Bobby and Steph Notch Up Wins as the World Title Race Heats Up

And so the Mick, Taj, Kelly caravan journeys on to Brazil for the next instalment of the Foster's ASP World Championship. With all three of them featuring in the major points at the Billabong Pro Mundaka, the race for World #1 continues. Mick posting yet another Top 3 finish was ominous, he bounced back from a drubbing at Trestles with a 1st & 3rd in the European leg, delivering destiny well and truly into the palm of his own hand.

The Hang Loose Santa Catarina Pro has as its defending champion Mick Fanning, last year Mick was surfing the assortment of Brazilian beach breaks on offer like a zealot, just punishing every single wave with gouging lightning fast power moves. He was never going to lose that event. Admittedly, Kelly was on holidays, having just clinched his 8th Crown, and Taj hadn't made the shift to his new equipment, but if Mick turns up with anything resembling a magic board, it could be curtains for this year's race.

Between the three of them, Mick, Kelly and Taj have dominated this year's podium. They had to share the early spoils with Damien Hobgood and Andy Irons, but once their respective challenges trailed off, for contrasting reasons, the boys just took charge of centre stage. Joel Parkinson loomed on the fringes of greatness all the way up to France, doggedly draughting the leaders but not quite joining them on the front grid this year. Great to see Bobby Martinez successfully defend his Billabong Pro Mundaka title, this prestigious event puts a very positive spin on what has been a lacklustre season.

There has been such daylight between the Top 5 and the rest that guys have been able to come out of the clouds to claim the #6 ranking. Going into J/Bay Pancho Sullivan badly needed a result, he was flying a little too close to the sun for his liking. In the space of three events, punctuated by a brilliant run to the Boost Final at Lowers, Pancho zoomed up to #6, holding it down until Bobby soared into the Top 10 on the back of his Mundaka success.

Meanwhile, Mick Fanning's Rip Curl stable mate Stephanie Gilmore did her World Title chances the world of good with a stunning victory in the NAB Beachley Classic. The level of surfing in the final was superb, both Stephanie and Silvana Lima going flat chat on the shifty Sydney beachies, only a tenth of a point separating them at the buzzer. Steph and Silvana, courtesy of the bonus points on offer at the US${{{100}}},000 Classic, have established their own version of daylight with the rest of the field.

There are three events remaining, a brand new World Championship event in Peru and the two Hawaiian events at Sunset and Honolua, so it is way too early for World Title possibilities, however suffice to say this duo are cutting through the ranks like butter. The Women's ratings have fluctuated wildly, there has virtually been a new leader at each stop, but a pattern is now emerging that reflects the consistently excellent performances of Steph and Silvana.

Last year I was over at Honolua to witness the 7th coming of Layne Beachley, and a frenzy of ripping action to the side of the event caught my eye. While the drama of the World Title climax was absorbing theatre I must say I was most impressed by the surfing of two girls up the point a bit. It was a revelation, Steph and Silvana surfing unplugged, free of any competitive restraints, and just blasting huge rooster tails at will. This was the future. It certainly wasn't any cleverness on my part, anyone who was watching could not have been any less impressed.

Stephanie Gilmore has reclaimed the Womens ratings lead

The one burning question for me was, could Silvana transform all that raw talent into a managed competitive package over an entire season. As in, could this young Brazilian prodigy lay down a World Title campaign in 2007. It was pretty evident that Stephanie could, she displayed versatility by winning at different locations, she could dig her way out of perilous heat situations in all manner of conditions and predicaments, and she seemed to travel well. Silvana has put in the hottest individual performances throughout the year, and even though she has not been able to seal the deal after looking unbeatable, she definitely has developed a winning culture within her act.

There are others that can contend. Sam Cornish had a purple patch mid tour and was talking World Title. It was unfortunate for her to stumble badly in the NAB Beachley Classic, the huge points drop cruelled Sam's momentum, and she in fact went from #1 to #4, virtually swapping places with Stephanie. That has been the trend, former World Champion Chelsea Hedges came flying out of the gates at Snapper but has spluttered ever since, whereas Sofia Mulanovich had her traditionally horrid start before climbing to #3, leading the pack chasing the leaders. Layne Beachley has shown glimpses of prowess, looking very strong in the early going, she was pretty devastated after Manly, knowing that if solid ground wasn't made in her namesake event the title was probably beyond her grasp

Two major WQS events are underway this week. The guys have been idle, a much needed break, during the recent WCT leg and now they resume the battle for the last 6 or 7 spots up for grabs on next years Dream Tour. The La Santa Pro is a 6 Star Prime in Lanzarote-Canaries. This event has obviously attracted a huge field of contenders, the 3000 points on offer to the winner, plus meaningful points for the Top 24 finishers, a huge carrot to make the journey over the Atlantic. The WQS leaders have suffered badly, however a poor result won't really hurt the progress of Tiago Pires, Jay Thompson and Ben Bourgeois, who all bowed out early.

WQS #1 Jordy Smith is through, cementing his hold on the top spot, and a solid start by the likes of Kieren Perrow, Troy Brooks, Luke Munro, Roy Powers, Gabe Kling, David Weare and Mikael Picon will assist their respective aspirations to either hold their ground or thrust into the Top 15-18. There is a lot riding on this, the Rd of 48 will be such a crunch round, big points and massive ratings fluctuations could go down this week as this is the final Prime event before Hawaii.

South of the equator, the 6 Star Maresia Surf International kicks off the final Brazilian leg of the season. As one would expect, the bulk of the contending Brazilian contingent is competing, including Adriano de Souza and Neco Padaratz, who have successfully negotiated their Rd of 96 heats. The strategy of various guys is clear, firstly, the majority of the Hawaiian WQS guys have opted for the one stop ticket that covers two events, including Dustin Cuizon, TJ Barron and Joel Centeio, whereas Aussie Dayyan Neve has broken rank with the other Aussies, opting for a run at Brazil without the other Top 20 WQS guys, except for the Brazilians, who are formidable in home surf.

So it is battle stations, guys trying to position themselves favourably without having to rely on clutch results in the upcoming {{{Vans}}} Triple Crown, the toughest arena in the world.

Jordy Smith; the current #1 ranked WQS surfer

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