Almost On The WCT

The World Qualifying Series (WQS) is a tedious tour that forces those with dreams of making the WCT to travel to remote parts of the world and endure travel conditions that would make most people cry. Some surfers will go years before coming close to qualifying—Troy Brooks never thought he would beat Slater in the semis and then come extremely close with his victory in November at Haleiwa.

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The Vans Hawai’ian Pro is probably the most crucial WQS contest held during the entire ASP year. The points from a six-star rating combined with the fact that it’s the last contest of the WQS season means surfers looking to make the WCT will see their dreams diminished or achieved in one single day.

In optimal conditions, Hale’iwa is a nasty right-hander that draws heavily on big-wave experience; however, this year was the exact opposite. Due to a late-November northeast swell direction and a stiff onshore wind, the Pacific Ocean surrounding the east side of O’ahu as well as most of the North Shore looked like a giant washing machine. The swell missed Hale’iwa completely. Avalanche, a break less than half a mile west, was huge—unfortunately the contest site was tiny and blown out.

As each round wound down, the qualifying picture became more and more clear. Shane Beschen, Bruce Irons, Brazilian Raoni Monteiro, and Eric Rebiere—the first French surfer to ever make the cut—were basically the new qualifiers. In a situation eerily similar to last year’s, Chris Ward found himself on the borderline of qualification only to lose his first heat and suffer another heartbreaking finish to a decent year on the dreaded ‘QS.

The tiny surf was a perfect chance for the small-wave wizards from Brazil to capitalize and make their mark. Perennial favorites such as Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, and Bruce Irons found themselves desperate for high-scoring waves in the final minutes of their quarterfinals and were eventually ousted by names such as Armando Daltro and Neco Padaratz.

Moving toward the finals it looked like the Kelly versus Andy WCT showdown might have an exhibition match at tiny, sloppy Hale’iwa, but minutes into the first semi, Andy was the unlucky recipient of a paddling interference courtesy of Padaratz. Nine minutes into the heat he knew his day was over and went straight in, leaving Tim Curran the unenviable task of taking on Padaratz and Daltro (who requalified for the ‘CT by making it to at least the quarters). Timmy spent the last minutes of the heat trying to top a score of six and only pulling out a 4.3.

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As expected, semi two started with Slater and Jake Paterson scoring eights. Paterson was able to follow up for another high score, while Troy Brooks kept piling on the numbers as well. Then Slater got skunked. With six minutes left, all Kelly needed was a measly 3.5, but nothing came in. Scratching for anything, he found a small one, did two turns, and got a three—not enough. Kelly and Trent Munro were sent packing. Munro’s loss in the heat also meant Padaratz clinched the year’s WQS overall title as well. No Kelly, no Andy, and no waves.

The real excitement was the announcement that Troy Brooks, rated number 51 on the WQS, could possibly qualify for the WCT with a win (depending on the results of the final two WCTs). And win he did. As soon as the heat began, he killed a shoulder-high left all the way in for an 8.17 and caught another one seven minutes later for an 8.27 to seal the deal. No excitement, but a freakin’ incredible miracle that a guy that far back in the ratings had possibly squeaked his way onto the WCT.

“I came into this event thinking that I didn’t have a chance, said an elated Brooks, “but that’s the best way—then you’re not stressed out. All of a sudden I was in the final, and then I found out I still had a chance (of qualifying for the WCT) if I could win. I started out poorly on tour this year and then played catch-up. Now I just hope notthing changes on the ratings, and I qualify.

After all was said and done, Brooks chances of qualifying was laid in the hands of Neco Padaratz advancing through his heats at Pipe. Probably watching from a computer screen back home in Victoria, Brooks watched as Neco Padaratz’ took a loss in round three at Pipe. Had Neco gone further, he wouldn’t have needed his WQS qualification and it would have opened a spot for Brooks. Just like Chris Ward, Bobby Martinez, and all the other hopefuls, Troy will just have to look forward to next year.—Checkwood

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Next year’s WCT seeds for the 2004 season:
1. Andy Irons
2. Kelly Slater
3. Taj Burrow
4. Mick Fanning
5. Joel Parkinson
6. Kieren Perrow
7. Taylor Knox
8. Mick Lowe
9. Cory Lopez
10. Dean Morrison
11. Jake Paterson
12. Shea Lopez
13. Phil MacDonald
14. Damien Hobgood
15. Danny Wills
16. Mark Occhilupo
17. Richie Lovett
18. Luke Egan
19. C.J. Hobgood
20. Kalani Robb
21. Guillerme Herdy
22. Victor Ribas
23. Beau Emerton
24. Nathan Hedge
25. Trent Munro
26. Peterson Rosa
27. Paulo Moura
28. Neco Padaratz
29. Mick Campbell
30. Chris Davidson
31. Lee Winkler
32. Pat O’Connell
33. Armando Daltro
34. Darren O’Rafferty
35. Toby Martin
36. Sunny Garcia
37. Tim Curran
38. Nathan Webster
39. Tom Whitaker
40. Shane Beschen
41. Bruce Irons
42. Eric Rebiere
43. Raoni Monteiro
44. Greg Emslie
45. Marcelo Nunes