As the World Tour competitors shake off last year’s drastic changes to the scoring system and adjust to the new One World Ranking format, Quiksilver and ONE HD Network has announced that for the first time in ASP history there will be contests aired on live television. The World Tour season opener at Snapper Rocks is arguably the most high profile contest in the world, second only to the Pipeline Masters in Oahu, and is set to run on February 26th to March 9th. ONE HD network will air the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in Australia, where surf culture is covered by the mainstream media similar to football or baseball in America. In addition, ONE HD network also secured the rights to air the Quiksilver Pro New York in September and the Quiksilver Pro France in October, both World Tour events.
As the tour elite descend on the Gold Coast, confusion and questions about the new scoring and ranking system still have most surfers being forced to adapt or move aside. In an effort to stimulate progression on the tour, last year’s scoring rewarded high risk maneuvers, sometimes to the disdain of tour veterans, and rightfully so. When you have one surfer completely dominating a heat, catching the best waves and ripping them with solid surfing, and then the opponent in the same heat does one difficult air and wins, some eyebrows get raised and arguments soon follow. Hopefully, things will work themselves out on this year’s tour.
Last year’s World Champion Kelly Slater will be the one to watch, of course. His dominance in the last half of the 2010 season was unparalleled, even when compared to the rest of his career. At 39, Slater is noticeably surfing better than he ever has against some opponents half his age. Obviously Kelly has used the new crop of radical, aerial surfers to push his surfing to the next level and clearly “schooled” the “new school”. Landing the biggest air of the year during the semis in Portugal versus Chris Davidson was a heavy statement to everyone, and even had Davidson applauding in the water after witnessing the huge alley-oop. Slater himself is evidently going on autopilot, cruising through heats and contests with no visible pressure and a relaxed approach. Whether he will continue to be interested in this year’s tour is anyone’s guess.
But don’t count out the rest of the field just yet. There are a handful of surfers looking to take him out and make their own run at a world title. Jordy Smith is looking to back up his number two finish last year with more of his powerful and radical surfing. Smith has spent the last two months training and surfing at home in South Africa and claims to have lost 8kgs and to be in the best shape of his life.
Unfortunately, Ventura’s Dane Reynolds is recovering from knee surgery performed in January and is questionable for the first event at Snapper.
Aussies Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning, and Taj Burrow are all looking for titles themselves and will certainly be forces to reckon with throughout the year. The new young crop of aerial surfers are nipping at the top ten’s heels with surfers like Brazil’s Jadson Andre, Australia’s Matt Wilkinson and Owen Wright surfing extremely radical and looking hungry to win some heats. Of course, you can’t forget about the tour vets like Taylor Knox, the Hobgoods, and Bede Durbidge. Their experience and wave knowledge usually propels them to the winner’s podium at least once per year.
Between new judging criteria and scoring systems, new locations, and an eleventh event added to the schedule, this year is shaping up to be full of drama. You can bet the bottom half of the elite 34 will be scrambling to make it to the mid-year cut off point, and the top ten will be pushing the boundaries even further. Stay tuned for regular updates and breaking news throughout the season. - Ryan Richardson