Rip Curl Search Arica, Chile – Round Three

CONDITIONS: 6 foot and clean with (ta-dah!) sunshine
HEATS HELD: Most of Round Three
NATURE'S CALL: See, I can be nice (when I want to be)
PREDICTIONS: A one-man final?

Yesterday, SURFING asked Andy Irons how he felt about the comp switching to 25-minute heats. "They can switch to five minutes if they want," he said, clearly not the biggest fan of the scene here in Chile. "Why not just go one-wave sudden death."

Today, just over five minutes into his Round Three heat against Victor Ribas, AI was already back in the stands toweling off while groms on the rocks scrambled for pieces of his broken board. With two solid 9-point rides and no back-up board, Andy stated, "Hey, if Victor can beat those scores then he deserves to win." Of course, Ribas couldn't.

Yesterday, over a long lunch at the Hotel Arica, Kelly Slater flat out stated he was going home. The swell was fading fast and there was nothing on the horizon for the contest waiting period. As he'd already stated prior to the comp, he hadn't really planned on coming here anyway. (Or is it all just a mind game? Hmmmm.)

Today, in his heat against wildcard Kieren Perrow, Slater opened his account with a filthy, top-to-bottom 9.{{{57}}}, which he pre-claimed from inside the tube. Then he followed up with a couple of high-scoring racers across the inside ledge, including blasting his way through a closeout section and pulling straight back into the tube again, to win the heat. He crushed it out there.

Somehow, the two guys who seem to least want to be here are surfing the best. Meanwhile, the guys who most want to be here -- namely Mick Fanning and Taj Burrow -- barely surfed at all.

Imagine if you were Rip Curl wildcard Kekoa Bacalso, facing a Number One seeded Mick Fanning at your sponsor's event in the year Mick most wants to win a title. Now, we are certainly not implying that the fix was in on this heat, but let's just say Kekoa probably had equal motivation NOT to win as he did to win. And in an ASP World Tour event, well, that's just going to cut it. Mick's waves were sick, but you could see he was playing it safe out there. He's a smart as he is fit right now, and whether he wins here or not, Arica will almost certainly earn him a result.

Then there was Taj Burrow. TB is taking this year as serious as Mick for sure, arriving early, avoiding the parties, and training between events. He's currently Number Two in the world, and this could very well be his year to make it Number One. But Taj also knows he's got to establish a firm lead before Hawaii (not his strong suit), and to do that, he can't make any early round mistakes. Or get any bad luck. Which is just what got him today. Bad luck. With just five minutes left in his heat, Taj had posted only a single wave against Brazilian reefdevil Bruno Santos. But it was a 7-pointer, so all he needed to take the heat was a 3-something. Taj gets 3's while he's stretching out before his heat. In the last 20 seconds, an ugly looking set wave lurches up and Taj, probably surfing three moves ahead of himself, ends up getting pitched with the lip. Poor guy was seriously fuming after his heat, but look for him to be positively driven come J-Bay. He's probably on his way there already to start warming up. Plenty of competition left for him this year.

Bruce Irons couldn't decide which side the fence he was on. He showed up ten minutes into his heat against {{{CJ}}} Hobgood, but clearly not intentionally. CJ, looking kinda lonely out there, had only caught one wave so far, so it was still anyone's heat. But BI just couldn't find a rhythm out there and CJ pulled the W.

As far as the other heats went: Wardo's looking good; he'll face Fanning next, a great match-up reminiscent of their show-down at last year's Search Mexico event. Cory's in form. Bobby's on fire. Freddy P. pulled out a brilliant comeback wave today. And Parko has been holding onto his A-Game for the Finals. There's two days of competition left, the sun actually popped out today (forcing several staffers to reconsider their suicide plans), and the swell -- while it certainly won't be epic -- promises to remain contestable. It looks like this thing is about to get interesting -- as if it wasn't already.