In 2007 the Men's World Tour was made up of the Top 45 surfers and the contest format was run with 48 spots. The main sponsor, in this case Quiksilver, got to pick two wildcards and a third was selected via the trails. Julian Wilson and Jake Patterson were the two guys Quiksilver picked as their wild cards. 18 year old Julian had been on surf trips with Kelly who had been instrumental in having Quiksilver, his long time sponsor, choose Julian as a contest wildcard but as the seeding often goes, Kelly and Julian were matched up against each other in a Round One heat.
Kelly was defending Event Champion and had just received his 2006 World Champion Trophy at a big Gala Awards Ceremony a few days before where the Media were all over him but in their heat, so was Julian. He was four years off making the elite CT tour but that didn't stop him completely dominating his first ever heat in the big league. The heat win sent Julian straight to Round Three and Kelly into the repechage Round Two. Because of the seeding, with Julian the lowest and Kelly the highest they came up against each other in Round Three and this time the tables were turned. Kelly really put the foot down with a score of 19.83 points out of 20 knocking Julian out of the event. Kelly went on to the semis before being eliminated by Bede Durbidge.
Mid way through the 2004 CT season Mick suffered a potentially career ending injury. He was on a Rip Curl sponsored surf trip through the Mentawais when he suffered a complete hamstring tear which required major surgery and more than six months with intense rehab. He was back in the water in time for the 2005 season but it wasn't until 2006, around the Globe Fiji Pro and then Billabong Pro J-Bay, which he won, that you noticed a change in Mick. As a competitor everything seemed to be clicking into place and then through the back half of the year's next five events his lowest result was 9th. He was completely back from injury and with full fitness his attitude to surfing had changed and in Mick's words "…I wanted to be a world champion … [and] became obsessed with the goal."
The Quiksilver Pro at Snapper had Mick with a hometown advantage along with good friends Dean Morrison and Parko. They all had the placed wired and could find the right waves that would barrel from behind the Snapper Rocks or pick the smaller ‘growers' that ran down the sand bank and produced long winding walls into Rainbow Bay. Watching Mick come out of the water after defeating good friend and future business partner Bede Durbidge in the final, I would consider this as one of his sweetest victories and it set up for his first World Title.
I've seen it happen before. A surfing world title is not just one year in the making, it takes a lot longer and in Mick's case, 2007 was his first World Title win. From mid 2006 Mick surfed in 16 CT events and made the quarters or better in 13 of those events. It was 18 months of total dedication to get his hands on that coveted Trophy and winning the Quiksilver Pro, first event of the year on home turf in front of family and friends played a huge part in his campaign.
There's always excitement around the new batch of Rookies entering the top level of the sport. With the Quiksilver Pro being the first CT Event of the year the Media get onboard to hype the expectations. 2007 saw names like Jeremy Flores, Josh Kerr, Gabe Kling and Stephanie Gilmore hitting the Tour for the first time.
Steph and Josh were locals so there was a lot of hype about them, especially Steph who had won the Women's Roxy Pro as a 16 year old school girl. Josh wasn't left out though. Growing up in Coolangatta he'd taken a different route to get to the CT level by successfully following the Airshow circuit for a few years including an Airshow World Title before qualifying for the CT Tour through the QS Events. There was a lot of talk and media interest about him bringing his air game to the World Tour and I can remember him pulling airs in onshore junk at D-Bah in the weeks leading up to the Quiksilver Pro that I couldn't name and didn't shoot because they looked like fly aways or un-makable.
The rivalry between the Tour guys and the Rookies produced a bit of trash talk around the area. Josh was talking his chances up in the media about bringing a change to the Tour and guys like Mick Fanning were not happy about it. The pair met in the quarter finals and the battle was incredibly tight with Josh pulling out a new move on his last ride to try and secure the win. Stunned spectators watched him come off the bottom late before grabbing his rail and rotating the board under the breaking lip. The board went nose first into the face of the wave and he disappeared into the white water only to emerge a second or so later riding out of the white water. Kerr gave it the name of a ‘Club Sandwich'. Maybe it confused the judges along with a lot of other people who watched it and were trying to figure out how he'd just pulled it off but it wasn't enough to get the score to beat Mick.
