Never underestimate the power of local knowledge. Today, in difficult onshore conditions at Lowers, experience paid off for the San Clemente crew.
That crew consists of several of the world's best. Filipe Toledo and Jordy Smith are the latest to put down roots in California's famous surf hub. Kelly Slater, Italo Ferreira, Caio Ibelli and Wiggolly Dantas are currently San Clemente squatters. They're all familiar faces at Lowers, along with homegrown talents like Kolohe Andino and wildcard Tanner Gudauskas.
To that end, the local contingent made quite a racket in Round One of the Hurley Pro. Former event winner Jordy Smith got the party started in Heat 1. South Africa's gentle giant wasn't so friendly to the walls of Lower Trestles. He looked loose, lively, smooth and powerful as he smashed his way across the lineup. Smith bagged a 9.0 early in the heat, and secured an easy win against Nat Young and Keanu Asing. Sitting at World No. 5, he looks poised for an upward push, especially if he can keep the pace he's been showing in warmup sessions this week.
A few heats later wildcard Tanner Gudauskas, who won the very competitive local trials back in early August, showed why he was worthy of the honor. Surfing against World No. 2 Matt Wilkinson and rookie Conner Coffin, he unloaded on his backhand. He picked off one of the biggest set waves of the day and surfed the bumpy face to perfection with an electric backhand attack. The hometown crowd shook the cobblestones with cheers for the local boy, especially when the beach commentators announced he earned a perfect 10. Gudauskas went on to win, and sent a huge warning shot to the rest of the Top 34.
Coming off his win in Tahiti, Kelly Slater got even more attention than usual, but he had his hands full with Filipe Toledo. The two traded blows with each set, providing fans a great chance to examine their contrasting styles.
Of course, Kelly's board choice is always a topic of discussion. Today, he rode his 5'10 x 18 3/8 x 2 5/16 "Gamma," the same exact board he just won on at Teahupo'o. Slater looked sharp, but not sharp enough to get past Filipe Toledo's high speed carves and aerial antics.
John John Florence made his debut wearing the Jeep Leader yellow jersey in his heat. Any doubts about the health of his knee were put to rest early. His match against wildcard Brett Simpson and rookie Davey Cathels was plagued with bumpy surf and long lulls, but as Peter Mel noted, Florence took the heat "turning 4s into 7.5s."
Gabriel Medina earned one of the more impressive wins of the day. It was impressive because he won despite being penalized for making a non-priority interference against Alex Ribeiro. The penalty halved his second best score, a 7.33, into a 3.67. Luckily, Medina backed up his interference with an 8.00; just enough to avoid the dreaded Round Two.
And then there was Parko. Joel Parkinson is not a Lowers local, but nobody looked better today. Joel put together his best heat of the year against fellow Australian, Mick Fanning, and Brazilian fly boy Jason Andre. Mick and Parko are notorious for their tight battles in heats together, especially in perfect conditions. But today it was all Parko. He posted the highest heat total of the day (18.67) with an awesome display of pure power carving. By the end of the heat, Joel had both Fanning and Andre comboed.
Parko has been pretty quiet in 2016. A few early round exits have proved costly, and he's currently sitting outside the Top 10 as a result. The lack of Parko chatter made him a good sleeper pick for Fantasy Surf players. While 83% of fantasy players picked Mick in Tier B, only 19% went with Parko.
Parko's 18.67 heat total was easily the best of the day, and set a nice bar for guys like Mick Fanning and Kelly Slater to reach for in Round Two.
With a solid forecast set for Friday, odds are extremely high competition will resume bright and early.