The Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast, Stop No. 1 of 11 on the Samsung Galaxy Championship Tour (CT), kicked off with building 3-to-4-foot faces and big scores at Snapper Rocks.
Drama unfolded in Heat 3 when goofyfooter Freddy Patacchia Jr. (HAW) took on two World Champions, Kelly Slater (USA) and C.J. Hobgood (USA). Slater, an 11-time World Champion, completed an impressive carving-360, but Patacchia answered with a flawless backhand attack for two scores in the excellent range (8.00 or above).
"I'm just happy that it's a new year," Patacchia â€‹said. "We get to start all over again from zero and show the judges and the fans what we've been working on in the offseason. I was able to pick off some pretty good waves out there and show what I've got. It felt great and I feel strong physically and mentally. It's only Round 1, but it's a good start."
Another standout surfer was John John Florence (HAW) who scored the season's first nine-pointer (a 9.07) for a roundhouse cutback and rail-to-rail surfing down the line in Heat 4.
"I feel good and like the momentum is still going from last year," said Florence, who is starting the season ranked No. 3 in the world. "I learned a lot last year. It was so inspiring to watch Gabriel [Medina] win. I think it really pushed all us younger guys."
Along with the veterans on the Top 34, Tour rookies showed up in full effect. Matt Banting (AUS), who competed at the Gold Coast last year as a wildcard, owned the upset of the day. Up against three-time World Champ Mick Fanning (AUS), Banting unleashed powerful hacks to earn three excellent scores. Fanning returned to form to claim a 9.73 on his final wave but the rookie had already comboed the field.
"Coming in as one of the higher seeds in the QS (Qualifying Series) I didn't think I'd have to face Mick straight away," Banting â€‹said. "Having him and Freestone out here meant it was definitely a tough heat. It was so good to get a win so early in the year because I was so nervous going into it. I'm stoked to be here, in for the long run, and hopefully I'll get a few results this year and be back next year."
Wiggolly Dantas (BRA), another rookie, went blow-for-blow with reigning World Champion Gabriel Medina (BRA) in Heat 6. Dantas held the lead with two scores in the eight-point range, but Medina found a long, glassy wave that let him show off his technical prowess. He earned a 9.50 to win the heat.
Dusty Payne (HAW), who is back on Tour after big results at the 2014 Vans Triple Crown, proved to be yet another threat in the mix. After remaining relatively quiet for much of the heat, he completed a full rotation and multiple fins-free hacks down the line for a 9.67.
"I've been watching all morning and the guys making it through the heats are on the bigger waves, so that's what I tried to do," Payne â€‹said in his post-heat interview. "I want to be on this Tour for a long time. Hopefully I'll be here as long as Kelly's been here. He's a huge inspiration for me and I want to have a long and successful career like him."