Night of Nights
Kelly Slater and Layne Beachley were presented with their 2006 World Title Trophies at the Foster's ASP World Champion's Crowning at Conrad Jupiters Casino held just prior to the running of the first event of the 2007 season at Snapper. Between them they held 15 World Titles, Layne with seven and Kelly with eight. Even though Kelly had one more than Layne she reminded everyone that she had won six in a row, something no other surfer, male or female had ever done and a record that still stands today. The World Champion's crowning acknowledged a bevy of accomplishments by surfers of all disciplines during 2006. The night was made even more special when the four former World Champions, Mark Richards with four, Wayne Rabbit Bartholomew, Shaun Tomson and Peter PT Townsend from the I.P.S. (International Professional Surfers) era run by Hawaiian's Fred Hemmings and Randy Rarick were retrospectively presented with World Title Trophies won during the 1970's.
Free Surf before the event
I don't think there is many events around the world where the surfers turn up so early to practise and hang out. Maybe the Triple Crown in Hawaii has surfers sticking around for about six weeks but there are 3 contests run during that time. On the Gold Coast for the first event of the year, surfers can start filtering in weeks in advance just to get themselves used to the Superbank, the crowds and the conditions. Some use the Gold Coast as a base and do a QS or two in other parts of the country and others just hang and surf.
The funny thing is as the contest time approaches it gets harder and harder to get a car park space around Snapper. It's just at the end of Summer in Australia and as the Summer holidays come to a close, the backpackers in their vans start to move into the area, taking up car parks and spots in the surf. Surf fans start arriving in town too, heading to the beach to watch their heroes train or join them in the surf clogging up the line up even more. As the contest draws closer the free surf sessions can be intense and especially if the surf is firing.
Wildcard spots into a CT event are the stuff of dreams for many contest surfers. The QS can be a real grind and any chance to surf against the best in the world is taken very seriously. A number of events at the time had trials to pick a wildcard, some were run weeks and months ahead of the Event while the Quiksilver Pro's have run them on the day before the start of the main event. In 2007 there was a 16 man trials and only the winner would go through. How's this for some serious contenders which included the reigning World Junior Champion Jordy Smith, former CT competitor Kirk Flintoff, Hawaiian Clay Marzo, Frenchman Joan Duru and Tahitian Michel Bourez. Some heavy weight contenders in there but it was local indigenous surfer Dale Richards who grabbed the spot.
"I'm frothing so hard to be in the main event right now, I don't even care who I draw." He said at the time. He came up against Andy Irons in Round One and Kelly Slater in Round two with Kelly coming off a loss against Julian Wilson in Round one and in no mood for another loss to a wildcard. Dale finished with a 33rd place but got the chance to surf against two of the world's best.
Fosters Showdown - Teams Event
For the previous few years, Fosters as the Tour's naming Sponsor had been running an Expression Session at each Tour stop where surfers could enter, go out and get crazy. Lots of airs, barrels were available and huge turns and hacks. In some events like Fiji and Tahiti where it was impractical to run expression session heats they'd award things like ‘best tube' or ‘best ride'. In 2007 they tried a new format called The Foster's Surf Showdown, a team event putting countries against each and throwing in a Rookie team for good measure. It was billed as "…excellent forum to showcase the already friendly yet passionate rivalries between the different nations on tour." Teams included Australia, America, Hawaii, Brazil, South Africa and the Foster's Rookies. Each team had a captain with Tom Whitaker (AUS), Taylor Knox (USA), Pancho Sullivan (HAW), Victor Ribas (BRA), Greg Emslie (ZAF) and Josh Kerr leading - Foster's Rookies. It came down to a Final between the Aussie's team of Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson being beaten by the Rookies team led by Kerr and Jeremy Flores. Eventually these expression sessions were replaced by the addition of the Round Five no losers round in the CT contest format.
It's not easy to get fresh angles to photograph Snapper. From the beach you have to work with the sun and try to eliminate the glare. You can start shooting up near the rocks early in the morning but as the sun moves to the West it gets too back lit and you have to move down towards Rainbow Bay. During the contests the water and jet ski angles are reserved for the contest staff and with big crowds packing the beach, shooting angles on the sand and the Little Marley rocks become hard to come by especially when you are moving a lot because of the lighting.
One morning I was chatting to Rod Brooks, the Quiksilver Contest Director about a webcast angle they had been showing on the beach big screen and he told me they were shooting it from the balcony of his apartment in a high rise overlooking Snapper. He casually told me to let him know if I wanted to get up there and he would set it up.
For the next couple of days the weather and the swell wasn't worth cashing in the offer but when the swell and weather lined up I asked him about heading to his top floor balcony which he happily sorted. I spent most of the day shooting from Rod's balcony with a clean 3' plus swell rolling down the bank. That day is over 17 years ago and I'm happy to say, the line up shots are still being published today.