Former six-times world champion Kelly Slater from Florida, USA, was simply sensational in taking victory and the R240 000 winners paycheck at 2003 Billabong Pro at Jeffreys Bay on Monday.
The 31 year-old left his opponent and fellow Floridian Damien Hobgood needing a near perfect score of 9.86 points out of a possible 10 as he destroyed the glassy waves in the final at Supertubes with a series of committed and radical manoeuvres that at times defied description and gravity.
“I’m just so happy,” said Slater on the podium after receiving the giant trophy and oversized cheque. “I’d really like to thank Damien, in fact all the opponents I surfed against, they really made me push my surfing,” he explained of his stellar performances.
The win elevated Slater into second position in the latest ASP World Championship Tour (WCT) ratings, 660 points behind leader Andy Irons (Haw), whose 17th place finish has narrowed the 1 000 point gap he held coming into this, the sixth of 12 events on this year’s tour.
After the final opened with two short rides on the inside by Slater, Hobgood’s patience paid off and he caught one of the biggest waves of the day — a solid two metres (6 foot) that he carved up with great moves to be awarded 7.33 points by the judges.
Slater was on fire on the next wave to peel through Supertubes, gouging four huge manoeuvres off the top of the wave for a near perfect 9.43 points and a lead he never relinquished. While Slater kept up his work rate with another two shorter rides, Hobgood chose to sit and wait for better waves and caught his second ride with eight minutes of the final remaining.
On a great set of waves and needing 7.61 Slater caught the first wave and Hobgood the second in an exchange that the left Hobgood needing an increased 8.44, and that was upped to a requirement of 9.86 after Slater scored an 8.93 for his final ride and a repeat of his victory in the inaugural WCT event at J-Bay in 1996.
Hobgood, the 24 year-old twin of 2001 world champ “CJ”, secured his career best finish in a WCT event via a series of tough clashes against Australians Tom Whitaker, Dean Morrison and Taj Burrow in round four, the quarters and the semis respectively.
The semis victory came as Burrow left the water for nearly 10 minutes when he thought he sighted a shark in the line-up. The Aussie re-entered the water when he was assured by the announcers that it was harmless whale, but only recorded a trio of very short rides in the last nine minutes of the heat.
Contest director Mike Parsons started the seventh day of the R2 million Billabong Pro at 7.45am in sunny one to 1.6 metre (3-5 foot) waves ruffled by the early morning “Devil” NW winds. The expected onshore winds held off an the ocean stayed glassy for most of the day, providing the world’s best surfers with classic conditions in which to express their talents on the long waves rolling down the point at the legendary Supertubes.
Slater, after recording a near 19.50 points from a possible 20, including a perfect 10 point ride, in his third round demolition of Lee Winkler in the 2,5 metre (8 foot) surf on Sunday, was in absolutely unstoppable form from the first heat of round four where he and 1999 world champ Mark Occhilupo (Aus) produced an outstanding duel.
Slater clinched that with an early 8.17 in which he produced one of the moves of the event, a gravity defying climb up the white-water on a smaller wave. Occy came back with an 8.83 but the Floridian slammed the door with an 8.67 for a ride containing no less than five awesome moves.
In both his quarterfinal victory over Daniel Wills (Aus) and the semi against friend and compatriot Taylor Knox, he left his opponents needing to replace both their rides in order to overtake him, with Wills requiring 18.44 and Knox 16.58 as Slater racked up the three highest heat totals and three highest single ride scores of the tournament.
The 20 minute Fosters Expression Session, staged just prior to the final and featuring a dozen of the world’s best surfers going ballistic resulted in 2002 event champion Mick Fanning winning the US $2,000 for the best manoeuvre and CJ Hobgood taking the $1,000 for the best wave.
Sean Holmes, the giant-killer who took out reigning world champ Andy Irons (Haw) in the third round and the last South African in the event, was defeated by Knox in a low scoring fourth round encounter that left the 25 year-old from Wilderness needing just 6.34 points with seven minutes remaining.
Holmes caught a final ride a minute before the final siren but could only manage 5.80 despite a close-out aerial manoeuvre and was out in equal ninth position with R40 000 (US $5,000).
Finishing equal fifth after quarterfinal losses were Wills (Aus), CJ Hobgood, fellow American Shea Lopez and Morrison.
Archive footage, images, commentary and music from the 2003 Billabong Pro are available at the website www.billabongpro.com where the cutting edge technology provides what has being touted as the world?s best sports coverage on the internet.