Most days in September, Lower Trestles just might be the most generous wave on the planetand not because of its consistency, or its split peak. The majority of Lowers' allure is due to the fact that it allows the best surfers in the world to do most anything they want on its walls, and it allows everyday surfers to imagine that they can too. So, if there's a thread running anywhere through the past week of both heat and free-surfing during the Hurley Pro window, it's been Lowers' rhythm and moodsand they were weird ones.
The unlikely mix of northwest and southwest swells that opened the event last Sunday threatened to wane through mid-week, and seeing a pulse of south swell looming for today, a classic argument erupted. Contest promoters love a Saturday finish, and according to Hurley's Saxon Boucher, this weighed heavily on contest director Pat O'Connellas well as those arguing the merits of holding off for classic south swell conditions. But as every average surfer knows, it's silly to walk away from rippable/contestable Lowers' walls. And as it turned out, Wednesday emerged to be one of the better days of the week. Locals heckled the promoters who sank an estimated 2 million into the event. "I used to yell at people like myself when I was on tour," said point man, and Dream Tour vet, Pat O'Connell, before suggesting that the stress involved has warded him off of filling those shoes again.
Yet the roots of this story may exist in those lay-day sessions that still provided waves for locals and frothing pros. According to witnesses, Mick Fanning was the fastest, most focused Top 45 athlete paddling out to Trestles on his off days. As one commentator said, "while Kelly [Slater] was golfing, Mick was surfing." Then again, many said that Brazil's Heitor Alves (probably the most under-rated surfer on tour) had been ripping equally hard during the same sessions. And despite the fact that number one rated Joel Parkinson had lost early, and stars like Jordy Smith were ejected, the lineup-up come Saturday was still stacked with 9-time world champ Kelly Slater, #2 C.J. Hobgood and #3 Adriano de Souzanot too mention a freak on a 5'7", Dane Reynolds. The event opened Saturday morning looking both hopeful and bleak. Some heats went wave-starved while other saw flurries representing a couple of swells in the water. All-in-all, however, judges awarded rather low scoreswhich made the potential for upsets and rallies pretty high. Dane showed traces of brilliance early in his Round 4 heat when he matched event-favorite Rob Machado's smooth hacks and raised with a couple of wave-finishing air reverses. He's often presented relaxed dominance in early rounds, but when Dane met Taylor Knox in the Quarters and leaned into an amazing on-rail forehand carve reminiscent of Knox himself, for the first time in his Dream Tour career, spectators knew Dane was looking to go all the way.
On Tuesday, one on-looker suggested that Slater still thinks he's in title contention, and from the looks of his easy march through heats (and why not, Slater's surfed in the previous five finals at Lowers and won three of them), he does. Heitor Alves, who'd easily taken down Damian Hobgood in Round 4, pretty much fell apart in Slater's presence. But in the Semis, Slater met a Fanning who'd been rising in the draw like a silent assassin, and Fanning played Slater's own game on Slater. He opened with a pair of searing rides and kept the champ in "combo-land" for most of the heat. And unfortunately for the wizard, this heat was one of the wave-starved variety. Trestles decides again.
Former event winner Bede Durbidge met Dane in the Semis and surfed like a true champion, including back- to-back airs on one wave. But Dane presided over one of the event's rare high nines and a 7.10. Bede was probably underscored on a couple of his super succinct rides, but unlike Bede, the conditions were topsy-turvyso was the judging. And yet Dane surfed with a vitality and couldn't be ignored. This put Mick and Dane into the Finala tough one, and as Rob Machado said, at this height in the draw, they should be tough. Mick opened almost as soon as the heat did, and for the many fans of Californian's great hope, it was scary. Dane didn't catch his first wave until more than half-way into the Final, and at that point, he needed a nine-something to get back into the game. Dane already posted the most nines of the day, so fans were hopeful, but then he made mistakes, let waves go, and the "White Lightening," "Eugene," "The Albino Spider Monkey," and "Miktor," went to town with fast, efficient, and progressive maneuvers keeping the Californian in combo-land.
For this, Fanning dragged down the biggest first-place prize in surfing history ($105,000). Earlier he said that it was probably a good thing that he didn't win the $100,000 Hurley offered for first place at the U.S. Open in Huntington, as he was headed to Vegas after, and with that kind of money to wager, he might have "killed myself." So let's all hope Fanning survives this buck-O-five and gives his mate Parko (Fanning is now sitting at #2 in the ratings) a good championship run.