AERIAL THRILLS – AND WE’RE NOT JUST TALKING ABOUT THE SURFINGThe two crusty Phillip Island locals looked up from their littlebeachbreak lineup, {{{100}}} yards south of the Rip Curl Pro contest site, andalmost immediately burst out laughing.

“What’s NEXT?” one of ’em chortled.

Hurtling around over our heads, looking like a deranged aerial versionof a jetski, was a Blimp.

I’m not fricken kidding. At the cost of AUD$7000, the event crew here onthis bucolic island have hired a company called Airship Industries tofly one of their finest creations in circles over the excellent yet tinysandbar where the event is running. It buzzed about, driven by a coupleof propeller motors and a remote control, and carrying a camera fromwhich the webcast can transmit pictures of the scene to goofing-offworkers around the globe.

“They’d better hope the wind doesn’t come up,” said the crusty localbloke, “or we’ll be picking the pieces up off King Island.”

The Blimp added a touch of magic realism to a day sorely in need oflight entertainment. Despite a wicked range of nine-plus rides and somehighly focused performances, little drama was to be found in P.I.’spretty peaks.

People sunned themselves, the swell hovered at death’s door, the Blimphovered overhead, and the top 46 whittled themselves down to 16, leavinga hell of a lot to the imagination.

Miniature beachbreaks like this can be great equalizers. The gapbetween, say, Joel Parkinson and Victor Ribas narrows perceptibly.(Though not THAT perceptibly; Parko sent Victor packing from their roundthree heat without exactly killing himself in the process.)

The gap between Kelly Slater and the big Australian ex-junior champBede Durbidge isn’t as wide as you’d think, and in the day’s toughestresult, it narrowed to .7 – in Bede’s favor.

If you’re addicted to those ASP press releases, you may already haveread the bare facts of this heat. If not, here they are: Bede got aslightly better start than Kelly, then they had a savage exchange abouthalfway through, with Kelly being scored a half point over Bede, 9.23 to8.73. This put Slater into a potentially winning position, needing ascore in the 8-point-bugger-all range. He rode a left to try for thescore and instead got a 7.9.