Kelly Slater (USA) needs to finish ninth or better in the ninth of event of the year to win his ninth ASP World Title. He’s one heat away from doing so after scoring a 9.00 and a 7.33 to win his Round 1 heat at the Billabong Pro Mundaka back-up venue of Sopelana today.
Slater’s 16.33 heat total was the second highest of the day easily trumping the single digit totals of his opponents Taylor Knox (USA) and replacement surfer Reubyn Ash (GBR). He advances straight to Round 3 with the result.
“Where I surfed, the waves were better,” Slater said. “I had more options. I couldn’t really hear the scores, but once I did I could tell that Taylor was kind of struggling. Then I found a right with a nice open face and a big air section and that was my 9.00.”
Slater came extremely close to clinching the 2008 ASP World Title in France last week. In doing so, he would have secured his 40th ASP World Tour win at the same place he won his first—in Hossegor. It would have also been the earliest he, or anyone else, had ever won a world title.
Just one good-scoring wave away from overtaking Adrian Buchan (AUS) in their French final bout, Slater came up short and had to settle for second place and a trip to Spain. Being so close to the inevitable is taking its toll on the eight-time ASP World Champion.
“I hadn’t really thought about it that much until I was out there in the water but I don’t want to deal with the emotions of worrying about it anymore,” Slater said. “I just want to try to win one more heat and get it done.”
There is only one scenario that stands in the way of Slater clinching in Spain – him failing to advance from Round 3 and World No. 2 Taj Burrow (AUS) subsequently winning the event.
While Slater seems squarely focused on the next heat, Burrow has his eyes on the Billabong Pro Mundaka title. Burrow top-scored today with a 16.34 heat total.
“I just want to win an event and this one would be great,” Burrow said. “It seems like there is a lack of motivation from everyone on tour, people are going home, they’re over it – it just feels like it is over with Kelly wrapping up the title. I’m just trying to capitalize on that and win these things.”
Two-time defending Billabong Pro Mundaka champion Bobby Martinez (USA) is also looking to capitalize on the low morale to strengthen his position in the Top 10 and go for his third consecutive Mundaka crown. He beat Ben Dunn (AUS) and wildcard Mark Occhilupo (AUS) in Round 1 today.
“For me it’s different,” Martinez said. “I am still pretty new to this tour – I am not going to give up, I’m not going to quit just because Kelly is going to win the title. I still want to do my best. People where I come from don’t get the opportunity to do this kind of stuff and I have so I’m going to take it and run with it as far as I can. As much as people are over it after watching Kelly win all the time, I look at it like there are kids where I come from who have nothing and this is something big for me.”
Replacement surfers Eneko Acero (EUK) and Nic Muscroft (AUS) advanced from their Round 1 heats today. Acero, who was only invited to participate in the event last night when another replacement surfer had to withdraw, sent World No. 4 Adriano de Souza (BRA) and high profile rookie Jordy Smith (ZAF) to Round 2. Muscroft beat Pancho Sullivan (HAW) and the winner of the last event, Adrian Buchan (AUS).
Muscroft, who is the first alternate ASP replacement surfer after narrowly missing full-time ASP World Tour qualification last year, has competed in six events this year. His convincing heat win over Buchan and Sullivan today is his first ASP World Tour heat win this year.
“That’s surfing for you, anyone can win the heat,” Muscroft said. “It’s so even so that’s why I’ve thought all year that I’ve been in with a chance. I’ve had some good heats, I’ve just been unlucky here and there, so it feels good to get through one finally. I’ll just take this year as experience. It’s been tough because I haven’t been at every event so maintaining focus is hard, but hopefully I get a crack again next year.”
Muscroft is currently rated 24th on the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) – the top 15 surfers on that series qualify for the ASP World Tour at year’s end.
Brazilians Heitor Alves and Jihad Khodr advanced straight to Round 3 today. Kohdr, who is rated World No. 41 at the moment, must make a huge leap on the ratings to requalify via the ASP World Tour.
“I’m so stoked,” Khodr said. “It’s hard to make a heat when you’re one of the last guys on the ratings. I’m so happy to take the win. It looks like a Brazilian beach break. There’s a lot of paddling, a lot of waves and a lot of white water.”
France’s Miky Picon and Portugal’s Tiago Pires will join Acero as Europeans avoiding Round 2. Australians Mick Campbell, Tom Whitaker, Dan Ross, Daniel Wills and Kieren Perrow are also into Round 3.