Where Do We Go From Here?
After the Third Kelly and Owen Show, Where Do the Other Title Contenders Stand?
As the tour heads to France off the heels of another Slater and Owen final, fans and other competitors have to wonder if there is hope for anyone else to take the World Title back from the grips of Ke11y Slater. Certainly Owen has a chance, the best chance actually. But don’t forget about the style wizard Joel Parkinson and the competitive warrior Adriano De Souza, both of whom are still in contention. And then there’s Josh Kerr, Taj Burrow, Mick Fanning, and an injured Jordy Smith, who are all still mathematically in the running for the crown, although their title hopes are almost a fantasy at this point. But do ANY of these guys really stand a chance against Slater? Let’s break it down, one by one.
Yeah, Joel Parkinson is still in the running. But I see his desire to do well fade at every event. With two spoiled World Title opportunities behind him, and the pressure of being named the “Best surfer to never win a title” thrown at him from every media outlet, I think Parko is tired of playing the game. One thing is for sure, his buttery-smooth style started looking outdated for the first time in the last two events. Especially in those two clashes with Julian Wilson at Trestles . There have been plenty of controversial calls with judging and such, but that can’t be used as an excuse as every surfer has suffered under the shaky hands of the confused ASP judges. No, you can tell that unfortunately Parko may have reached his peak, which isn’t so bad. His slide downward will be slow and gradual for as long as he remains on tour. He will have at least a few more Elite Tour victories, and he will be one of the worlds greatest freesurfers for the rest of his life. That’s not too bad either.
Considering that the next three events will be held in above-average beachbreaks, it’s conceivable, in fact probable, that Adriano could place very well in all three events. If Slater and Owen were to fall in the early rounds, the fiery Brazilian would be right in the thick of things again. Especially if he wins one of the events! Imagine the inventive claims Adriano would display if that came true! Joking aside, Adriano has had an amazing year. Even with his controversial win in Brazil, Adriano is considered a worthy Top 5 opponent by his peers and his performances have been entertaining to say the least. He blew fellow Top 10 surfers Taj and Jeremy Flores out of the water in his Round 4 heat at Trestles with a combo of sick aerials and, for the lack of a better word, ENERGY! The yelling match that followed with Taj and Slater showed everyone that Adriano will stand up for himself, and to never corner the little fella. If he can harness that same fire, and if Hossegor is not too big for the Quik Pro France, then he is statistically a threat to Kelly. With Adriano’s success making him more of a standout on tour, I am still confused about why there are so many Adriano haters out there. Are they just prejudice towards Brazilians, or to someone that puts forth extra effort, or what? Adriano’s desire to compete and do well for himself should be motivational and inspirational to all humans. Straight from the Favela to Top 5 on the World Tour is something no other surfer has done before. He carries the weight of a new generation of Brazilian Pros as well as an entire friggin’ nation on his back. In an age of whining, lazy, upper to middle-class American pros, his eagerness is refreshing! More power to him!
As far as the other World Title contenders are concerned, this year is over! Although Kerr, Burrow, Fanning, and Smith are still mathematically in the running, it would take an act from Poseidon himself to stop Slater and Owen from doing well for the rest of the year.
After a mediocre start, Josh Kerr has had an impressive string of results in the last five events. He looks comfortable on tour and has found ways to beat any competitor in a variety of waves and conditions. No one wants to face Josh in a heat. If the waves in France are suited for punting huge airs as opposed to deep barrels, then Josh could take the event win.
Taj Burrow is awesome, and still has a World Title campaign or two left in him, but this wasn’t his year. He needs an event win before the end of the season to get him battle ready for next year’s war against the new youth on tour. He also needs to capitalize on the events where the conditions favor his style of surfing. That last place in Rio is haunting him by now I’m sure.
Fanning, I’m afraid to say, is suffering from the same symptoms as Joel. His surfing looked outdated at Trestles. There is no doubt that it is lightning fast and precise, but the times they are a changin’. While Mick has tried to adapt, it has not been enough to keep his above the lip skills up to par. If the tour had more stops like Bell’s and J-Bay, Mick could take down another title quite easily. He still has the competitive fire inside that his fellow Coolie Kids have had extinguished by the strain of the tour. He needs a strong start next year to keep him on track.
And then there is Jordy. Poor Jordy. His bravado at maxing Teahupo’o gave him one heck of an injury. Dislocated ribs can heal in 6 to 8 weeks, but they will hurt for a lifetime. He will be back though. Having the ratings lead after his win at J-Bay will be on the back of his mind as the tour goes back to Snapper to begin again next spring. If it wasn’t for the injury, Jordy would be right there with Slater and Wright at this point, maybe ahead of them. He has a long and illustrious career ahead of him, and will be a perennial World Title contender for the next decade.
That brings us back to Owen Wright. Owen has long been touted as a World Title contender and the next hope for Australia. But his first year on tour was not as loud as the hype that surrounded him, although still good enough for the Rookie of the Year crown. His 13th place (next to last) finish in the first event of the year gave everyone the false impression that he would not be in the running in 2011. Then a couple of 5th’s, with an asterisk after his Rio result, put him back in the Top 10. Then Teahupo’o happened. No other event had showed Owen’s strength so completely. His lanky frame suited the bending barrels. He put Kelly on the ropes in that final and came up just short. That result gave him the confidence to go to New York with a full head of steam. The Quik Pro was the biggest win in history, and he earned every bit of the $300,000 first place check. By making the final at Trestles, a third in a row with Slater, he cemented a competitive rivalry with King Kelly that will be written about for the next several years while making history in the process. The Trestles final could have easily went Owen’s way. It was that close. I think they surfed equally well, and am glad I am not a judge. The way the draw is set up, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kelly and Owen in every final for the rest of the year.
There is no denying Kelly Slater is the greatest surfer of all time. Everyone knows it. It’s a given. But it is worth pointing out that some fans of competitive surfing are tired of the Champ’s winning ways. With each “Go Kelly” post on a chat room during a webcast, there are an equal or greater number of “Somebody beat this guy!” posts as well. While he is a hero to most everyone, there are some who think he has won too many times, and that he should step down while on top, gracefully. I am not one of those people. Kelly appears to be completely ageless and is surfing way better than he ever has! He routinely schools kids half his age at their own game. From two foot to twenty he is utterly unstoppable, even while using only one 5’9″ for any condition. Even with some of his scores being a little over-cooked this year, he has showed everyone he can win by just showing up and surfing. People say he surfs so smart and that he is so good with heat strategy. But in all honesty, he doesn’t even have to try anymore. He’s been in so many heats now that the strategy is part of his surfing. Whether he is “just having fun”, or “experimenting with board design”, or “definitely going for title number 11”, it doesn’t matter. He can win an event whenever he desires. His competitive nature will keep that “desire” going for a long time, especially with a budding new rivalry with a worthy opponent. While he probably didn’t know it at the time, Owen Wright has given Kelly a reason to stay on tour for many more years in order to, as Kelly said about Andy Irons, “see this rivalry through.” – Ryan Richardson
Next stop, the Quiksilver Pro France at Hossegor, October 4th – 13th.
All photos courtesy ASP Images.