The world’s best surfers descended upon Snapper Rocks last week to square off in the year’s first WCT contest and launch the new-and-improved ASP. The Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast event finally gave the world of surfing its first glimpse of the many rumored, debated, and hyped changes to the pro surfing landscape, and even from the first heat, the modifications were noticeable, to say the least... Shiny new ASP logos were plastered on every piece of equipment in sight. Dynamic graphics flashed across the screen, giving the viewer more in-depth information on the surfers and conditions, while also subtly making the viewer to feel as if they were watching an event on SportsCenter. Big name sponsors, like Samsung and GoPro, seemed to have a few more commercials than usual, but that was to be expected with increased corporate sponsorship. Most of these changes were integrated into the viewing experience tastefully and flowed seamlessly in an improved HD streaming of the contest. But, as with any delve into uncharted territory, growing pains were still evident in several aspects of the ASP’s new look.
The commentary was much more focused on promoting the “professionalism” of surfing than in any years past. On occasion, painfully so. For the most part though, they executed this well, describing in detail the nuances of waveriding and positioning and making the terminology understandable for potential first-time viewers of the sport. Still, there were moments when words like “bro” and “sick” and “cutty” slipped through the filter and you could almost feel ASP commissioner Kieren Perrow cringing. There were also a few instances where perhaps the boys tried a little too hard to show off their new gadgets, namely using the new addition of a John Madden-esque yellow highlighter tool to simply circle Taj Burrow’s head and offer the analysis that he needed to focus on his “head space.” But in a sport where “clean-cut” and “professional” aren’t typically the first words that come to mind, the efforts of the ASP to promote these adjectives were actually commendable.
As for the contest itself, conditions delivered solid waves for the most part, minus an extended stint of lay-days while event organizers waited for a new swell to arrive. Round 2 of the men’s contest resulted in a few upsets that shook things up a bit. Jordy Smith was defeated by Tiago Pires, and John John Florence fell to Travis Logie. East Coasters CJ Hobgood and the 42-year-old crown jewel of Florida himself, Kelly Slater, both excelled early, Hobgood surfing with reignited focus, and Slater somehow squeezing into barrels despite conditions where none appeared to exist. Both surfers advanced to the quarterfinals, which also featured three of the local favorites: Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, and reigning world champ Mick Fanning. Unfortunately, the quarters are where the aspirations of our Rightsiders would be snubbed, with Taj Burrow defeating CJ Hobgood and Adriano de Souza bouncing Slater from the contest.
Both Hobgood and Slater conclude the first installment of this season's ASP action with an equal 5th-place finish and the corresponding share of points. It's a beneficial starting point that should only set them up for further contention throughout the year. If Mick Fanning’s 2013 run against Slater taught us anything, it’s that consistency pays dividends, and multiple event victories won’t earn you a championship if you also rack up several poor showings along the way. But, as of now, both Slater and Hobgood begin the year with a respectable result, and there's still lots of surfing left to be done. Hobgood’s new-found passion for ASP competition was evident from his first heat on, and we all expect Kelly will excel in spots like Fiji, any other critical wave, and anything barreling. Or any point breaks. Or really pretty much anything at all. You get the point. Even at age 42, and after a disappointing (perhaps only to him) 2nd-place finish last year, it still feels like he’s the king the rest of the field is trying to dethrone. And with 11 crowns stacked upon his already shiny head, it’s easy to understand why.
Arguably, the biggest surprise of the entire Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast event was that Gabriel Medina actually won the contest, making him only the second goofy-footer ever to do so. His abilities in the air and on the face of the wave are no secret at this point, but his eventual path to victory couldn’t have been more difficult. He took on everything Australia had to throw at him: defeating Mick Fanning in the quarters, taking out Taj Burrow by three hundredths of a point in the semis, and eventually edging out the ambassador of Snapper Rocks himself, Joel Parkinson, in the final. That result not only boosts Medina once again into the World Title conversation but must also sit well with this new version of the ASP. After all, the last decade has seen a rotation of only three names (Slater, Fanning, and Parko) hoisting the trophy at the end of the year. So, Medina asserting himself as at least an early threat to possibly end this musical chairs game of repeat winners bodes well for everything the new ASP is trying to achieve: mainly, excitement and promotability for a wider market. When the majority of that target market is a youthful one, it's reasonable to think that the ASP might be excited to see the success of a surfer who spends most of his time above the wave and isn’t one of those three aforementioned usual suspects.
On the women's side of things, in the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, 5-time ASP champion Stephanie Gilmore defeated Bianca Buitendag to earn bragging rights at her home break. “It’s one of the best feelings in the world to surf good waves and win the event in front of the home crowd,” Gilmore said of her victory. Perhaps of more importance though, were the conditions the women’s contest was held in. It is unfortunate but usually true that the men tend to surf the best conditions of any waiting period, while the women are sent out to compete in somewhat less stellar waves. For once, the opposite was the case, with the women surfing arguably the best waves of the entire contest. 3- to 4-foot glassy peelers, light winds, and clear skies were on hand for the homestretch of the Roxy Pro, and the women were all too glad to rip them apart while the boys watched from the beach.
Next up, World Championship Tour stop number two will take place from April 2nd through April 13th at Margaret River, Australia. We’ll certainly get another dose of the updated ASP and hopefully waves that will make us envious, too. There are no East Coast World Tour stops this year (come on guys, New York was pretty fun, right?), but the crew will hit the states at Trestles in September and at Pipe to close out the season. Hopefully, when Kelly Slater turns 62, finally retires, and transitions to being one of the men behind the curtains at the ASP, he will give the East Coast a little more love.