Thursday, September 30, 2004 (Malibu, California, USA)
The Rip Curl Pro at California’s legendary Malibu Beach – the first stand-alone women’s professional world championship surfing competition on the USA mainland – is all set to re-start the battle for the 2004 Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) world title this weekend.
The world’s current top four female professionals were joined at a Malibu restaurant today by five popular Hollywood actors and two other special guests to preview the historic competition that could well determine the fate of Australian Layne Beachley’s bid for a record 7th consecutive world championship.
Beachley, the 32-year-old who is already the most successful pro surfer of all-time male or female, is currently fourth on this year’s Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) world ratings after her least successful campaign in more than a decade. She must reach the final of the Rip Curl Malibu Pro and hope her rivals have early round losses to keep alive hopes of a 7th successive world title.
Commenting on her season so far, Beachley said “My motivation and focus has been lower than in past years because I don’t feel like I have anything more to prove. But I’m still as competitive as ever and if I wasn’t here to win, I wouldn’t be here at all.”
The great champion happily acknowledged this new event on the women’s tour, saying “I am impressed with Rip Curl putting an event on in mainland America, and it’s fantastic that they’ve put us on a wave that is real quality. It’s encouraging to see the (surf) industry backing the sport because I think the girls deserve the respect and recognition and backing we’re receiving. But of course it can always improve. We’ve come a long way in the 15 years that I’ve been on the tour, and there is plenty more to come – and at least I know the future of the sport is in very safe hands.”
Current world number one, Peru’s 21-year-old Sofia Mulanovich, is also on the verge of creating her own piece of history. If the diminutive South American wins at Malibu, she will become the first female surfer to win four consecutive events in 26 years of pro surfing.
“I’m not thinking about the world title or the records at all,” Mulanovich said, before adding that her success this year has been because “I am enjoying surfing so much, taking every heat and surfing every wave as if I was free surfing.”
Hawaiian 33-year-old Rochelle Ballard and Brazilian 25-year-old Jacqueline Silva, currently ranked second and third respectively, are theoretically the strongest challengers to Beachley and Mulanovich at Malibu. For either Ballard or Silva to remain in contention for a maiden world title, each must place higher than the other, as well as finishing ahead of Beachley and Mulanovich.
Veteran Ballard is having her best year in her 13th season on tour. Like Mulanovich, the Hawaiian partly attributes her success this year to a more relaxed approach to competition. “I love surfing every different type of wave there is, no matter where I’m at,” Ballard said.
“I love it (surfing) and I feel like a grommet — it’s just a love for the ocean and the waves. And that’s the reason why I continue to be somotivated. The more years of experience on the tour, the more I enjoy it and feel comfortable with it. I feel really inspired and it’s an exciting thing. Part of me just really gets relaxed with it and I enjoy myself. I think sometimes when you get so excited about something you can put in too much effort, instead of recognising it as something you love and letting it come naturally.”
Silva, runner-up to Beachley for the 2002 world title, slipped to 10th at the end of 2003. Contending for the world title again in her sixth season among the top 20, she expressed a quiet confidence today about her chances this weekend, saying “I’m feeling really good and I’m here to win, I think I can.”
Today’s celebrity guests were all invited because of their personal passion for surfingg, to help raise the profile of the competition and highlight the efforts of the Heal The Bay Foundation, a local environmental group campaigning against the pollution of the Santa Monica Bay, home to Malibu.
Those on hand were:- Simon Baker, star of the recent hit TV series The Guardian and the soon to be released movie The Ring 2;- Self-confessed “idiot” Chris Pontius, best known for his crazy antics on MTV’s Jackass and Wild Boyz programs;- Mark Ruffalo, star of hit movie 13 Going On 30;- Jorja Fox, one of the stars of the highly popular TV series CSI;- Dominic Purcell, star of another soon to be released movie Blade Trinity.
All spoke admiringly of the skill of the female professional surfers, and being given the opportunity to support the Heal The Bay group, though they’re not so sure about the quality of entertainment they will provide in a fun “Celebrity Surf Bout” on Sunday, October 3rd, against a team of music stars who surf.
Chris Pontius probably summed it up best when he said “It’s great to be a part of this, but I think my surfing in the celebrity surf event is going to be an embarrassment to the sport.”
Also attending today’s preview to be named patron of the Rip Curl Malibu Pro was the original surfer girl Gidget, Kathy Kohner-Zuckerman. Her real-life surfing exploits at Malibu in the 1950s inspired the 1959 hit movie Gidget, which helped popularize surfing worldwide.
Probably the most in-demand person at today’s function was 14-year-old Bethany Hamilton, the promising Rip Curl team surfer who lost her left arm in a shark attack less than a year ago in Hawaii. Hamilton is at Malibu to compete in the Rip Curl Wetskin Trials on Friday, October 1st, a 16-woman preliminary event to the Pro, with the winner to earn a chance to take on the world’s top 17 women surfers.
Bethany also presented a sneak preview of her biographical book Soul Surfer, to be officially released worldwide by Simon & Schuster in New York October 5th.
The Rip Curl Malibu Pro is the fifth of seven Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) world championship competitions in 2004, with each surfer’s best six results to determine the final 2004 rankings.