A Bugs Eye View

After a well earned break, the off-season makes way for the countdown to the launch of a new season. The 2009 Quiksilver Pro and Roxy Pro blasts off on Feb. 28, however prior to that is the small matter of crowning professional surfing's World Champions. All the various disciplines will be celebrated, huge congrats to Kelly Slater, Stephanie Gilmore, Bonga Perkins, Joy Monahan, Pauline Ado & Kai Barger for securing ASP World Titles. This, as well as a bunch of other presentations, including trophies for ASP WQS No. 1's Nathaniel Curran and Sally Fitzgibbons, will go down at a swank Gold Coast function on Feb. 28.

Most of you would have probably heard the Bugwhan is leaving the building. Well, my farewell address will also happen at the ASP Banquet. Bring your hankies, it will be a tearjerker. Nah, just kidding. I will post a final Bugs Eye View some time in March, following the Quiksilver Pro, and will be able to express my thanks and appreciation in writing, kind of a surfing “War and Peace”.

On the morning of the 26th will be the press launch of the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro, then it's don the frocks and suits (hopefully the guys will be in the suits) for a bit of hoopla before the first shots are fired in the quest for ASP World No. 1 status. Up until the beginning of Round 2, all 45 Men and 17 Women will be on equal terms, all on zero points, all just separated by base seeding points carried over from 2008.

Leading out the parade of champions will be nine-times ASP World Champion Kelly Slater and twice champion Stephanie Gilmore. Both have phenomenal records. Kelly has an amazing strike rate when it comes to title defences and Steph is batting {{{100}}}%. Kelly Slater won his first title in '92, did not successfully defend first up, Hawaii's Derek Ho was '93 champ, but since then when putting it on the line has successfully defended all but one, that being when Mick Fanning nailed the crown in '07. Stephanie has been on tour just two years and remains the only surfer to have a perfect record.

Together, these champions bring so much to the table. The speculation of a tantalizing tilt at a tenth title has the sports world abuzz. In no truly international sport has this been achieved. But hey, nine is way out there already. And with the massive spike in talent in women's surfing, there will be so much more pressure on Stephanie Gilmore in her quest for a perfect hat trick, a feat that may stand the test of time if she can pull it off.

Respect must be paid to ASP World Title runner-ups Bede Durbidge and Silvana Lima. Both had spectacular seasons, Bede pushing hard to secure #2 after Kelly clinched. He now takes to the waters of Snapper Rocks as Australia's highest-ranked male surfer, a lofty position for a kid who a year ago was still looking for a major sponsor. Bede broke through into the Top 5 in '07 and last year not only went on with the job, but positioned himself as the No. 1 contender for Kelly Slater's crown. Silvana Lima is a dynamic surfer. A series of second place finishes secured the No. 2 ranking and it is only a matter of time before the Brazilian puts it all together and strings a bunch of wins to her quiver.

Three Americans, five Aussies and sole representatives from Brazil and France make up the Men's Top 10. Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson and C.J. Hobgood are certainly no strangers to the Big 5 and you can bet they will be going super hard to find an early edge throughout the Aussie leg. The big movers were Adrian Buchan & Adriano de Souza. Ace nailed his maiden victory at Hossegor and late season momentum will serve him well as the #6 seed for the Quiksilver Pro. Adriano spent most of the season ensconced in the Top 5, who knows where he could have landed if he was healthy for the home tourney, but he surfs well at Snapper and will be riding on confidence with a breakthrough '08 under the belt.

Mick Fanning was plagued by injury problems, hindering his title defence and blunting his psychological edge, but with the '07 ASP World Champ boasting a superior record at Snapper, he will start short odds on Feb. 28. Bobby Martinez is already in town, putting in some solid hours at D'Bah after his early year training was hampered by poor winter surf at home. Rounding out the Top 10 is Jeremy Flores. Already comfortable in the rarified air of the top echelon, Flores will be keen to continue his strong form on the smashable Snapper bank.

The ASP Women's World Tour welcomes some hot newcomers in '09. Joining the elite will be the mercurial Sally Fitzgibbons, Brazil's Bruna Schmitz, New Zealand's Paige Hareb and Hawaii's Alana Blanchard and Coco Ho. This represents a formidable injection of youth and talent. With Snapper bringing out the absolute best in everyone's surfing, this is the best possible arena to make ones debut in the top tier, so with these young rippers and former ASP Women's World Champion Chelsea Hedges resuming her first class career, I reckon we are in for a heck of a show.

There are now six full-blown Europeans plus a Tahitian in the ASP Top 45, bringing a multi-cultural element to Snapper over the coming weeks. It will be particularly interesting to see how Tim Boal, Michel Bourez and Marlon Lipke handle their graduation to the major league. I have seen these young men strutting their stuff on the junior stage and now the world premiere of their coming of age will be under the spotlight on the ASP Dream Tour. Other new faces will be Nic Muscroft, Kekoa Bacalso, Dustin Barca and Drew Courtney.

We saw a lot of Nic Muscroft last year. As the first seed replacement he got quite a few shots as guys were benched through injury, however 2009 will officially be his rookie season. Kekoa Bacalso is a former ASP World Junior Champion. The stocky regular-footer from Mililani on Oahu brings an exciting flair to the tour, and being raised on the North Shore he will be right at home as we move into the more serious reef breaks. With Bruce Irons stepping down from full-time touring, the bros of Kauai will still be represented on the big stage by Dustin Barca, who brings a no-nonsense approach to committed surfing to the tour.

One of the great stories to emerge from '08 was the qualification of Drew Courtney. This guy burst on the scene with Trent Munro as hot juniors. Munro went on to the lofty heights of holding down the ASP World #1 ranking and winning Bells and Brazil, while Courtney languished in the ASP WQS. He nearly made it so many times that one wondered if the breakthrough would come. After years of seemingly bashing his head against the wall, last year Drew strung together a bevy of great results, qualifying with apparent ease. See, it was easy after all. Welcome all to the ASP Dream Tour.

It truly is a great assemblage of talent. Now all we need is waves. The regular format will be deployed, based on Quiksilver's understanding of Snapper's consistency and the opportunity to mazimize the worldwide webcast. I have been liaising with the sand-pumping people and the taps are aimed at Snapper in the countdown. We just had a swell, luckily it did not last long enough to wreck the bank. As it stands, there is a deepish hole behind the rock but the bank heading down the line has improved nicely. To compliment that development, Duranbah has gone from having a bank by the wall and absolutely no quality down the middle to having great banks.

So all is in place for a fantastic launch to a new tour year. Good luck to all, see ya on the Goldy real soon.

For more on the ASP, visit ASPWorldTour.com