Current eight-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater (Florida, USA) has confirmed he will be back on Australian shores to defend his Quiksilver Pro presented by Samsung title when the Foster’s ASP Men’s World Tour commences at Snapper Rocks, Gold Coast, Australia, later this month.
Only Slater knows whether he will go on to compete for an unbelievable ninth world title and possibly hasn’t even made that decision himself as yet. “This year I'll just take whatever approach seems to make most sense to be relaxed and not worry about results so I'll be able to perform in the most free way," said Slater.
Considered the greatest surfer of all time, Slater has continued to blow minds and shatter records with his surfing style, technical ability and focus. He won his first world title in 1992, then enjoyed five consecutive wins from 1994 to 1998 before coming back from retirement in 2002 to claim the 2005 and 2006 world crowns.
His season-opening win over Taj Burrow (Yallingup, W.A. AUS) in the final of last years Quiksilver Pro at Duranbah Beach was pivotal in his decision to go on to defend his 2005 world title. The result kick started the 34 year-old’s most consistent year ever, placing fifth or higher in every tournament to win his eighth world crown with two events remaining on the 2006 calendar.
“I was just relaxed," said Slater. “When you don't expect anything, good things happen. When you expect to win something, there's no upside. It all just came together."
Gold Coast surfers have proven to be Slater’s most dangerous rivals in the opening world tour event. All three ‘Coolangatta Kids’ have claimed victory at their local break of Snapper Rocks with world no.6 Joel Parkinson winning in 2002, world no.10 Dean Morrison in 2003 and world no.3, Mick Fanning in 2004.
The world champion knows that local wave knowledge is a key factor at Snapper Rocks but is confident in the fact that he broke through for his first Gold Coast victory since 1998 with his 2006 Quiksilver Pro win.
“Good surfing usually wins on the Gold Coast but there's also knowing the waves and which ones to take," said Slater. “I love the waves there and got over that hump of not winning on the Gold Coast for a long time last year, so I'm ready for some fun. I'm looking forward to it for sure."
The new surfing guns in the 2007 line-up will no doubt lift the performance bar again this year and with the inclusion of aerial expert Josh Kerr (Coolangatta, AUS) and former event wildcard Luke Munro (Currumbin, AUS) the number of local Gold Coast contenders has swelled to eight. Big things are expected of Kerr who is being touted as the rookie to watch despite never having contested a men’s world tour event.
The 22-year-old is not only preparing for his world debut, but also for the birth of his daughter who is expected to arrive just days before the tournament commences. “I’m a bit nervous all round," said Kerr. “It’s a good advantage having the event at Snapper though. I’ve been surfing there all my life. I just want to get off to a good start."
Kerr who is aiming for a top ten finish says that there are at least five surfers who can win this year’s world title.“You always have to look out for Kelly he has his act together but Andy Irons, Taj Burrow, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson, are all contenders again this year," added Kerr. “It just depends what rolls your way when you are competing, other factors can affect your result including nature and that has been rolling Kelly’s way."
When asked if the 2007 rookies would raise surfing standards this year Slater said@ “It's incremental each year and this one will be no different. Luke Munro and Josh Kerr will surprise a few people for sure." As a previous four-time Quiksilver Pro wildcard Munro has experience on his side and remains unfazed by the added pressure of competing for ratings points this time round.
“I am going into this with no nerves, as it is my home break and I have surfed in this event for four years now and I know what to expect," said Munro. “To have the first contest at home is always a good thing for the Gold Coast guys." Twenty-three year Munro knows however that it will take more than local knowledge to defeat Slater.
“Kelly is the best surfer ever and the most dangerous thing is that he knows it," added Munro. “He can beat any one at any break and when you have that over your competitors, it gives you the edge."
World no.15 Bede Durbidge (Currumbin, Qld, AUS), 1999 world champion and world no.26 Mark Occhilupo (Coolangatta, Qld, AUS) and world no.33 Troy Brooks (Tugun, Qld, AUS) could all prove lethal on home turf.
ASP tour rookie of the year Bobby Martinez (Santa Barbara, Cal, USA) is also expected to be amongst the top performers in the $300,000 Quiksilver Pro. Martinez, who lists Slater as his favourite surfer, impressed all when he debuted at last year’s event.
The tournament will be staged in conjunction with the USD$80,000, Roxy Pro presented by Samsung. Both tournaments have waiting periods from February 27th to March 11th.
The world’s top 45 men and top 17 female surfers will descend on the Gold Coast this month and all fingers will be crossed for a cyclone swell so the now world famous “Super bank" stretching from Snapper Rocks all the way through to Kirra can crank up the action.
Both opening world tour events are mobile, granting access to some of the best surf breaks on the planet. The tournament will be based at Snapper Rocks, yet can travel from Stradbroke Island to Duranbah Beach on the Qld/NSW state border in search of optimum waves.
Venues such as Snapper Rocks, Greenmount, Kirra and Burleigh will hold priority, with visions of long, right-hand barrels filling competitors' minds in the lead up. All spots offer great viewing for spectators to soak up the phenomenal surfing assured to take place.
With $380,000 prize money on offer, as well as an early ratings lead for the eventual winner, all focus will be on the Gold Coast as the dream tour gets underway.