Super Series ASP Men's World Qualifying Series event, tour stop number 7 on the ASP Men's European Pro Surf Tour, is kicking off in Les Bourdaines, Hossegor, from 20-26 August with a $150,000 prize pot at stake.
It took Jordy Smith (ZAF) a mere two minutes to stake his claim as the man to beat in this year's Rip Curl Pro Super Series World Qualifying Series (WQS) contest. Although the 18-year-old only arrived in Seignosse this morning, he paddled out in Heat 5 of Round 2 and recorded a near perfect 9.77-point (out of 10) score on his very first wave.
The current WQS Ratings leader has been on fire this season and comes into this week's Rip Curl Pro fresh off an impressive win at the Sooruz Lacanau Pro 6 star WQS last weekend.
Surfing with obvious confidence, Smith later added a 5.07 to win the heat with a two-wave combined total of 14.84 points - advancing through to Round 3 with second placed surfer Leigh Sedley (AUS). Foster's ASP World Tour veteran Victor Ribas (BRA) and Justin Mujica (PRT) finished third and fourth in the heat respectively and were eliminated from the event.
"I felt I had a good wave, but didn't realize my score was going to come out that high," said Smith, happy to achieve the highest scoring wave of the event so far. "I'm stoked about getting the 9.77 on my first wave for sure, because I never start my heat with a great wave. It's good to start an event this way because it gives me a lot of confidence for tomorrow."
Smith is looking to continue his 2007 WQS campaign by claiming the Rip Curl Pro title this weekend, but the added pressure of ratings points has somewhat been lifted with the recent news that the teenager has already confirmed his position on the 2008 Foster's ASP World Tour.
"I am so happy that I have already booked my spot on next year's World Tour, but I still want to continue doing well for the rest of the year," continued Smith. "I try not to pay too much attention to the ratings, I focus on my surfing and my performance, and believe if I have fun in my heat I'll be able to make it every time."
The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) recently announced that WQS competitors hoping to qualify for the 2008 Foster's ASP World Tour will need to reach 11,500 ratings points. Smith's win in Lacanau last week moved him to first overall on the ratings with 12,200 points, propelling him past the cut off point along with Portugal?s Tiago Pires (11,900 points) and USA surfer Ben Bourgeois (11,688 points).
Current WQS #4 Jay Thompson (AUS) is sitting right on the verge of World Tour qualification and moved one healthy step forward again today by winning through his Round 2 heat. Thompson defeated Hizunome Bettero (BRA), Wade Goodall (AUS) and current Foster's ASP World Tour competitor Ben Dunn (AUS) to move into Round 3.
"I'm glad to get that one out of the way, because it's pretty tricky out there," said Thompson. "That was a tough heat, so I'm stoked to get through."
"There's definitely extra motivation for me knowing that Jordy, Tiago and Ben have already qualified and I'm right behind them," continued Thompson. "There's still a long way to go though, so I'm not getting ahead of myself."
The first surfer to taste Round 2 success this morning was former ASP World Champion CJ Hobgood (USA), who tackled the 4- 6ft (2m) conditions at Les Bourdaines head on in Heat 1. Although he recorded a 6.67-point score on his first wave and a 5.60 later in the heat, Rhys Bombaci (AUS) eventually relegated Hobgood to second place.
The top two competitors advance through all heats in the first three rounds of the Rip Curl Pro, so Hobgood was relieved but still happy to get the result this morning.
"I've had some really good waves here this week and the sand bank has been good," said Hobgood. "Yesterday's storm has changed it a lot though and with the currents today, it makes the time out in the water tough."
"I've had an up and down season on the Foster's ASP World Tour and on the World Qualifying Series this year, but I'm trying not to really think about," said Hobgood when asked about his result on Tour this year. "The main things that count for me are feeling healthy and having fun. I'll think about the result when I make the finals!"
Although Hobgood recorded an average result in Lacanau last week, current WQS #9 Aritz Aranburu (EUK) had an event to remember. Aranburu finished runner-up in the contest and is on the verge of qualifying for next year's World Tour.
Paddling out in Heat 4 against Dustin Cuizon (HAW), Kyle Garson (USA) and Marlon Lipke (DEU), Aranburu went to town on the left-hand waves, posting high scores of 8.33 and 5.83 to win the heat with a combined total of 14.16 points.
"It's really testing out there," said Aranburu. "The physical abilities of the surfers will make a big difference today as we have to run along the beach at least once in the heat to make it back to the line-up because of the currents."
"I had a slow start in the heat until the 8.33 came in and gave me the confidence to wrap it up and reach Round 3. I am happy to be here after my good result last Sunday and I hope things turn out just as good for me in the next few days."
Fellow European favourite and fellow World Tour competitor Mikael Picon (FRA) is another hopeful at a big result in the Super Series this week. The goofy-footer has the added pressure of competing in front of his home crowd this week, but luckily advanced through a tough Round 2 match-up against Australian trio Adrian Buchan, Shaun Gossmann and Adam Melling.
Buchan was one of the standout surfers of the morning and convincingly won the heat with a two-wave total of 15.16 points. Picon finished second ahead of Gossmann and Melling in third and fourth respectively.
When asked about the pressure and pleasure of competing in front of his home crowd, Picon confessed: "It is both pleasure and pressure, because you don't want to miss your performance in front of the people supporting and at the same time you just know people are behind you whatever happens. With the European getting better and better, it's just great to surf on these events."
Former world top 10 surfer Kieren Perrow (AUS) was another competitor thankful to advance through Round 2 by finishing second overall in his heat. Perrow posted a low two-wave combined score of 11.33 points, but it was good enough to secure second place behind Australian Jack Perry in Heat 7.
Perrow is currently ranked 12th on the WQS ratings and could cement his qualification with a finals finish at this event.
"Coming to the Rip Curl Pro here in France is always a great time," said Perrow. "The settling is perfect, all surfers are taken care off and we usually get consistent waves and challenging heats in Hossegor."
"The conditions today are pretty are challenging, but I'm really happy I made it through my heat. I've had a couple of early eliminations in the last events, so I'm looking forward from here."
Perrow will compete Heat 3 of Round 3, matching up against Jordy Smith, David Weare (ZAF) and Hizunome Bettero (BRA).
"I know I'm going to have an exciting heat in Round 3 and I can?t wait to surf against those guys!"
Contest officials will meet at Les Bourdaines at 8am this morning (local time), expecting an 8.30am start to competition. Heats 17 to 24 of Round 2 will be held in the morning, before the event heads into Round 3 around midday.
The Rip Curl Pro Super Series can be viewed via live broadcast transmission online at www.ripcurl.com/ripcurlpro
Photo by: Damien Poullenot