Searching For The Rip Curl Pro

Owen Wright raises his hand in victory over Kelly Slater

Owen Wright raises his hand in victory over Kelly Slater

By Chas Smith

It is the third spot on the third day of The Search. The first day of competition at "The Wall" featured wedgy rights breaking off a seawall. The second day at Lagido featured walled up lefts that looked fun but lacked both lip and punch. And this third day featured barreling beachbreak rights and lefts at a spot north of Lagido named Belgas. The song Run This Town off Jay-Z's The Blueprint 3 featured Rihanna and Kanye West.

Nobody knew how to get there. Not even the commentators. I spoke with Tim Fisher of Australia's Surfing Life fame and he told me, "We were driving all over the place in the dark this morning. It was crazy." The sun doesn't rise in Portugal until 7:30 am.

It makes it hard to wake up. I woke up at 8:30 and drove like a craze gypsy to the site. It was hard to find. I wound down dirt rounds, sliding around corners almost hitting a pregnant lady pushing a baby stroller. But then I saw cars parked and I knew I had arrived.

I followed the walking throngs thinking that the contest must be running on the beach near where the cars were parking. I was wrong. I walked for two miles on the sand surrounded by thousands of Portuguese surf fans. It felt like a refugee death march. We plodded along, in silent camaraderie, our legs burning. We were all being dragged by hope. The hope of warm bread and good surf.

There wasn't warm bread. There was good surf. By far the best of the contest. Beach break barrels popped up and down the entire strand. The contest itself was being held in front of a sandstone cliff and series of dunes covered with ice plant. Spectators planted themselves anywhere they could. Anywhere they could find respite for their weary refugee bones. There were more surf fans then I have ever seen at a WCT event.

Rip Curl is crazy like a fox, or foxy like Cleopatra, for holding its event so far from easy access. It must have been hard to do the web feed. It must have been hard to get food for the VIPs and surfers. It must have been hard for Rabbit Bartholomew to park his Bentley. I don't know if he drives a Bentley.

But they were blessed for their bravery. Those beachbreak barrels looked like heaven. A touch overhead and hucking deliciously, both left and right. When I first arrived I saw Jordy Smith pop out of a deep deep barrel. I heard Pottz say, "Hmmmm. Looks fun."

The early heats went down in uneventful fashion. Those who were supposed to win, won. CJ, Jordy, Tom Whitaker and Bede. Not that the surfing wasn't fantastic. Barrels, barrels, hacks, barrels, a few airs, slides, barrels. But most were waiting for the later heats. Eight, nine and ten. Joel in heat eight. Kelly in heat nine. Dane in heat ten.

Joel surfed against Bruno Santos and looked tense. He lies every time he says he doesn't think about the world title, which he said after he won the heat. He surfed very much like it was on his mind. Definitely good enough, but not his typical stylishness. Not classic Joel.

The Australian surfers were keenly interested in Joel. I watched part of the heat with Bede and he would cringe a touch when Bruno would weave his way through impossible barrels. "How'd he get through that?"

Kelly arrived to the site an hour before he took the water. Nobody had seen him and rumors floated that he had been in Mundaka for that perfect swell two days ago. Or at the White House receiving commendations from President Barack Obama. I grabbed him, right before he slipped into the patented "Kelly Zone" and asked where he had been. He answered, "Oh, I've just been around Portugal for the last week. I love it here, I don't think I've been here for twelve years now." I pressed, and asked, "So what? Have you been sipping chocolate milk in Lisbon? Eating Little Frenchies in Porto?" He said, "No, I was at this place called Nazare yesterday. It was fifty foot and looked like Jaws except way more dangerous. It was the most dangerous surf I have ever seen." I asked, "Were you out? Did you tow?" And he looked at me like I was mentally insane. Or maybe he had already entered the patented "Kelly Zone."

Kelly was matched against Owen Wright. Owen Wright. Stylish wildcard. Skinny blonde. Goofyfooter. Owen had defeated Kelly once already in his young career and seemed unfazed as they matched barrels. Kelly burying himself in a right. Owen burying himself in a left. And hi-fi. Kelly throwing a carving 360. Owen punting a frontside air. The beach hung on every score announcement. 20,000 refugees gasping. The lead would change hands but it seemed like Kelly was toying with the poor young Australian. Until Owen won on an end of the heat reeling left barrel. Kelly caught one too, pig-dogging to glory, but his wasn't as good. And he lost.

Dane arrived for the first time in the middle of Kelly's heat. Fifteen minutes before he was to be in the water. I said "hi." He said, "What are you doing here?" I said, "Hanging out. What are you doing here?" He said, "Shit. I guess I am going to surf a heat. How are the waves?" I said, "They look fun." He peered out for the first time and said, "Wow, they do look fun." He was going to surf in fifteen minutes. This was the first time he had seen the spot. He was asking me for a wave report. I love Dane.

And Dane dispatched Dingo Morrison on a wave that Dingo should have snagged. Dane explained later, "I guess sometimes these things happen."

The refugees were contented with the action. With the day. Conditions stayed pleasant the whole time. Lulls were usually not lengthy and the sun would peak out and warm everyone. Then hide and let everyone cool down. The refugees spread out, 20,000 strong, and trampled everything they could trample. Rip Curl tried to control, asking for people to respect the area, to stay off the dunes, to throw their trash away. But refugees are a dirty headstrong lot. Rip Curl might get in trouble for contributing to an ecological disaster but who cares. Nature should be paved, anyhow.

Heat 1:
C.J. Hobgood (USA) 13.94 def. Nathaniel Curran (USA) 11.50
Heat 2: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.84 def. Roy Powers (HAW) 9.67
Heat 3: Tom Whitaker (AUS) 11.84 def. Heitor Alves (BRA) 11.50
Heat 4: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 15.07 def. Marlon Lipke (DEU) 7.34
Heat 5: Bobby Martinez (USA) 14.17 def. Nic Muscroft (AUS) 7.64
Heat 6: Drew Courtney (AUS) 15.67 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 13.73
Heat 7: Kai Otton (AUS) 12.84 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 12.60
Heat 8: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 12.43 def. Bruno Santos (BRA) 7.24
Heat 9: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.83 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 14.36
Heat 10: Dane Reynolds (USA) 14.10 def. Dean Morrison (AUS) 10.67
Heat 11: Taj Burrow (AUS) 16.90 def. Michael Picon (FRA) 10.24
Heat 12: Damien Hobgood (USA) 8.50 def. Greg Emslie (ZAF) 7.13
Heat 13: Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.56 def. Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 14.27

Heat 14:
Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) vs. Ben Dunn (AUS)
Heat 15: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Jihad Khodr (BRA)
Heat 16: Kieren Perrow (AUS) vs. Tim Reyes (USA)

Heat 1:
C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Jordy Smith (ZAF)
Heat 2: Tom Whitaker (AUS) vs. Bede Durbidge (AUS)
Heat 3: Bobby Martinez (USA) vs. Drew Courtney (AUS)
Heat 4: Kai Otton (AUS) vs. Joel Parkinson (AUS)
Heat 5: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Dane Reynolds (USA)
Heat 6: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)
Heat 7: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. TBA
Heat 8: TBA