Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP)
2002 World Championship Tour (WCT)
Hawaiian Andy Irons Top Scores Day
Bells Beach, Victoria, Australia (Friday, March 29th). The 30th AnniversaryRip Curl Pro recommenced this morning, with round one completed in theUS$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT). World #10 Andy Irons (Haw)led the way, posting the day’s highest single wave and combined tallyagainst Paul Canning (SAfr) and Nathan Hedge (Aus).
Surf remained in the 4-6 ft (1.5-2 m) range, though an increasing tideforced competition to be placed on hold during the middle of the day.
Irons, 23, took charge of the heat with a series of good rides, beforeearning the highest single wave score of the event, for 9-points and thewin. Having finished equal third in last year’s tournament, the Hawaiianshowed today he’s out for more in 2002, collecting a total of 21.7 points.
“Good to get that first heat out of the way,” said Irons. “I’m just psyched.Bells’ is a really good wave and I always have a lot of fun here. I wasstoked the judges gave me that score (his 9.0).
“I’ve got secret wax,” he joked, when asked about his ability to makecritical maneuvers apparently with ease. “I’m not sharing any of that.”
1998 Rip Curl Pro winner and 1999 world champion Mark Occhilupo (Aus)overcame a strong challenge from tour newcomer Maz Quinn (NZ), in their heatwith wildcard entrant Zane Harrison (Aus). ‘Occy’ began his campaign with a7.5 from the judges, but then slipped into second place as the New Zealandertook command. Requiring a low score of 3.01 as he paddled into his finalwave, the 35 year old managed a 4.25 to advance directly into round three.
“I was upset with myself for needing that, ’cause I started off so good withmy first one,” explained Occhilupo, of the last-minute victory. “I shouldhave just nailed it and then I wouldn’t have even needed a score. Stillfeels great to get through.
“I love Bells so much,” he continued. “After that first wave it was the bestfeeling to know I had a good score already this year here. After the resultup there (Queensland, during the first WCT where he placed equal third), Ifeel fantastic.”
World #3 Cory Lopez (USA), who finished runner-up two weeks ago onAustralia’s Gold Coast, today continued to ignore his ankle injury andsecured a win. Against Nathan Webster (Aus) and replacement surfer BenBourgeois (USA), who was granted a position after six-time world championKelly Slater (USA) was forced to withdraw; the Floridian dominated the30-minute decider on his backhand.
“I totally spaced and forgot my ankle brace before the heat,” said Lopez, ofhis injury support. “I was all sketched out about it, but luckily it didn’thurt. I just had to forget about it. You’re in a heat, so you’re too psychedout to even feel the pain and worry.”
Brazilian Neco Padaratz was another commanding winner, defeating AustraliansShane Powell and Michael Campbell. Padaratz, 25, came on strong toward theend of their heat, closing the door on his opponents.
“Bells is really hard in these kind of conditions,” reasoned Padaratz. “Thisis just one step in a lot of work ahead. I’m trying to do the best I can,and luckily the waves came and I could do my job.”
Three-time Rip Curl Pro winner and 2000 world champion Sunny Garcia (Haw)proved a crowd favorite when he defeated Luke Hitchings (Aus) and GuilhermeHerdy (Brz). The 32-year-old Hawaiian opened with an 8.5 ride and thenwaited patiently, while Hitchings took the lead and tried to hold him off afinal wave. The tactic failed, however, when a set appeared and Garcia wasable to take off further down the line from the Australian, securing thepoints he required.
“I got lucky I missed a set wave and then the one behind cleaned up andended up being my best,” said Garcia. “Luke was playing the tactic game, andhe’s a great surfer, so I don’t think he needs to be doing those types ofthings. He tried to holld me off that last one, but he was a little too farback, and I got what I needed.
“I’m just looking forward to having a good event,” he continued. “I had aterrible one up in Queensland, and finished 33rd (place), which isuncharacteristic for me. I think I’ve only had about four or five in myentire career, so those results are hard to swallow.”
Greg Emslie (SAfr) then racked up the scores to post the second highesttotal of the day against Trent Munro (Aus) and 1999 event winner ShaneDorian (Haw). The South African appeared at home in the windblownright-handers, likening them to surf breaks in his local area.
“I felt good, but I had tough competitors, so you never know,” explainedEmslie. “You can have the best heat sometimes and still lose. I love thesesort of waves, as they’re very similar to home break. It’s a great relief toget past the 33rd (place) round.”
The anticipated final heat today, showcasing defending Rip Curl Pro championMick Fanning (Aus), current world #3 Shea Lopez (USA) and newcomer DarrenO’Rafferty (Aus), rewarded those who waited to watch. Lopez set the pacewith a 7.0, but Fanning raised the bar with an 8.0, before supporting thisscore to secure a comfortable victory.
“I thought I had too,” joked Fanning, after the gathered crowd made it seemlike he’d already claimed another title. “I felt a bit wobbly at the startand was nervous ’cause I didn’t get a wave for so long, but I’m stoked toget through.
“I was disappointed with my last result,” he added, of the 17th place finishin Queensland. “So I’m looking forward to a good result here. Taking eachheat as it comes. Last year I had no pressure, but now I have to try and getpoints and qualify again.”