2008 Rip Curl Search Day 4

CONDITIONS: Beautiful 4-6 foot and glassy
NATURE'S CALL: Come back anytime
PREDICTIONS: Goofy versus Regular in the Final (what the hell)

You know that scene in Star Trek where the Captain Kirk and a guy in a yellow shirt go down to explore the planet? You just know the guy in the yellow shirt ain't coming back to The Enterprise. He's doomed. That's pretty much how everyone was looking at Kelly Slater's Round 4 heat against yellow shirt Tiago Pires. Slater set his phasers to stun with early 8.5 and 7.8 point barrel rides, and settled into a long lull to wind down the heat. Tiago needs a high 7-something to come back…and the ocean is flat. A last ditch set pops up in the final moments of the heat, but Captain Kirk has priority and drops in to block yellow shirt guy's last chance. Well, ALMOST his last chance. There's one wave left in the set, the announcer is counting down the final seconds, and Tiago scratches into the wave with all he's got. The entire Portuguese surf community held their collective breath staring at the midnight webcast. It's a nice long barrel. Clean exit. Tiago claims it with a single "claw" pump, like he's holding his heart in his hand. Punctuates the ride with a crisp hack. Ends with another little jab just as the buzzer sounds.

Holy shit, what did he need again? A 7-something?

The judges are deliberating, but everyone on the beach already knows the answer. Tiago paddles back through the break's signature cave like a new man. A conquering hero. Giving new hope to a small pack of title chasers. "The world title race is ON!" Rip Curl founder Doug "Claw" Warbick roared as the Tiago's 8.4 was finally posted.

Tiago parts the crowd. Signs autographs. Gives interviews in French, Portuguese and English (possibly regretting the wispy 'stache he's been working on — Movember's just around the corner). He's humble. Grateful. And, yes, stoked. "I didn't really expect this," he says. "Coming back through the cave felt very different this time. It's like a different place to me now."

It's called the winner's circle, Tiago. Welcome.

Kelly cruises back to his pool paradise mostly unphased by the loss. Chillaxed. He's got his second throwaway event now, so he can still manage to complete his year with nothing but Perfect. But back on The Enterprise, poor Spock is just shaking his head: How could Captain Kirk not return?

Meanwhile, potential title hunters Mick, Parko, Bede and Taj readily disposed of their respective yellow shirts and beamed safely into Round Four. But Kelly's upset was not the only surprise in today's competition. Veteran heat dominator Damien Hobgood fell at the hands of rising giant-slayer Kai Otton. {{{CJ}}} got nearly combo'd by French firecracker Mickey Picon. Wardo went right on the end-section of the racetrack to undo the on-fire Ace Buchan. And, in the end, Andy Irons took down Neco Padaratz by going huge on a couple outside bombs that no one else had seemed capable of making good on.

Now the comp's stacked like a loaded deck, tettering under the weight of its thrilling potential. Bede Durbidge and Kai Otton. Freddy Patacchia (who's been on fire) versus Parko (who seems invincible). Mick and Bruce. Taj and Dingo. The swell looks to be holding and organizers seeming psyching to plow straight into a low-tide finale, with a 6 AM call for tomorrow's potential trip to the planet's surface. (But you never can tell with these things.) So far, the Trek (I mean, The Search) has been wildly successful in boldy going where no man has gone before (give or take about 500,000 Aussies and a fair number of Brazilians). And the title race may not be over just quite yet.

Stay tuned.

And, uh, live long and prosper.

(1st advances to Round 4; 2nd finishes =17th)

Heat 1: Bede Durbidge def. Daniel Wills
Heat 2: Kai Otton def. Damien Hobgood
Heat 3: Fred Patacchia def. Luke Stedman
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson def. Royden Bryson
Heat 5: Kieren Perrow def. Adriano de Souza
Heat 6: Bobby Martinez def. Michael Campbell
Heat 7: Dayyan Neve def. Tim Reyes
Heat 8: Tiago Pires def. Kelly Slater
Heat 9: Mick Fanning def. Rodrigo Dornelles
Heat 10: Bruce Irons def. Tom Whitaker
Heat 11: Mikael Picon def. C.J. Hobgood
Heat 12: Ben Dunn def. Jeremy Flores
Heat 13: Taj Burrow def. Ben Bourgeois
Heat 14: Dean Morrison def. Roy Powers
Heat 15: Andy Irons def. Neco Padaratz
Heat 16: Chris Ward def. Adrian Buchan

(1st advances to Quarters; 2nd finishes =9th)

Heat 1: Bede Durbidge v. Kai Otton
Heat 2: Joel Parkinson v. Fred Patacchia
Heat 3: Bobby Martinez v. Kieren Perrow
Heat 4: Dayyan Neve v. Tiago Pires
Heat 5: Mick Fanning v. Bruce Irons
Heat 6: Ben Dunn v. Mikael Picon
Heat 7: Taj Burrow v. Dean Morrison
Heat 8: Andy Irons v. Chris Ward