"I don't miss it," smiled Taylor Knox, referring to his first year away from the ASP World Tour in over 20 years.
Warming up out at Sultan's Point for Round 2 of the Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy, it was obvious that Knox was thoroughly enjoying his time away from the demands of tour life. The water here in the Maldives is crystal clear, the lineup's scattered with just a few surfers, mostly just a smattering of his iconic cohorts, and as he noted, "Life is good."
Knox's last tour victory came in 1996 at the Rio Surf Pro, and while the Champions Trophy is more of a specialty event with not much more than a few bucks and huge bragging rights on the line, throw surfers like Tom Curren, Tom Carroll, Damien Hardman and Layne Beachley in the water and things are bound to get a little fierce. In Round 1 of the comp Tom Curren flowed to victory in the single-fin division. Looking like a man on a mission, at one point this week Curren pointed out that his contract with Rip Curl is coming up for renewal, and the three-time world champ has been surfing with some serious purpose.
"You can see it in is eyes," told Carroll, who considered Curren one of his main rivals during their heyday in the '80s. "We're all a little older, but that competitive fire never goes away."
Per the contest's format, in Round 2 everybody was relegated to classic twin-fins. Curren was on a board that Channel Islands Surfboards originally built for Dane Reynolds, Hardman was on a Richie Collins original, and both Carroll and Knox had the good fortune of having Mark Richards' twinnies in their arsenal.
"I always wanted a twin-fin from MR," said Knox, "so he build me this board that's pretty much a replica of what he was riding in 1980."
On opposite sides of the draw, Knox and Curren dominated their respective heats in Rounds 1 and 2, setting up a final between two of California's most accomplished and beloved surfers. Knox has repeatedly pointed to Curren as being the driving influence in his surfing, which gave the final a master and apprentice feel.
The surf hovered in the three-foot range while the winds seemed to change direction every few minutes, making wave selection critical. From the onset Knox took control of the final, using methodical strategy and impeccable full-rail surfing to his advantage. By no means was it a blow out. The heat was tight all the way until the end, but in the waning minutes Curren found himself needing an eight-point score. As is rarely the case for the legend, the ocean didn't cooperate. Knox ended up with the win, which may not have been as much of a career highlight as that ASP win back in '96, but it was most definitely a personal highlight.
"It was friendly out there, but I'm stoked to come away with a win," said Knox. "Curren's always been a hero of mine, so it was a real special heat."
The next round of the Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy will come tomorrow with everybody jumping back on their more standard thruster boards. After winning the single-fin division and finishing runner-up in the twin-fin division, Curren appears to be a shoe-in for the Grand Final, which will follow the thruster division and be the deciding factor for the event champion. But the other spot in the final appears to be wide open. It could easily be a rematch between Knox and Curren, which would be a lot fun. Either way, come Sunday a champion will be crowned.