With the potential for huge surf, slabbing reefs as backups and three decades of history, the men's and women's Margaret River Pro events rightfully hold a special place in surfing lore. Before the contests kick off April 11 local time, here are some of the ingredients that combine there to make the magic.
There's old, there's ancient and, well, there's Western Australia. The oldest material of terrestrial origins ever discovered were found here. The small crystals of Zircon discovered near Shark Bay have been dated a whopping 4.4 billions years old, which means they have been around for 98 percent of the time that planet Earth has existed.
The ground closer to Margaret River is more grom-like; the limestone cliffs and granite headlands which provide the backdrop for the Margaret River Pro are between a measly 1,500 to 600 million years old. However its rich history has made the area a biodiversity hot spot which houses over 7,500 plant species, half of which are found no where else in the world. When you add the more recent interlopers; the surfers, the artists, the wine makers and the chefs, it's no surprise that the region attracts more than two million visitors a year.
The Deep South
It was in the late 1950s and early 1960s that a slow trickle of surfers first made the trip south from Perth's mediocre beachbreaks. Those intrepid adventurers first explored the endless number of breaks in and around Yallingup, before setting their sights further south to the once sleepy dairy and timber town of Margaret River. Word soon spread of the incredible potential and when the 1973 Australian Titles ran here, which featured the best surfers in the world like Michael Peterson, the word was out. It wasn't until 1985, however, that the first professional surfing competition, the Swan Margaret River Thriller, took place. In the 33 years since, Margaret River has been in the pro surfing calendar in various capacities and returned as a CT event in 2013. Despite many name and ranking changes, the event has always attracted an international, world-class field and remained one of the most favored stops by all the surfers on tour.
One of the unique elements of the Margaret River Pro is that it offers the potential for truly monstrous sized waves. Of all the locations on the WSL Championship Tour (CT) and Qualifying Series (QS), this is the only event that can match Hawaii for the size and power of the waves. This was first illustrated in 1990 when conditions reached the mythical 20 feet on the Hawaiian scale, which equated to waves faces of 40-feet high. Some of the wipeouts that year, in particular by Nick Wood and Pauline Menczer, have been etched into legend, such was their dramatic severity. While those conditions -- still recognized as the biggest contest surf in Australian surfing history -- haven't been replicated, it has been a regular occurrence that surfers are confronted with waves that require a unique mix of bravery, big boards, and top physical fitness. It is no wonder then that some of Margaret River's most successful competitive surfers, like Tom Carroll, Mark Occhilupo, Luke Egan, John Florence, Wendy Botha and Courtney Conlogue, are known as the some of the best power surfers of their generations.
When Progression Beats Power
While the Margaret River Main Break can provide waves of unique size and heft, it doesn't mean that it is a place where progression doesn't pay. In the last few years, especially when the surfers go right on the A-framed peak, the break has provided an opportunity to see where surfing is headed. In 2014, for example, Josh Kerr took out Taj Burrow in the last five minutes of the Final by unleashing three difficult aerial moves on a single wave to scoring a perfect 10, then followed with more aerials to take the win. Last year, too, Florence deployed such an incredible level of high-performance surfing, that many labeled his event performance (which won him the contest) a game-changer.
The rather isolated Western Australians, known as sandgropers in the unique Australian parlance (and, no, we don't know why either), have always had a unique hankering for a hometown hero. Dave Macaulay, Taj Burrow and Jake Paterson are the only locals to have their names engraved as winners on the stairs that lead down to the wave. Local surfer Jodie Cooper also won the event (in 1992), but it was Melanie Redman-Carr who brought the biggest cheers to the gathered, parochial surf fans at the event. The diminutive but powerful, regularfooter won the contest four times between 2000 and 2009, the most by any surfer in the history of the event. This year all eyes will be on Bronte Macaulay, as the Gracetown native attempts to do what her dad did in 1997 and do the sandgropers proud.
The Best Backups in The Business
The reason the Margaret River region is one of the most beloved stops on the CT is mainly because of the sheer number of world-class waves located within such a small area. In the last few years the organizers have made the most of these riches by adding backup venues to the Margaret River Main Break. The Box, an infamous and intense slab located 500 yards across the channel of the main site, was added in 2014 and has injected high drama, gut-wrenching wipeouts and perfect scores to the equation. If that wasn't enough, North Point, one of the world's most challenging barrels, was also included for the first time last year. Straight off the bat at the 2017 event, Round 1 ran there and in one of the last heats of the day, Sebastian Zietz scored what would end up as one of the best waves of the year. That ride drew a series of highest-pitched roars of delight from WSL commentator Peter Mel and perfect 10s from the judges. To have one incredible backup venue might be considered a luxury, having two is almost obscene. It adds even more depth and potential to an event that, since 1985, has always brimmed with both.
Watch the Margaret River Pro live daily on the WSL and Facebook from April 11 -22, local time.