WCT Rip Curl Search Arica, Chile – Day One

CONDITIONS: 6-8 foot, glassy and hazardous
HEATS RUN: Most of Round One (couple heats left)
NATURE'S CALL: Same as it ever was (welcome to Chile)
PREDICTIONS: Bigger swell, better action, more injuries

Two days before this comp began, Mick Fanning broke a board on the inside during an early morning warm-up session. To understand the significance of telling you this, you first have to understand the set-up of El Gringo, the contest wave for this year's Rip Curl Search event in the northernmost corner of the coastal-ist country in the world. El Gringo is a full slab set-up, a right and left ledger slamming down on a jagged rock reef. Entry and exit is via a narrow, dog-leg keyhole, with surging tides and sets that, on occasion, actually unload into the slot. There's spiny sea-urchins on the jagged rocks. Razor sharp mussels. And a territorial pack of seals. So when you're caught on the inside, you're left crab-walking the jagged guts and praying the sets stop pouring in. Which, in Chile, they don't. And if you haven't got a board to assist your outward scramble, you're pretty much bummed.

So, Mick breaks his board on the inside. Not a big deal for Mick really — he's pretty well seen it all in his long and accomplished pro career. Nevertheless, two Chilean lifeguards come scrambling down to, uh, "save" him. Mick's waving 'em back, yelling "I'm OK, I'm OK," just as a set comes washing through and smashes the guards off the rocks. One guard throws the other his buoy, and the two end up basically rescuing each other. (Meanwhile, Mick's already retrieved a back-up board and paddled back out.)

Now, you may wonder, why we're telling you this minor background detail when the first day of this exciting world tour event is kicking off in some pretty sick conditions. Well, because Round One is generally pretty boring. No one loses. Everyone gets a second chance. La la la. But here in Arica, here at El Gringo, nothing is boring. Watching this wave is like watching a bullfight — you're just waiting for someone to get gored. You even see it in the faces of the world's best when someone takes a big wipeout in their heat. Normally the top 44 are pretty casual about wipeouts, but here you can here the ooohs and ahhhs of wondering how bad that might have been. Taylor Knox and Wardo both took some nice little spills in their pre-comp warm-ups, and everyone else is counting their blessings each time they come out unscathed. As big-wave hellman Shane Dorian described this wave: "It's like Pipeline that ends up in Velzyland." Coming from Dorian, that's a heavy call.

To put it another way, there are vultures constantly circling overhead. And the giant, open-armed Jesus statue looming over the event site, every once in a while you'll see him cover his eyes in horror.

So, OK, Round One. Day One. What do you want to know?

Normally you can fill out your Round One heat sheet before the event even starts and end up pretty accurate, but this time there were quite a few more nail-biters. Like Rip Curl wildcard Kekoa Bacalso taking out Taj Burrow and Ben Dunn with his deep do-or-die tuberiding. Or Luke Munro slipping one past heavy hitters Phil Macca and big Bede Durbigde, and Raoni Monteiro scything Tommy Whittaker and Neco Padaratz. But then again, a lot of usual suspects will be skipping the dreaded second round, as well. Bobby Martinez, Bruce Irons and Joel Parkinson all appear right at home over this dangerous bit reef. And of course, Damien Hobgood, who showed up dutifully early get comfortable here, seemed really confident in his approach — especially after Adriano de Souza smacked his melon on the reef and ejected from the heat.