Surf: Six feet, clean with windy periods, degenerating to slop later
Events Held: Remaining Round One, Round Two
Nature’s Call: You’re on the North Shore — expect the unexpected
Predicted: Pulses, then substantial increase Tuesday/Wednesday History will be made at this contest, and everyone on the North Shore knows it. But the kind of history the crowd wants to see — the Title Showdown between the two best-matched opponents since Occy and Curren in 1986 — will have to wait. Andy Irons and Kelly Slater were booked in the first two heats this morning, and such is their pulling power, the Kam Highway was a mess by 8 am. The two contenders brushed aside any notion of an early collapse with performances so simple and commanding they verged on arrogant. Their opposition didn’t so much fall to bits as step aside, knowing there was no point interfering with Destiny. Andy’s heat was slow for waves, but he found every one of any meaning, running right for foamy little end-section tubes and left for the only convincing barrels of the heat. Kelly’s heat had a better start and he made the most of it. Within five minutes he had his winning waves, two healthy backside barrels and a series of deceptively complex off-the-foam snaps. Even after all those titles and God knows what else, he still has the magical ability to look like a little kid on a board. So! 9:30 am, and the aficionado’s attention turned to the real battles: who the frick would survive to spend another year in the Ultimate Boys’ Club, the WCT. It’s one thing being up at the summit, dueling for a world bloody championship and an extra couple of hundred grand in {{{incentive}}} payments. It’s quite another being on the WCT “bubble” — down around 27th place, where the rankings cut off after Pipe and anyone without a backup finds himself plunged back into the second-class citizenship of the World Qualifying Series. Want to know what that’s like? Ask Nathan “Hog” Hedge. Hog, at 26th, started the day with numerous threats to his status. By day’s end, he’d secured some breathing space with a quick round-two rally.

“I didn’t wanna lose this job!” he grunted. “People think we have an easy life, but they don’t see this stuff. All I had to do was get better than last in one of these two final events and I would be OK. But I kept losing! It was doing my head in. “I know I’ve got more in me than this — I know it! I don’t wanna waste it going through all those four-man (WQS) heats again.” Hog and fellow Australian goofyfoot Beau Emerton were fighting a rearguard action against Brazil’s Neco Padaratz, who sits two places back from them, and could boot one out with a single placing higher than either. Neco himself is under no such pressure. He finished number one on the WQS rankings, and will make it either way. Emerton’s been in this place before. Last year, in fact. He’s motivated — enough to find the event’s third highest scoring wave and bash his way into round three. Luke Hitchings is motivated too, though it ain’t gonna help. Luke saved his place here in 2002 with a spectacular series of Backdoor barrels. Today he got another Backdoor barrel and won his heat, then had to watch as Hedgey and Emerton made his attempt at a run — from 36th place — academic. Recently Luke lost a bet which has forced him to adopt easily the worst haircut in the world: a bowl shave of the scalp with nice long locks left hanging off the back and sides, coupled with a moustache. Quizzed about it, he laughed hollowly. “Oh, I’m doing alright,” he muttered. It’s hard to know which fate — relegation or haircut? — was worse. About the least motivated at this point is usually the high-ranked pro with no hope of the Title. Taj Burrow fits this description, and sure enough, old Taj turned in a truly floppy performance. He wrapped a towel around and slid out of his boardshorts for the last time this season, a bit sulky, but still able to reflect on his year. “I went to Brazil really thinking I might get a break on those guys (Kelly and Andy),” he said. “Then I got so sick (with flu) I couldn’t even get out of bed. Straight away I gave up hope.” Even a finals placing at the Rip Curl Cup last week couldn’t edge him closer. Still the title race hangs like a thunderstorm on the horizon, rumbling in the background of this final play of ’03…and the players prepare to strut and fret…and others prepare to gamble. Like Michael Ho. See, Michael heard Andy had laid a bet against his brother Derek in yesterday’s trials rounds, so Michael did a tit-for-tat — put money on Slater for the Crown. So Michael’s sitting on the porch next door to Andy’s at Off-The-Wall this afternoon, when AI sees a little flurry of waves out front, comes charging out for a late sesh: “Flurry! Let’s go surfing!”… …Stops, looks over, and says: “But first, I just wanna get one thing clear, Michael. Never bet against me!” And he ran out to surf. — Nick Carroll GERRY LOPEZ XBOX PIPE MASTERS
Round Three heats (two will advance)
heat one
Kieren Perrow
Jamie O’Brien
Damien Hobgood
Nathan Hedge
heat two
Mark Occhilupo
Victor Ribas
Joel Parkinson
Pancho Sullivan
heat three Luke Egan
Fabio Gouveia
Shea Lopez
Luke Hitchings
heat four Guilherme Herdy
Peterson Rosa
Andy Irons
Marcus Hickman
heat five
Kelly Slater
Kalani Chapman
Phil Macdonald
Trent Munro
heat six
Daniel Wills
Tim Curran
Dean Morrison
Beau Emerton
heat seven
Mick Fanning
Derek Ho
Kalani Robb
Paulo Moura
heat eight
Michael Lowe
Bruce Irons
Cory Lopez
Neco Padaratz Stay tuned for Surfing’s ruthless blow-by-blow online coverage of this ASP WCT super-event! And check the ASP site for live scoring.