Here’s a statistic for you: you’d have to go back to 1999 for the last time the surfer subsequently crowned world champion — Occy, in this case — failed to progress past the third round of the year’s opening event. Yesterday Gabriel Medina, Italo Ferreira and Mick Fanning (who’s effectively ruled himself out of the title race already) joined Julian Wilson, Kelly Slater and Jordy Smith on the list of big-name early-exits at the Quik Pro Gold Coast, which has so far been as little predictable as it was last year.
This time Medina was knocked out not by Glen Hall but by fiery Australian Stu Kennedy, who’d already beaten a sluggish Slater in Round 2 and whose speed and timing atop his Tomo-shaped Slater Designs will undo some of the damage inflicted by Kelly to his own stock. Slightly lower-scoring but equally competitive was the battle of the nuggets faught between Italo and Connor Coffin. The battle resembled a violent game of Pass the Parcel; the lead changed hands multiple times, and it was Coffin, so far the best of the rookies, who was holding it when the music stopped, having wrestled it from last year’s best rookie in the final minute.
Filipe Toledo saw off Ryan Callinan, Adriano De Souza survived the wildcard threat of Mikey Wright, but Fanning struggled to find sufficiently steep walls to work with in his heat against Sebastian Zietz, and perhaps looked — for once — an inch or two off the pace. An inch off the pace and his surfing is more or less obsolete, a point underlined by the fierce layback -- risky, radical, unpredictable -- that ultimately won Seabass the heat.
Two further rookies made it through Round 3; neither Caio Ibelli nor Kanoa Igarashi has been particularly impressive but both seem annoyingly good at winning heats. Parko, Matto Wilky, Kolohe, Ace Buchan and John John completed the line-up in Round 4, two heats of which have already run, Filipe winning the first (with a 10 and a 9.2), Wilko the second.
Is this year’s world champion to be found among the remaining twelve competitors? Head says no, head says Medina, but head is wrong. The laws of history are inflexible. They made an allowance for Occy because it was Occy, because it was his destiny, but they will not bend again.
Seabass and Stu Kennedy are injury wildcards and hardly world title material in any case, and it won’t be any of the rookies because don’t be ridiculous. It won’t be Ace and it’s highly unlikely to be Parko for a second time. Wilko has Glen Hall in his corner and Kolohe has Mike Parsons in his but neither of these is Claudio Ranieri, I feel.
That leaves Adriano, Filipe and John John. Gather up your lifetime earnings and wager a third on each.