A Bugs Eye View

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As we enter the final week's countdown to the launch of the 2008 ASP World Tour, things are heating up in Coolangatta in anticipation of a three week celebration of the best surfers in the world.

First off we have the ASP Banquet, the night we crown our World Champions in various disciplines and divisions. With Mick Fanning and Stephanie Gilmore about to be coronated there is a real buzz in the Gold Coast surfing community, although it will be hard to beat the reception they received when they arrived at Coolangatta Airport fresh from World Title victory.

We will be crowning our respective Longboard World Champs Phil Rajzman(Brazil) and Jennifer Smith(USA) as well as recently triumphant Junior Champions Pablo Paulino(Brazil) and Sally Fitzgibbons(Aust). The season's #1 ranked WQS surfers, South Africa's Jordy Smith and Jacqueline Silva of Brazil will be honoured as well as a raft of special awards based on performances in 2007.

Then we roll straight into the much anticipated Quiksilver Pro and Roxy Pro. This is without doubt the greatest assemblage of pure talent and championship pedigree in the history of the sport. That is a bold statement but never before have globally recognized champions of three distinct generations come together in battle at a season opener.

We may have lost Occy, who retired at the grand age of 41, but pro surfing still has Kelly Slater and Taylor Knox. Both of these guys have veteran status and they wear it well. It was only a year ago that Kelly was awarded his 8th World Title and showed veins of genius to contend in 07, while Taylor is perennially a tough opponent and has actually enjoyed great success over the past three years.

Obviously the generation led by World Champion Mick Fanning is the big ticket and smart money would be on Mick, Taj, Joel and Andy to hoist the crown in 08. There is such a story here, Mick won the footrace between he Parko and Taj for the first Aussie crown of the millennium and both Parko and Taj will be so hungry for success at Snapper to give them that America's Cup style start to their campaigns.

Andy Irons was enigmatic in 07. The three times ASP World Champion had a mixed bag, starting out with a horror 33rd at Snapper then roaring back with a Bells final and an emphatic win in tricky Chile. But unlike the previous 5 years, where he contended heavily for three 1sts & two 2nds, Andy's campaign fell away last year. He clearly thrives on winning tournaments and contending for titles, however he just as clearly loses interest real fast if he's not winning and has no interest in just making up the numbers, hence his slip out of the Big 5.

The Quiksilver Pro will be a great yardstick for all these guys. The big question is will Kelly carry on past Snapper. He has indicated that he may compete selectively this year but two years ago Kelly was singing from the same hymn book and won Snapper, then went and won Bells and decided, well, I may as well check out Teahupoo, and eventually claimed the World Title. So who knows.

Then we have the new debutantes and a couple red hot wildcards that together represent the crme of the next generation. Jordy Smith and Dane Reynolds' arrival has been heralded by trumpets, much fanfare and a solid dose of media hype. And all for good reason. These guys are future heavyweights, not since Mick and Parko burst on the scene have two world beaters appeared on the same bill.

Both Jordy and Dane have participated as wildcards over recent years, with mixed results, however by virtue of their #1-2 finish in the WQS they will secure mid range seeding in the Pro. The third member of the 3 Musketeers is Julian Wilson. This young Queenslander is the challenger from Down Under to junior bragging rights and for the first time Jordy, Dane and Julian will take on the best of the best. Tahiti's Michel Bourez is another wildcard, while the final spot will emerge from a white hot Trials line-up.

Me thinks though that the rank and file road warriors who make up the bulk of the WCT will not lie down in front of the tanks. The Top 45 is bristling with super talent. It is a gnarly line-up. Bobby Martinez and Bede Durbidge are winners, they know how to seal the deal and will be major opponents. Jeremy Flores and Kai Otton had sensational rookie seasons, it will be interesting how they adjust to now being part of the establishment. Pancho Sullivan, Dean Morrison, Tom Whittaker and Taylor Knox are serious customers and will be looking to go on with the job.

The Hobgood brothers are the kings of the South Pacific leg. {{{CJ}}} had a slow start but ended up coming in comfortably at #11 while brother Damo was in blistering form prior to injury and would in all probability gone on to contend for the 07 World Title. After a lay-off Damien will be keen to get back in the saddle, as will Timmy Reyes, whose star was definitely on the ascent when he was felled for a year by a nasty ankle injury. Bruce Irons is deadly in serious surf, he tends to lose interest in lacklustre conditions but then again, last year was riddled with near misses on the swell front.

The Brazilians are picking up three major awards at the ASP Banquet but last year was a forgettable one in the major leagues. Their top finishers, Rodrigo Dornelles, Neco Padaratz, Leonardo Neves and Adriano de Souza all landed in the #20's, and they will be looking to restore some lost pride. Then there are the old stagers like Mick Campbell and Danny Wills, still extremely dangerous on their day, and another threatening layer in Adrian Buchan, Ricky Basnett, Luke Stedman, Ben Dunn, Travis Logie, Luke Munro and Royden Bryson.

Apart from Jordy and Dane, the challengers will come thick and fast from the qualifiers. Roy Powers is back, he did not enjoy relegation in 07 but stepped up big time in meaningful Haleiwa to reclaim CT status, and we welcome back former World #6 Kieren Perrow, Ben Bourgeios and Mike Picon. Tiago Pires and Jay Thompson have been in the trenches for some years, both will relish the opportunity at the top level and have solid arsenals in good surf. He may have barely squeaked in but Daniel Ross showed his true mettle with an outstanding performance at Sunset Beach in December, the kid from Angourie has a wicked snap, is fitter then a bull and will give a sight at Snapper.

And to round out the class of 08 we have no less then four Europeans in the Top 45. This is a historic development, in the past it has been one-off appearances but now Jeremy Flores, Mike Picon, Aritz Aranburu and Tiago Pires will have the same support infrastructure that the Brazilians, Aussies, Americans and Hawaiians have enjoyed over the decades.

This is going to be an epic monumental Quiksilver Pro. Next blog I'll take the microscope to the new look Women's Top 17 and {{{review}}} the classic Roxy Pro Trials clash between teen queens Carissa Moore and Sally Fitzgibbons.

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