Hedge Wins O'Neill Highland Open
The final day of the 6 Star Prime World Qualifying Series O’Neill Highland Open by Swatch 2007 culminated in the glow of glorious evening sunshine on Saturday, with Australia’s Nathan Hedge claiming the $15,000 winner’s check and 3000 WQS ratings points following a thrilling final heat against fellow countryman and O’Neill team rider Jarrad Howse.
The fourth consecutive day of competition began early once again, with contest organizers aiming to take advantage of the remaining swell and complete all quarter final, semi-final and final heats before the close of play.
With a decreasing swell size, the 30 minute man-on-man quarter final heats got underway with Nathan ‘Hog’ Hedge sealing a comfortable win against the USA’s Shea Lopez. Making good use of the priority system, the former Foster’s ASP World Tour competitor succeeded in keeping Lopez at bay with top scoring wave combination of 15.16. Following Hedge’s lead into the semi-finals was fellow Australian and former top 45 surfer Kirk Flintoff, himself a comfortable winner up against the USA’s Asher Nolan thanks to impressive top scoring wave combo of 14.84.
Increasingly inconsistent swell conditions, however, forced contest organizers to put the morning’s third quarter final heat on hold until 5.30pm, when a high tide and stronger offshore wind brought the goods back to The Bowl at Brims. With an ever-growing crowd of cheering spectators gathering along the rock shelf, the USA’s Ben Bourgeois and Australian Jay Thompson – the only surfer to score a perfect 10 during the whole contest – took to the water to find out who would advance. What followed was one of the tightest heats of the event, with North Carolina native Bourgeois’s top wave scores of 9.17 and 8.33 remaining only just out of reach of Thompson’s 8.67 & 8.37.
The final quarter final heat saw Jarrad Howse eliminate current ASP World Junior Champion and highly fancied Jordy Smith from the contest. As a member of the 2006 Foster’s ASP World Tour, 28-year-old Howse’s vast experience in man-on-man heats made all the difference as the South African pro surf protégée failed to capitalize on his opportunities.
Following his heat victory, Howse said: “I guess I just surfed a smart heat out there today. Fortunately for me, Jordy took a bad wave with priority and left me out there to get a barrel which helped. It’s always good to beat someone like Jordy – I think he’s leading the WQS right now and I’m sure he’ll be a World Champion one day – so that gives me lots of confidence going into my semi."
The semi-final heats, meanwhile, provided everyone present with a veritable showcase of top level surfing action. In the first of two heats, Hedge continued to dominate proceedings by beating out fellow Aussie Kirk Flintoff. Posting a highest combined total of 17.40 after a stunning final heat wave of 9.23, 27-year-old Hedgey made his intentions clear going into the final. The second semi-final heat, pitching Howse up against Bourgeois, underlined the former’s threat given the right waves as he pulled into some picture-perfect barrels, closing out his waves with tidy off-the-lip snaps and floaters. The judges approved, awarding Jarrad a highest combined total of 15.83 to Bourgeois’ 14.66.
Unfortunately for Howse, the packed heat schedule and earlier hold period combined to force him back into the line-up for the final heat of the contest only 10 minutes after the end of his previous heat. Nevertheless, the 35-minute heat picked up where the semis had left off, with both Howse and Hedge surfing out of their skins to the delight of the crowd of Australians positioned on the rock shelf. Starting the heat strongly, Hedge’s critical maneuvers earned him a number of good scoring waves, putting him in pole position for the title. Hedge continued to control the heat through intelligent use of the priority system as Howse struggled to find the kind of barrels he’d nailed earlier on in the day. Needing a 7.40 on his final wave to turn the situation around at the death, Howse was only able to score a 4.73 following a quick-fire barrel and off-the-lip snap. As the heat-closing buzzer sounded, man-with-the-mic Dave Mailman confirmed Hedge’s winning combination score of 13.50 to Howse’s 10.93.
Speaking to reporters immediately following the Highland Open Sword prize-giving ceremony and over the traditional Scottish sounds of the Thurso Pipe Band, title winner Hedge said: “It was really fun out there, and really good to surf against a mate like Jarrad in the final. The Aussies went really good here in Scotland and I’m stoked to see us up on top. Thanks to everyone who’s stuck by me, and everyone involved in the organization of the contest. Not sure how I’m gonna get this sword home though – think I’ll need to check it in in cargo! Thanks again to everyone, cheers!"
Congratulations to O’Neill Highland Open by Swatch 2007 Champion Nathan Hedge, and all other surfers making this second edition of the 6 Star Prime WQS event such a spectacular success story. For a full breakdown of results from the quarter final, semi-final and final heats, and to catch all the photo and video highlights, check www.oneilleurope.com/highlandopen