Rip Curl Search Arica, Chile – Day Fifty-Seven

CONDITIONS: 4-6 foot and good enough to go
HEATS HELD: Playing "just the tip" with quarterfinals
NATURE'S CALL: Remember me from yesterday?
PREDICTIONS: Blood on the reef, beer on the air

Just before wind o'clock in the afternoon, Rip Curl contest director Neal Ridgeway let the Quarter-finalists make their own decision. "Should we go on or not?" he asked.

Andy and Parko, Bobby and Mick, they all took a good long stare at the glassy-for-now conditions. Damien Hobgood was in the water putting the screws to Travis Logie, and just then a solid set rolled through and kinda-sorta convinced the boys to push on. "Let's do this," say AI. Parko just quietly nodded his head. Bobby was amping to go. Mick was up for whatever. Seems like everyone knew it was a mistake, but Groundhog Day was getting a bit agonizing, so making for the summit just felt right. Early starts. Mid-day stops. Endless gray skies. "Feels like the longest waiting period in the history of contests," Ridgeway later confessed, "and we're only halfway through." (Uh, guess he wasn't around for Teahupo'o.)

So, Andy and Parko paddle out into the first heat of the Quarter-finals — two of the form surfers of the event, having earlier crushed Kai Otton and Cory Lopez respectively — and halfway through the heat it's apparent that it's been a mistake. The tubes are pinching. The water's draining off the low tide rocks. And the wind has formed a corral around the break. Finally, Andy, having been pinched off on his first couple rides, just muscles his goddamn way outta the tube and picks up a starting score. Then he grabs a right that Joel shouldn't have let pass and picks up another 8, comboing his Billabong team-mate. Parko only manages four waves for the entire heat, and bad ones at that, and Andy finishes the heat goofing on some stylish laybacks that would tear mortal men wide open on the reef.

Organizers quickly call it a day, but first blood has been drawn, and suddenly everything prior seems like a distant dream from the one, endless, gray day that has been our time in Chile. Cory Lopez's controversial first wave interference call against Parko this morning. Wardo and Fanning's uncommon rematch, with both guys going right and unleashing crazy turns on waves meant only for tuberiding (Mick came away golden this time, upping his Wardo-meter to 3 and 1). Even Dingo's filthy comeback 10-point tube against Slater, earning the highest heat score of the event and putting Kelly's plane ticket where his mouth is (to be fair, KS had a couple of brilliant tuberides himself, including one 9-pointer that never shoulda happened, turning the heat into an double black diamond instructional on daredevil tuberiding. Good show, boys.) All that stuff and whatever else, it doesn't matter any more. All that matters now is the six heats that stand between us and victory inebriation. Bobby and Mick. Dingo and {{{CJ}}}. Wildcard Bruno Santos and Damien. Everyone's come this far by playing matador with the barnacles, and there will be no more caught-on-the-reef dramas or maybe-we-shouldn't-go whimpers. El Gringo has proven a worthy adversary for the world's best and, while most are glad they won't be returning next year, it has certainly been an exciting follow-up to last year's Mexico Madness (like, if you can't beat 'em, hurt 'em). Part of me wants to play that sentimental Green Day song they always play at high school graduations ("I hope you had the time of your life…") and fondly recollect Taj Burrow getting pitched in the final seconds of his make-or-break heat, or Andy Irons getting out of the water after only ten minutes with two 9's on the board, or Royden Bryson getting shock therapy on the reef… but let's not do that. That would be moving backwards. We must press on.

The swell is dying; almost dead, in fact. Most people don't think we'll run anything tomorrow, which would be novel, considering we've at least stood there a few hours staring at it even on the two days we haven't run any heats. So, Thursday, maybe Friday (after all, there's only 56 days left in this waiting period), the final rumble will roll across this shallow bit of slab-heaven. And whoever walks away with this one, we're sure will carry that trophy as if it were a scar. (It may in fact be a scar.)

Start holding your breath.

QF 1: Andy Irons (HAW) 14.67 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 5.43

QF 2: Bobby Martinez (USA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS)
QF 3: Dean Morrison (AUS) vs. CJ Hobgood (USA)
QF 4: Bruno Santos (BRA) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)

Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 13.26 def. Cory Lopez (USA) 12.{{{80}}}
Heat 2: Andy Irons (HAW) 17.10 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 11.17
Heat 3: Bobby Martinez (USA) 11.34 def. Daniel Wills (AUS) 6.93
Heat 4: Mick Fanning (AUS) 16.44 def. Chris Ward (USA) 9.27
Heat 5: Dean Morrison (AUS) 18.83 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 17.37
Heat 6: CJ Hobgood (USA) 13.34 def. Fred Patacchia (HAW) 4.60
Heat 7: Bruno Santos (BRA) 10.84 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 6.83
Heat 8: Damien Hobgood (USA) 15.63 def. Travis Logie (ZAF) 1.60