On the WSL Championship Tour, Round Three is sometimes called moving day -- an analogy to day three at a major golf tournament, when players with real intentions of winning charge up the Leaderboard. It was a point emphasized and reiterated by beach commentator and former World Champion Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew throughout the morning on Day 8 at the Hurley Pro Trestles, foreshadowing events that would transpire later.
Prior to the event start, the vibe in the morning warm-up session was intense, everyone seemed stressed -- pros looking to warm up, locals looking to find a wave, coaches and team managers looking for a place to park. A frothing pack pushing triple digits bobbed in the flat light of gray gloom. During the surf Jordy Smith was nearly speared by an angry Lowers combatant. Mick Fanning emerged from the water looking baffled, shaking his head in disbelief.
Later, the percolating stress level was saliently explained to an observer by Hurley marketing boss and ex-CT surfer Pat O'Connell (while tightly gripping his ever-present cup of double espresso), who said that surfers have a lot on the line at this point in the season. Those with Title aspirations need a great result, and those worried about requalifying need a good result. A dilemma exists where those two worlds collide.
For fans, Round Three is especially satisfying, as it features 12 straight heats of man-on-man surfing uninterrupted by non-elimination heats or event stoppage. It didn't take long for the lead story of the morning to emerge, when No. 32 Jadson Andre put fellow countryman and World Title-chaser Gabriel Medina to the sword in Heat 3. Jaddy, who eliminated Kolohe Andino in Round Two, rolls on, and by virtue of his win over Medina has already guaranteed his best result of the season no matter what happens in Round Five. It was a tough heat for Medina, who fell more times in a single heat than anyone can remember.
By mid-morning, as predicted by Rabbit Bartholomew, the top two seeds made their intentions known. Smith, riding his beloved Channel Islands Bunny Chow model, dropped a pair of pocket 9.47s against wildcard Evan Geiselman. "I came here straight after Tahiti and I've just been really enjoying it a lot, and testing my equipment a lot as well," Smith said. "Before Tahiti it was pretty go, go, go for me, obviously South Africa was really intense with all the 10s and sharks, and everything. When I got back here I just took a moment to regroup, recover, and then get fired back up for the back end of this year."
World No. 2 John John Florence then sent the knowledgeable Lowers crowd into a tizzy with the highest-scoring wave of the day -- a manic-speed floater-to-air combo capped with a tippy-toed frontside 540. "I always try to go into a heat thinking of freesurfing with a little bit of strategy thrown in, that's when I'm having the most fun is when I'm freesurfing and lately I've been really enjoying heats," Florence said. The reigning World Champion's 19.07 total heat score was the highest of the day, fractions better than that of Smith.
But it was not a day without some controversy. As professional athletes are prone to do, it didn't take long for a new priority rule implemented following the Billabong Pro Tahiti to get tested. With the glassy afternoon peaks at Lowers twinkling like the Milky Way, Mick Fanning and Kanoa Igarashi began their Round Three, Heat 9 clash by pushing the limits of the new rules interpretation. With the subtle nuances of the rule still floating between the ears of organizers, judges and the commissioners' office, here's an explanation from Commissioner Kieren Perrow:
"Unfortunately at the start of that heat with Mick and Kanoa, there was a situation where the blocking rule -- that has come into effect at this event -- was used and priority was under review at the time and there hadn't been a decision to switch it, which was the decision of the panel, the head judge, and priority judge. Time passed and Kanoa took off on a wave in that period of time, and that wave proved to be an incredible wave and a great score. That heat played out entirely differently to how it would've otherwise and, following a review at the end of the heat, we're going to re-surf it.
"We've talked with the athletes quite a lot about bringing this in. Everyone felt that it was really fair and the right thing to be putting in place. It just allows for a fairer way to the start of a heat to play out for our surfers who are looking for waves, or paddling into waves early, are unable to block someone from their outside from taking off on that wave. That's the simple kind of essence of it. It just allows for more surfing to happen right at the beginning of the heat."
Fanning and Igarashi will open Day 9 with a re-surf of their Round Three heat, then Round Four will hit the water. Surfline is forecasting another bump up in swell size for Thursday, with light winds predicted. Be sure to watch all the action at the Hurley Pro Trestles and Swatch Pro beginning at 7:30 a.m. (PDT).
Hurley Pro Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.77 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.03
Heat 2: Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 16.76 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 7.04
Heat 3: Jadson Andre (BRA) 15.76 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.80
Heat 4: Frederico Morais (PRT) 16.76 def. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 15.50
Heat 5: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.50 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 10.93
Heat 6: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 18.84 def. Evan Geiselman (USA) 14.83
Heat 7: John John Florence (HAW) 19.07 def. Hiroto Ohhara (JPN) 13.33
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.47 def. Conner Coffin (USA) 15.60
Heat 9: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS) UPCOMING
Heat 10: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 16.93 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 11.86
Heat 11: Bede Durbidge (AUS) 18.43 def. Joan Duru (FRA) 14.50
Heat 12: Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.44 def. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 12.87
Hurley Pro Remaining Round 3 (H9) Match-Up:
Heat 9: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS) UPCOMING
Hurley Pro Round 4 (H1-2) Results:
Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 16.80, Jadson Andre (BRA) 16.07, Sebastian Zeitz (HAW) 11.37
Heat 2: Frederico Morais (PRT) 17.17, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.30, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 16.10
Hurley Pro Round 4 (H3-4) Match-Ups:
Heat 3: John John Florence (HAW), Jeremy Flores (FRA), TBD
Heat 4: Filipe Toledo (BRA), Bede Durbidge (AUS), Julian Wilson (AUS)