Brett Simpson put it best following his Round 2 win over longtime friend Pat Gudauskas at the Quiksilver Pro today, when asked whether it was a battle against his opponent or the conditions.
"Most of the guys on tour would say it was a battle against the conditions," he said. And that after he scored the pick of the day's swell activity.
Contest director Rod Brooks and the Quiksilver team have been served a bitch of a swell forecast. After an entertaining opening day a week ago, the event went on hold, the void filled by industry party after industry party until the exchange, "What's happening?" "Yeah, just cruising, eh" had lost all meaning.
It was interesting to note the absence of World Tour surfers during festivities. With the tour adopting a more cutthroat format in 2011, less than a handful of the Top 35 could be found reveling during the postponement. Whereas last year, Jordy Smith could be seen jigging and draining Quickfucks in the bars, he turned out for just Dion Agius's film premiere. Matt Wilkinson was the only semi-regular face on the social (short) circuit, a fact you can put down to a perm he acquired for the ASP banquet ten days ago and wanted to show off.
"When these winds come it's tough to keep your board above the lip, 'cause it wants to blow it away from you. I tried to go above the lip but not too high… It's pretty tough to pick the waves," he said afterward.
Conditions ensured upsets were a constant throughout the day. The biggest came in the opening heat with the elimination of fifth seed Bede Durbidge by 16-year-old wildcard Matt Banting.
In a mature performance, Banting sold Bede into a burger in the opening stages of the heat, giving himself priority and an ascendancy in wave choice, which he never gave up.
""I've had a few priority heats before and I knew what to do. My dad and my coach know the system well," said Banting, who is the reigning U16 national and world champ. As he returned from the water following the win, he was greeted by his father, Lenny, who was on the phone to his uncle, who'd been losing his shit while watching his nephew on the big screen back in Sydney (this is the first time a surfing event has been screened live on free to air television nationwide in Australia).
"I claimed it the whole way to the beach. I'm so excited…I can't stop shaking form the adrenaline and the nerves," the grom said.
Eerily, his win coincided with the first foray of Australia's premiere betting agency into professional surfing. A day earlier, a journalist in Australia's national newspaper hypothesized a result in which Banting, who was the day's rank outsider at $5.75 for the victory, could lose and "a friend of a friend of Bede Durbidge" could pocket $AUD115,000.
"We're not pointing any fingers here, let's assume everything will be ridgey-didge (this is Australian for all good). Durbidge is the last bloke who'd get involved. But plenty of lesser-known pros are singing for their supper. Opportunism is a skill," the journalist wrote.
The host of other upsets in Round 2 would have relieved any reservations held by bookmakers. CJ Hobgoood lost to Kai Otton, Bobby Martinez to Heitor Alves, Damien Hobgood to Dusty Payne, Taylor Knox to Freddy P, and Kieren Perrow to tour rookie Alejo Muniz.
"Fuck, the first heat I couldn't even stand up on the board I was so nervous," said the young Brazilian.
"We had a week without waves and I've been trying to talk about other stuff — nothing about surf — and hanging out with the Brazilian crew having barbecues and having fun."
According to Ace Buchan, the mushy conditions favored the goofballs in the draw.
"It's kind of easier on you backside. You can get tight in the pocket. Definitely not a disadvantage," he said following his win over trials winner Mitch Crews.
His argument was beefed by Jadson Andre's win over Gabe Kling, in which the Brazilian put up one of the backhand re-entries of the event. Afterwards, Jadson revealed he'd worked hard to correct deficiencies in his backhand.
"I've been training my backside for three years, training, training, training. I've been traveling to J-Bay for a month, when there was no contest or anything. I went to Caroline Islands and P-Pass, I spent three months in Hawaii surfing Sunset, Haleiwa, Pipeline, and in Brazil we have some right point breaks. I've been training a lot and I am happy to prove that I can," he said.
Cory Lopez was another goofball to triumph over his natural-footed opponent. He beat fellow journeyman Chris Davidson in what provided the theatrical highlight of the day. The two surfers caught burger after burger in the heat, pumping all the way to shore only for the wave to peter out. As Davo bounced to the inside nearing the end of the heat, the veins in his forehead were visible from the judging tower. He scrambled onto the sled of the Ski for the journey back into position through the howling wind, only to have his board blown from beneath him. Following the heat, he was mobbed by children on the sand. One wouldn't stand still as Davo struggled to scribble an autograph on his crumpled rash-shirt with a sharpie (texta) that wouldn't work. He walked through the interview area with red eyes and a jaw locked in a way that kept his mouth slightly open. On his way into the competitor's area, he brushed past Dusty Payne, saying something to which the Hawaiian responded with a loof of confusion, before he disappeared behind a petition to a bang, which few in the competitors area acknowledged. —Jed Smith