When Nathan Hedge burst onto the pro surfing scene over a decade ago he was considered the latest in a long line of talented Aussie threats. "Hedgy" was instantly identified as one of the last of a dying breed. His preference for using the full length of his rail ran counter to his generation, which was disengaging the rail in favor of wafting the tail. Hedgy was a throwback of sorts: a young Tom Carroll, with some Occy and Egan thrown in for good measure. Back then that was considered a massive compliment.
But it was Hedgy's home-spun Australian pride and patriotism that really resonated with his mates on tour. His fierce favoring of Aussie accomplishment harkened back to the height of the cold war between them and those "American wankers." Whenever an Aussie won an event, the first man to greet him at the water's edge was Hedgy, who reveled in draping the Aussie flag around his mate before chairing him up the beach.
Of course, in true Aussie fashion, he was also the first to buy that guy a beer. First to fund another round. And the first to lose his voice as the evening's festivities progressed. For all these reasons, and others, he was considered a treasure on tour. And for all those same reasons Hedgy ended up with some residual issues when his competitive results started to fade.
After some soul cleansing years, Hedgy is finally revealing just how dark things got for the man who loved nothing more than to shine a light on others. In part of Surfer magazine's series on comeback stories, Hedge talks about how his journey led to a self-imposed exile on the Sunshine Coast, where he completed a rehab program. You can watch the Surfer magazine video by clicking here, or on his mug shot above.
Surfer magazine has posted a stunning gallery of some of the special moments that have made the surf spot Mavericks famous. The moment below is of pro Shane Desmond in 2006. "Shane is another great Santa Cruz surfer who has made his mark on the iconic big-wave spot," Surfer wrote of the shot, which their photo editor, Grant Ellis, took. To see the full gallery, click here, or click the photo below.
Photo courtesy Surfer, Ellis
We've reached number-crunching time for the viable title contenders as the ASP World Tour has reached Peniche, Portugal, home of the Rip Curl Pro. The hope of scheduling heats at Supertubos is the road to any world title must run directly through its punchy pits.
Aussie Mick Fanning had to take a trip to Round Two after falling to Kieren Perrow in the opening round. Given the conditions on tap at Supertubos, he didn't seem to mind.
While the forecast looked scary earlier in the week, forcing several lay days, Saturday turned into a tube feast, with stellar conditions on tap. As far as opening rounds go, this was about as solid as fans could have hoped for.
Matt Wilkinson was one of the rare surfers who made a statement with a maneuver. He rode out of what looked like the cleanest rodeo flip ever pulled in competition. Yeah, we keep saying that...but only because these guys keep getting better at 'em. See the opening wave of the video below to see if you agree...
On the title race front things remain heated. Joel Parkinson, Kelly Slater, and John John Florence all won their opening round heats with commanding performances. Mick Fanning, however, was sent to Round Two after tube maestro Kieren Perrow got the best of Fanning in their Round One heat. Fortunately, Fanning made easy work of wild card Pierre-Valentine Labo and remains right in the mix.
As for high profile early round exits, Jordy Smith takes the prize. Smith, who's now fallen out of the Top 10, had the misfortune of meeting up with Hawaii's Dusty Payne in Round Two. Payne, who's sat out most of the year injured, could be playing a serious spoiler role in these final four events.
The other big headlines were the three perfect 10s scored during the opening round. Gabriel Medina, C.J. Hobgood, and Michel Bourez were the lucky recipients of some serious barrels (also in the video).
Dane Reynolds is back in the bright lights of the ASP World Tour in France, and the world's best part-time competitor is feeling right at home at the Quiksilver Pro thanks to La Graviere's punchy pits. The wave resembles a few that can be found near Reynold's Ventura, California, stomping grounds, so it's hardly surprising that Reynolds is ripping.
But a more welcome sight for Dane fans is the hunger he can't hide. Fact is, there's a lot of relevance riding on this Quik Pro performance. As much as we love to knock and mock contests, there's something undeniably irresistible about sending guys out in perfect pits for a half-hour and saying, "Show me what you can do."
Frankly, these days, it's the only real "on demand" content that counts. Why? Because there's something real riding on it: pride, peer pressure, and performances that count for something. And for Dane, who's chosen to lower his profile by walking away from full-time competition, each at bat he gets on this stage carries added significance.
Fact is, no blog, magazine, or webisode series can replace the large audience of the ASP World Tour, and Dane's multi-million dollar salary demands a steady, healthy-size audience. Should Reynolds clinch his first tour win in France, it'll be a complete validation of his career path, one that will keep the budgetary sharks at bay for at least a couple of months.
If he falls short, however, the boardroom discussions may get interesting.
There's arguably no better place for Dane than Hossegor. His powerful approach is perfectly suited to the conditions. And on Thursday fans were treated to one of the best ASP shows of the entire year, thanks to the likes of Dane, John John Florence, Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater; each of whom represents a separate surfing era.
The Final Four at the Quik Pro France is the best collection of talent we could ask for. Shit, it's every surf fans' wet dream. And luckily for us, whether these guys want to admit it or not, they each have something huge at stake:
1.) Dane wants people to think he can still kick ass without caring.
2.) John John is trying to become the youngest world champion in history.
3.) Parko wants the world title monkey off his back after four runner-up runs.
4.) And Kelly, beyond just staying in the race, is trying to slay his French demons, for he hasn't won there since he had a full head of hair, and that was about seven world titles ago.
Don't be fooled, they all want this one.
While Kelly Slater's competitive record is unmatched in sports, there is one event that's historically given him fits, and unfortunately for Slater it's exactly where the tour is heading next for the Quiksilver Pro in France. In fact, the last time Slater won the event in Hossegor was 1996, when Bill Clinton was in office, Kenny G was still topping Billboard charts, and rookie Tiger Woods was just starting to light up the PGA.
It hasn't been all bad for Kelly. He finished runner-up in both 2008 and 2010, but knowing Slater, that just added to his history of French frustration. Not surprisingly, he's talking openly about his French problems, hoping a little cathartic cleansing get him over the hump in 2012. "I feel like I've surfed really well at that event for a long time," Slater says regarding the event (see video below). "I've had some close results in the past few years, but just haven't been able to put it away."
Slater could really use a win in France this year, too, especially given Mick Fanning's history of recent success there. Mick won back-to-back Quiksilver Pros in 2009 and 2010, and he'd love nothing more than to extend his ratings lead over Slater before heading into the home stretch.