The groundswell of competition is mounting for this year’s Drug Aware Pro Margaret River presented by O’Neill, with a red-hot field of 250 professional male and female surfers from 19 nations confirmed for the event, to be held from March 26 to April 1 at Surfers Point, Margaret River.

The tournament, which is now officially the biggest WQS (World Qualifying Series) event in the world, is the only male and female six-star, prime-rated event on the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals) international calendar.

Weather and surf conditions permitting, more than 15,000 surf fans are expected to descend on Surfers Point across the week, and the event will later be televised to almost a billion people in 48 different countries. Around 600,000 repeat viewers are expected to watch it live on the internet via a webcast in real-time, featuring interactive commentary with viewers around the world.

Among the competitors vying for prime rating points and prize money totalling AUD$197,000 (US$155,000) will be many of the world’s top-ranked surfers from the Foster’s ASP World Tour. Nations represented include Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, mainland USA, Brazil, South Africa, France, Spain, Germany, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Peru, Great Britain, Japan and Mexico.

According to Event Director Tim Thirsk, the contest had drawn one of the highest-calibre fields of competitors ever. “As well as some of the biggest names in the business, like Mark Occhilupo, Jake Paterson, Mick Campbell, the Hobgood brothers and women like Mel Redman-Carr and former World Champ Sofia Mulanovich, spectators will get to see exciting young talents like Jordy Smith, who is the current World Junior Champion and who many regard as the next Andy Irons," Mr Thirsk said.

He said disappointing news came this week when local favourite Taj Burrow did not register for the event for the second consecutive year, attributed once again to sponsor commitments. “We are very disappointed that Taj is not available to surf again this year, but his withdrawal has given the remainder of the field an immediate edge. It really paves the way for the remaining World Tour surfers and the hungry WQS campaigners to get their hands on the title."

Women’s Field

In the Women’s contest, the majority of the Top 17 surfers from the ASP Women’s World Tour will be among an impressive field of 60 females.

Talents such as Western Australia’s own Melanie Redman-Carr (ranked 2nd in the world) and Claire Bevilacqua (7th) will take on former World Champion, Sofia Mulanovich from Peru (5th) and fellow Australians Jessi Miley-Dyer (4th), Rebecca Woods (6th), Samantha Cornish (12th), Serena Brooke (16th) and 19-year-old Stephanie Gilmore (currently ranked number 1 in the WQS).

Wildcard entrants for the Women’s title include Victoria’s Amy Stewart (20, from Torquay), plus West Australian’s Jaala Baldock (17, of Kallaroo) and Felicity Palmateer (14, of Hillarys). Palmateer is the two-time reigning State Champion in the Girls 16 & Under and 14 & Under divisions. Her debut at the Drug Aware Pro Margaret River will make her the youngest-ever competitor in the event’s 23-year history.

Men’s Field

The Men’s contest of 192 surfers includes around half of the Top 48 from the Foster’s ASP World Tour. Among them will be local favourite and last year’s finalist, Jake Paterson who recently retired from the Tour.

A capacity crowd is expected to turn out to witness defending champion, the legendary Mark Occhilupo (26th) take to the surf. Incredibly, at age 40, Occy continues to impress. He completed a fairytale finish at last year’s Margaret River Pro, beating Paterson in what was a nail-biting and somewhat controversial final to claim his second victory at Margaret River after winning the inaugural contest 22 years ago (in 1985).

Having begun his professional campaign as a 15-year-old way back in 1983, he boasts one of the most impressive careers in ASP history, including an incredible comeback in the late ‘90s to claim a world title at the age of 33. Occy will return to Margaret River to defend his title, this time with his wife and kids travelling with him as support crew.

Other big names contesting the Men’s title are the USA’s Damien Hobgood (7th) and his brother CJ (16th), Australia’s Mick Campbell (Port Macquarie, NSW), Tom Whitaker (8th from Sydney, NSW), and O’Neill surfers from the USA, Cory Lopez (12th) and Roy Powers (34th), plus Jarrad Howse (40th) from Manly, NSW.

Also returning is crowd favourite, Brazil’s Neco Padaratz (who finished 7th on the 2006 WQS). Padaratz, who took out the tournament in 2004, used last year’s Margaret River event to relaunch his assault on the World Tour following his controversial, forced withdrawal in 2005. Incredibly, he rose from the bottom of the WQS ratings to requalify for the Tour in 2007 – in similar fashion to Mick Campbell, who is currently ranked equal 5th on the World Tour for 2007.

Australian Wildcard entrants in the Men’s contest include current ASP World Junior Champion, 18-year-old Jordy Smith from South Africa (ranked 26th on the WQS), plus Dion Atkinson (Seaford, VIC), Wade Goodall (Moffats Beach, Sunshine Coast, QLD), Tom Rudd (Avalon, NSW) and Michael Spencer (Lake Munmorah, NSW).

Spectator Information

The action kicks off at Surfers Point from 7.30am daily. Entry is free from Monday to Thursday (March 26 to 19) and from Friday to Sunday (March 30 to April 1) is only $8 per person or $15 for families (two adults, two children under 12). Children six and under are admitted free. Ticket includes free bus transfers to and from Surfers Point. Parking is free.

For further information on the 2007 Drug Aware Pro Margaret River presented by O’Neill, and to watch the event live online, go to www.drugawarepro.com. For travel, accommodation and visitor information, contact the Margaret River Visitor Centre on (08) 9757 2911, email welcome@margaretriver.com or visit www.margaretriver.com.

The 2007 Drug Aware Pro Margaret River marks the 23rd year of international surfing competition at Margaret River. During its history, competitors have endured every type of surf condition the powerful Indian Ocean can serve up. From perfect Hawaiian-style big waves to frighteningly out-of-control onshore surf, competitors have consistently risen to the challenge, paddling out to conquer Margaret’s legendary, giant swell head-on.

The iconic annual event showcases the unique virtues of the State’s beautiful South West, including Margaret River’s stunning beaches, breathtaking natural settings and premium Western Australian food and wine.

Live webcast @ www.drugawarepro.com