Monday, April 20, 2009

Kirra Perfection

This lucky grommet with a view to kill for.

This is where it all happens - Coolangatta, Surf City Australia.

A perfect Kirra drainpipe unloading down the sand bank.

After the Rip Curl Pro I was set to return to hobbit-land with my flight leaving Melbourne in two days.  The only snag was a mean low-pressure system developing in the central Tasman Sea that looked to bear fruit for the Gold Coast.  

A slight alteration to my plans and I was boarding a plane with Jordy Smith early Saturday morning heading north in search of warm gaffing pits.  

I'm glad I did.  

This morning I woke up to four-to-six foot drainpipes stacked to the horizon from Kirra to Snapper Rocks, with a ten-knot offshore breeze attenuating the gape factor.  

Swell reinforcement is forecasted for tomorrow with possible eight-foot sets pushing in by the afternoon.  I better get some rest. 

Friday, April 17, 2009

Parkinson Wins Rip Curl Pro

Joel Parkinson took out wild card and local hero Adam Robertson today on his way to ringing the 'bell' in classic 5-foot, offshore conditions at Bells Beach.

Robertson's path to the final was decidedly longer than that of Parkinson. Since he's not in the top 44, he had to first surf an entire qualifying competition just to make it in to the draw for the Rip Curl Pro.

Once in the Rip Curl Pro, he relied on his local knowledge and powerful, fluid surfing style, to eliminate Bede Durbidge and Mick Fanning to earn a spot in the final against Joel Parkinson.

But Parkinson was in machine-like form, claiming a score of 9.57 following a 7.83, thanks to massive board-drowning cutbacks that propelled him to his second WCT victory in as many events.

Robertson was stoked to make it this far, and I imagine the $24,000 check he collected for his efforts will do well to lubricate the party gears that will be turning at mach-speed tonight.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Slater Sent Packing, Again...

The early morning sun cast its gentle light across the cow paddocks and rambling hills as a stiff northerly wind combed the building six-foot sets that were unloading on the 'bowl' section of Bells Beach. It was a sight I welcomed after a week of below average surf and onshore winds.  

The strong offshore winds were molding raw southern ocean energy into perfect rows of corduroy on the horizon - a vision of Bells I had seen countless times in magazines and videos, but never up close and personal. 

It was barely light out, but I could feel the urgency building in me with each set that came in. While the rest of the media were getting ready for the start of round two of the Rip Curl Pro, I was slipping into my wetsuit and waxing up the nugget for a session at Winki Pop.  

I've been surfing the contest site all week because it goes off.  Apart from a few locals and a rotating crop of the top 44, the lineup has been relatively empty.  I'm finding this the most rewarding part of following the tour - getting to surf great waves with the best surfers in the world.  

Watching Mick Fanning paddle by, spot a meaty set wave and stroke into it - tearing down the line and utterly dissecting the wave - is a rare treat.  It's like watching the NBA finals court-side, pulling up a chair on the bench next to the head coach as the teams do battle on court.  

This morning was no different, as Jihad Kodr, Bede Durbidge, Drew Courtney and even Slater were out at Winki Pop getting loose before doing their own form of battle up the beach at Bells.
Jihad had a great session, sitting deep on the first peak and picking off a handful of gems.  He was having such a good session he almost missed his heat.  

I could hear the play-by-play commentary on the loud speakers in the lineup at Winki Pop - how Joel was surfing lighting fast, and Mick laying down his trademark gumby cutbacks.  After two hours in the soup I caught a wave in, grabbed my gear and went down to get a better seat for the remaining heats. 

I got down just in time to see the heat of the day, Kelly Slater matched up against wild-card Owen Wright.  Wright was visually amped and probably still buzzing off his win in round one, when he sent Dane Reynolds home early. 

Slater paddled out on what appeared to be a normal short board, in the 6'4"range, and was into a wave within seconds of the starting buzzer.  He looked fluid and driven, cranking his bottom turn to the limits before unloading a series of lacerations on the perfectly groomed wave face.  

Wright one upped Slater's wave, dropping into a sizable Bells peak and unloading the most intense backside hack of the contest to date.  He followed that up with three more critical maneuvers before snagging a ride back out with the water patrol.  It was a great starting wave and put him in first position.  

Slater was left chasing a 7.67 after what was arguably an underscored wave that saw him slinking into a tricky Bells barrel, but finding no exit.  As the southern ocean went soft, all Slater could do was wait and hope for one last set.  But it never came.  Owen Wright went on to win the heat, and Slater was sent packing for the second time in as many events.  It was a very close heat, and I'm glad I wasn't in the judges' seat making the calls.

The comp was moved down to Winki Pop as the tide pushed higher, but was soon shut down by a nasty southwest wind after only two heats ran.  There was a magic hour between the comp moving to Winki, right before the wind picked up, when I took advantage of the moment to slay a few Bells beauties of my own.  I'm still grinning ear to ear as I type this, salt water spilling out of my nose over my keyboard.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Men's Round 1 starts at Rip Curl Pro

The rain was pelting the roof above where I was sleeping this morning, making my first night back in a bed for a couple weeks not overly enjoyable.  But it served as a good alarm clock to get up and shuffle down from Anglesea to Bells Beach for day 1 of the Rip Curl Pro.

The Men's round 1 action got underway just after 9:30 a.m. in 4-6 foot semi-clean conditions at Bells.  This event marks the first time the new alternative judging format was put into action this year.  Essentially, the 16 top rated surfers on tour get an automatic seed directly into the 2nd round of the event.  The remaining 28 CT surfers, and 3 wild cards are left to fight it out in man-on-man single elimination heats in Round 1.  

This format is being tested on tour this year, with each event given the freedom to decide whether they want to use it, or stick to the traditional format.  One advantage to the new system is that it eliminates an entire day of competition, needing only 3 days to complete the event and taking advantage of the best swell event within the given wait period.  Time will tell if this system is adopted permanently, or tossed out the door.  One thing's for sure, it puts the pressure on the round 1 seeds who only get one chance to advance.  

The standout today was by far Jordy Smith who used his considerably bigger mass to power through surface chop and link big fluid turns in and out of the unpredictable sections.  He scored the highest heat and single wave of the day, easily moving into Round 2.  

Dane Reynolds was sent packing by the West Australian wild card entry Owen Wright in the day's biggest upset, showcasing the new formats brutal single elimination mechanism.  Wright was surfing on a mission and seemed to find a way to get the waves he needed.  Reynolds never found his rhythm and was left chasing Wright for most of the heat.  

The swell will be on the fade through the end of the week, with another pulse forecasted for Easter weekend.  This surfer will be heading west to score the epic beach breaks while the comp is put on hold the next few days. 

Monday, April 6, 2009

Bells Beach turns on for the first day of competition

The Rip Curl Pro is set to begin tomorrow at Bells Beach in solid 6 foot conditions.  The temperature has dropped and south winds are roaring across the Tasman Sea pushing a solid 6-8 foot swell along the famous reef, and giving the top pros plenty of raw ocean energy to warm up in before the big dance.

Stay tuned for mores updates as the action unfolds...