SLATER PREPARES FOR BIG PERFORMANCE IN QUIKSILVER PRO JAPAN

Thursday, August 12, 2004 (ASP Int’l) The Quiksilver Pro in Japan (September 1-8) will prove critical to this year’s ASP world title race as a stack of top surfers tries to close the ratings gap established by current world champion Andy Irons.

Irons has just won his first World Championship Tour (WCT) event of 2004, in South Africa, but has shown incredible consistency with two seconds and two third placings from the first four WCT’s this year.

The Hawaiian is holding a strong lead on 5,016 points, with six-time world champion Kelly Slater (Florida, USA) in second on 3,552 points. There are six WCT’s remaining for the year, with each win worth 1,200 points.

Last year the tour became a two-horse race between these champions with Irons gaining the ascendancy in the final event in Hawaii to record back-to-back world titles. Throughout the year, the pair won nine WCT’s between them, five to Irons and four to Slater.

This year, a different surfer has won each of the first five WCT’s. Australian Michael Lowe secured the opening Quiksilver Pro on the Gold Coast, fellow Australian Joel Parkinson won at Bells Beach, American CJ Hobgood took out Tahiti, with his twin brother Damien winning his first WCT at the Quiksilver Pro in Fiji, and Hawaiian Andy Irons triumphed at Jeffreys Bay last month.

Close behind Slater in this year’s race is a logjam of talent including CJ Hobgood, Nathan Hedge (Aus), Mark

Occhilupo (Aus), Damien Hobgood and Jake Paterson (Aus). But the spread of points is close with even Danny Wills (Aust), back in 16th place, holding 2,772 points.

The president of ASP, Wayne “Rabbit Bartholomew, a former world champion himself in 1978, said the US$260,000 Quiksilver Pro in Japan is a very important event if the challengers are going to step up and take on Irons.

“Japan is also the start of the traditional grueling leg, the back-to-back events as we go from Japan through Trestles (USA), France, and into Mundaka (Spain), and there’s a short break before we go down to Florianopolis (Brazil), Bartholomew said.

“It’s the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the tour and everyone generally gets themselves in position. We’re basically at the halfway mark so there’s still plenty of surfing left in this thing. But if someone’s going to make a move, they’d better start getting on their bike now.

Slater has a third placing, three fifths and a 17th so far this year and admits to feeling somewhat frustrated by his results.

“My competition head is a little off but the surfing is there, Slater said. “I just need to figure out what is blocking me accessing my best. With this in mind, he is taking a break before the Quiksilver Pro in Japan.

“I am just taking some time off instead of going to Indonesia, where I was going to go, so I can get a few things done with my body work, board designs, and seeing my family, Slater said.

This year, the Quiksilver Pro in Japan will relocate to the mainland at Hebara Beach, Chiba, which is one-and-a-half hour’s drive north-east of Tokyo. Last year the event was held on Niijima Island.

Not only is Irons the defending champion, but he’s also psyched to protect, if not extend, his ratings lead. “I am feeling physically fit, I have great boards right now, and I am looking forward to the event, he said.

As far as threats: “Kelly is always a threat but some of the other guys that I feel will make a push are CJ (Hobgood), Parko (Joel Parkinson) and Taj (Burrow) after winning the US Open.

And as far as pressure, Irons said he is definitely enjoying the title race: “This is my most consistent year yet and I am going to take one event at a time. Quiksilver events have been very good to me and I have had a lot of success at them.

Slater has a good record at Chiba, in the past winning there and also placing in semi-finals and quarterfinals. “The wave is slow when it’s small but can be fun when it gets bigger. Hopefully we’ll get a typhoon, he said.

Also hoping for good surf will be the local Japanese wildcards who can cause havoc among the top seeds with their local knowledge of the competition break. The wildcards will be Quiksilver-sponsored Masatoshi “Mar Ohno, plus Naohisa Ogawa and Naoto Takanashi.

Ogawa and Takanashi placed first and second respectively in the recent Quiksilver Trials held at the contest venue of Hebara, Chiba, to win wildcard slots into the main event.

The Quiksilver Pro in Japan has a waiting period from September 1-8 and will be held in the best conditions on offer.

You can follow the event live on www.quiksilver.com