A Bugs Eye View

The Aussie leg is currently experiencing a taste of deep south hospitality, in the form of the O'Neill Coldwater Classic, a new edition ASP WQS 6-Star being staged in Tasmania. This year sees O'Neill raise the bar big time in the 'QS stakes, sanctioning no less then three 6 Star Primes (Scotland, Santa Cruz, Sunset), a couple 6 Stars (Tassie, Canada) and a pair of 4 Stars (Florida, Cape Town).

This represents a mighty investment, making the “Big O” undisputed King of the 'QS. It is certainly a welcome development in these dark and gloomy days of global recession, and of course a major boost to the stocks of pro surfing in Australia to have another major event on the calendar. Members of the ASP Technical Committee will be closely monitoring this event to see whether in future years it is worthy of Prime status. Judging by the images emanating from the Apple Isle, the O'Neill Coldwater Classic is off to a rousing start, a couple meaty barrel shots raising the eyebrows in the early going.

A strong international field is on hand for the season's first ASP WQS 6-Star. The celebrated Hobgood twins, C.J. and Damo, bookend each end of the draw. Opting to remain in Oz during the month long break, well I guess it is a long haul back to Florida, the bros are not only looking to notch up some early WQS points and a chunk of spending money, but are also enjoying their first sojourn to one of the most extreme surfing destinations on the planet.

Jordy Smith and Chris Davidson, coming off the back of solid showings on the Gold Coast, have also made the southern crossing. Both these guys bring a lot to the table, Jordy one of the true excitement machines in surfing world and the enigmatic Davo rebounding strongly after several years in the surfing wilderness. Another on the comeback trail is fellow North Narrabeen local Nathan Hedge. The Hog has been missing the ASP World Tour action, and we have been missing his committed approach to places like Teahupoo, so the Hog reckons it's time to right the ship and set sail for Dream Tour Land.

A solid mix of young guns and emerging juniors makes for a serious field of aspiring top liners. Patrick Gudauskas was ridiculously close to qualifying last year, he missed the cut by a very unkind whisker, but the sedtback will do wonders as a character-building exercise, and Pat, along with brother Dane, will be thriving in the temperate conditions. Another duo to keep in mind are Yadin Nicol and Brett Simpson. At various stages last year, both looked the goods to graduate, but their campaigns trailed away at the business end of proceedings. These guys are battle hardened ASP WQS stalwarts, perhaps not in 'QS veteran staus like Drew Courtney, but suffice to say they have first hand experience in trench warfare.

Also relishing the power will be Bruno Santos and Travis Logie. Both are early winners on the '09 ASP WQS, Bruno leading the rankings coming in with a resounding victory in the 5-Star Hang Loose Pro and Travis picking up the win at last weeks MR Pro. Both goofy-footers are vastly different projectiles, however the ultimate objective is a shared one. Travis has spent time on the Dream Tour, he was looking very solid until a rash of poor results saw him slip off radar, while Bruno is targetting the events that offer powerful barrels. The Brazilian shook the foundation to its core last year in taking out the Billabong Pro Teahupoo and is obviously far from satisfied with just being a wildcard, he wants in.

Straight on the heels of the first of the O'Neill Coldwater Classic's is the first Prime event of the season. With a whopping 3500 points on offer to the winner, the ASP WQS 6 Star Prime Drug Aware Pro will cement Margaret River as one of the most important stops on the World Qualifying Series. Marg's has always thrown up a man size challenge to both the touring pros and the domestically based surfers, but with the points being jacked significantly this year's edition will guarantee critical showdowns, heat after heat, round upon round.

This move to boost the points has its origins in the Super Series concept that I floated out there about five years ago. Basically, over the years, all the bells and whistles offered to Super Series have been incorporated into the mainstream 5-6 Stars, including restricted fields, seedings no higher then Round of 96, man-on-man, better-seeded rounds, and of course preferred locations. The final move by the Technical Committee to reward Primes with 3500 points finally guts the Super Series concept completely. So one could just about say that this concept of mimicking the Dream Tour has been achieved by stealth, bit by bit over a five year plan.

Margaret's takes its place in history by ushering in an era where a raft of major events at quality locations will have the big impact many observers have wanted to see. The girls also have their first big hit-out, the 5-Star Drug Aware Pro, one of four major events on this year's qualifying tour, ensuring the focus of the assembled field will also be riveted to the demanding line-up.

These two events also act as the curtain raiser to the second installement of this year's ASP Dream Tour, the Men's and Women's Rip Curl Pro. The fabled Bells Beach is front and centre in the psyche of hard core Aussie surfing over the Easter break, and with Joel Parkinson and Stephanie Gilmore riding into town as conquering heroes, rest assured there will be a posse of challengers trying to bring them back to earth after scintillating success stories in the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro on the Goldy.

Parko is a former Bells champion and Steph has a perfect record in the Rip Curl Girls so it is bring on all comers for the Snapper duo. And come they will, the form lines of Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow and Adriano de Souza suggest a formidable set of challenges, and of course defending Rip Curl Pro champion Kelly Slater will be looking to get his campaign back on track. The surfing of Dane Reynold's and Jordy Smith will be key to the progress of the Top four seeds, and of course last year's runner-up, 2008 ASP World No. 2 Bede Durbidge will be out to impress.

The women's competition is just as fierce. ASP Women's World Champion Stephanie Gilmore is anything but an island, and with the likes of Silvana and Chelsea in chase mode, with seven-times ASP Women's World Champion Layne Beachley in the field and with young hotties Coco Ho, Paige Hareb and Alana Blanchard driven to succeed, this year's edition will be a scorcher. One little stat that has bite, Bells is the perfect barometer for Steph Gilmore. Basically, she wins Bells she wins the ASP Women's World Title. Well, that's been the trend her first two years on tour, she looks pretty awesome out there, only time will tell on this streak.

Well, this brings to close the Bugs Eye View. It's my last week at ASP. Thanks for supporting the blog, it's been great rambling on for you folks.

But hey, this column will morph into something called “Behind the Curtain”, a potpouri of happenings out there in the land of pro surfing, with guest editorials from a cross section of ASP staff, pro surfing observers, real life journos and former champions.

Hey, even the Bugs will make the odd cameo.

Well, enjoy your surfing days and please play it safe out there.

Check ya later,
Wayne “{{{Rabbit}}}” Bartholomew
ASP President