worked so intensely with personal trainers before. It was really new to me and I feel insane because of it, I could go out and surf another heat right now, I’m not exhausted at all. They changed all my nutrition, they changed everything, and they were always there for me.”

What about his Mom, Liz? Did she worry about him? “Yeah, Mom’s always worried! She’s always worried. But she said I was good, so it’s all good.”

And suddenly, right then, as if on cue, Liz appeared from nowhere and enveloped her son in a big hug. “Oh Micko!” she said. “So happy for you Mick! Congratulations! You deserve it soo much!”

Mick Fanning def Chris Ward

Semi Final #1
Mick Fanning def Trent Munro

Semi Final #2
Chris Ward def Tom Whitaker

Quarter Final #1
Trent Munro def {{{CJ}}} Hobgood

Quarter Final #2
Mick Fanning def Andy Irons

Quarter Final #3
Tom Whitaker def Mark Occhilupo

Quarter Final #4
Chris Ward def Kelly Slater

Heat # 1
Trent Munro def Fred Patacchia

Heat # 2
CJ Hobgood def Phil MacDonald

Heat # 3
Mick Fanning def Damien Hobgood

Heat # 4
Andy Irons def Bruce Irons

Heat # 5
Tom Whitaker def Joel Parkinson

Heat # 6
Mark Occhilupo def Nathan Hedge

Heat # 7
Kelly Slater def Richard Lovett

Heat # 8
Chris Ward def Troy Brooks