Competitors were back in the water today at the Rip Curl Pro in Puerto Rico, still dealing with the emotional roller coaster resulting from Andy Irons‘ sudden death. “I’m a little overwhelmed with everything that’s happening,” said Kelly Slater. “It’s been nice to have a couple days off for us all to process what’s going on..I think we’re all out there thinking about Andy.”
Slater needs to make the semifinal to ice his 10th world championship. That’s the hard way. The easier way is if Jordy Smith falls short of winning this event. But Smith isn’t giving an inch so far. Today was no different. After Slater won his Round Three heat, Smith followed up with a commanding performance. They both came from behind to win again in their Round Four heats.
“I’ve got nothing to lose,” the South African said today after his first heat victory. “I’m just trying to show people I can surf pretty well.”
Slater looked sharp during his heat against local wild card Dylan Graves. It was one of those not-so-rare moments when Slater had locals rooting firmly against him. “I told him [Graves] on the way in that’s the heaviest heat I’ve ever had as far as crowd goes,” Slater said afterward. “I’ve had a lot of support down here, but Dylan had the whole island backing him. It was a tough heat…He went out and made Puerto Rico really proud.”
The battle proved therapeutic for Slater. “It’s hard not to get enmeshed in it when the crowd was like it was just now.”
In the following round, Slater was visibly pissed after a couple run-ins with Brazilian Adriano De Souza. The two tangled in some paddle battles during the match up, and Slater was clearly bothered.. he quickly channeled his frustration into motivation. “I was like, if that’s how you want to do this, fine let’s do this.” He said. “I started laughing out there because it reminded me of some of my battles with Andy.”
The battle for the 2010 ASP world title could easily end tomorrow now with Slater now only one heat away. He won’t know who he faces until round five is complete, but there’s a chance Adriano could end up being the man standing in his way. If that’s the case, something tells me Slater won’t have a problem getting motivated for his heat.
As for the other notables, Dane Reynolds and Mick Fanning are already joining Slater and Jordy in the quarterfinals. Reynolds put on one of his most inspiring performances of the season in his heat against Cold Water Classic winner Matt Wilkinson (below).
Saturday is shaping up to be a historic day in professional surfing.