It was two Floridians, Caroline Marks and Kelly Slater, who were the day's standout performers at the Margaret River Pro. Slater, from Cocoa Beach, put in his most impressive performance of his season posting a heat score of 16.50 to dominate his Elimination Round heat.
Caroline Marks, who learned to surf just 17 miles (and 30 years) down the A1A from Slater at Melbourne Beach, earned the highest two-wave total of the entire event so far. Her excellent 17.60 score propelled her to the Quarterfinals and marked her as a potential event favorite.
Now the comparison between the Florida and Margaret River coastlines couldn't be more stark. In Florida, inconsistent, warm-water, wind swells roll up against white sandy beaches lined by condos and golf courses. In Western Australia, powerful, long-period swells smash into jagged limestone reefs guarded by ancient Eucalyptus forests. However it was Marks and Slater who best outmuscled Main Break's four-to-six foot, wind-ruffled sets.
"Having a jersey on just gives me so much confidence. I'm having the time of my life," said Marks. "I gave that heat my all, but I still have more left in the tank. Hopefully the waves stay this good." Such was Marks' dominance that she had wave scores of 8.33 and 7.17 that didn't even count in her two-wave tally.
Marks handed over the Jeep Leader jersey to Steph Gilmore for this event after claiming it for both Bells and Keramas, but showed today why she remains a serious World Title contender. Her trademark this year has been a savage backhand attack in the lip and she again utilized a series of powerful two-punch combinations to outclass Paige Hareb in the Round of 16.
"I've been paddling out every day no matter what the conditions," Marks continued. "I'm still figuring this place out during my heats, but my strategy has been working so hopefully it continues."
Kelly Slater on the other hand, with three decades of experience in West Oz, has the line-up dialed. His challenges are deeply personal as the 47-year-old GOAT digs deep to find different ways to stay motivated.
"I just wanted to have fun -- I just don't think I can do this anymore if I'm not having fun," Slater said after defeating Caio Ibelli and eliminating Adrian Buchan despite the Aussie having his own excellent ride -- an 8.13. "So I really need to set myself before I surf and go out there for the enjoyment of it."
Slater's approach is clearly working. In a slow start to the season, he had been grinding out victories rather than dominating opponents. Even on the way to a Semifinal finish at the Coronal Bali Protected he failed to post any waves in the excellent range. That changed today with Kelly's two 8-point waves signaling he is starting to find the gears that earned his incredible success.
"I've got a board that I feel I can really push through my turns in these waves and let me put all my power into it," Slater remarked. "When I started on the CT I didn't think I'd be competing with guys who are my age now, but I feel like when I go into overdrive I can beat anyone."
Notable and Quotable From Day 2 of the Margaret River Pro:
-Former event winners Sally Fitzgibbons and Courtney Conlogue advanced to Quarterfinals. "It's awesome to walk up those stairs with all of the names of the past winners," said Fitzgibbons. "It's very humbling to see my name there amongst all of those legends of the sport. To come back here reminds me a lot of home on the South Coast of NSW, so it's very homely and a lot of warm energy which is great. I've got a good team here with the Micro crew and Surfing Australia and I'm surrounded by a lot of love on the road which is great."
-It was a case of better late than never for local Wildcard Jack Robinson whose late call up meant he missed his Seeding Round heat. "I had a really long transit of 34 hours to get back here and surf in this event, but that doesn't worry me one bit," Robinson said after winning the Elimination Round heat. "I just had to get out there and get the best waves and enjoy competing on the home court and have some fun -- it's always good to be home. I'm looking forward to tomorrow as it looks good for The Box. I'm going super hard on the QS this year so to get this opportunity to surf against everyone here is great." The 21-year-old defeated Jack Freestone and Wade Carmichael, the latter's elimination being one of the biggest upsets of the day.