After seven long years of grinding on the ASP World Tour, Kai Otton finally stood happily on the top step of the podium. The Rip Curl Pro Portugal in Peniche was the first event win of his career, and after perpetually finding himself lingering on the back end of the rankings, he's finally made his mark.
"It's the weirdest feeling ever. I just can't comprehend it," the elated Otton stammered afterward.
In a back-and-forth 30-minute final, Otton was able to get past newly crowned Rookie of the Year Nat Young, ultimately winning the event by just over a point.
"The whole final was really frustrating. I couldn't really get one good wave," said a visibly tired Young after returning to the beach. "I was searching up and down the beach for waves, and I was exhausted in the end. It's been a good day. After getting that close, a second place is heartbreaking, for sure, but it's still a great result, and Rookie of the Year is amazing too."
For Otton, the day was a whirlwind of emotions. Dedicating the win to his late grandfather, who passed away just as he qualified for the tour, Otton has found inspiration in the fact that he'll soon be a father.
Asked about the competitive tear he's been on in recent weeks, Otton replied, "One of the things that has changed for me this year is my girlfriend being pregnant. I'm pretty excited about that. It's unbelievable; the next chapter I'm really looking forward to. To get here is kind of a pinnacle for me."
Otton also played a huge role in the world title race by eliminating Mick Fanning in the quarterfinals. Because of this, the excitement will continue on to Hawaii, and one of the most dangerous waves in the world, at the Billabong Pipe Masters. The fact that Jordy Smith, Joel Parkinson or Taj Burrow didn't win in Portugal means it's a two-man race.
Essentially, for Kelly Slater to win his 12th ASP world title, he will need to win the Pipe Masters and Mick Fanning will have to fall before the semifinals. If Fanning makes the semis, the world title will be his.
"It's a bit frustrating. Obviously I just wanted to surf, and unfortunately it didn't really happen," said Fanning after the loss. "I'm stoked that I made some points here. It puts me in a better position going into Pipe, and I'm excited to go to Hawaii. I'll do the whole Triple Crown, so this could be fun.
"I've had a lot of slow heats this year, snuck through a few, but you know every now and then one's going to go your way. It probably made it a little bit more significant with what was on the line at that time."
Though Slater showed some serious frustration at the events on the European leg of the Tour, going into Pipe he knows two things are playing in his favor. First, with six Pipe Masters titles, he is the most successful surfer to ever compete at Pipeline. Second, he has an uncanny sixth sense when it comes to positioning, picking waves and riding them perfectly.
Fanning's consistency is the component in the title race, however. He has been so consistent this year that he only has to do better than the quarterfinals to win.
As for the rest of the Rip Curl Pro, Julian Wilson once again put on an incredible performance throughout the contest, eventually losing an agonizingly close quarterfinal heat to Joel Parkinson. Wilson's competitive savvy and progressive acts during heats have really evolved this year. He is someone who could easily be in the title race next year.
John John Florence, who embodies the essence of surfing, has also been performing incredibly well this season. And as we look to the future, Felipe Toledo, Gabriel Medina, Kolohe Andino and Sebastian Zietz are all extremely talented surfers who will serve the sport of surfing well.
It's six weeks until the drama begins on the white sands of Hawaii, and you can count on one thing: The boys will be ready.
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL FINAL RESULTS:
1. Kai Otton (AUS) 12.23
2. Nat Young (USA) 11.03
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL SEMIFINALS RESULTS:
SF 1: Kai Otton (AUS) 14.83 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 12.23
SF 2: Nat Young (USA) 14.07 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.66
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL QUARTERFINALS RESULTS:
QF 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.07 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.90
QF 2: Kai Otton (AUS) 10.00 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 9.43
QF 3: Nat Young (USA) 15.10 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 14.54
QF 4: Josh Kerr (AUS) 10.67 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 8.56
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 5 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.17 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 11.10
Heat 2: Kai Otton (AUS) 14.60 def. John John Florence (HAW) 12.16
Heat 3: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 13.33 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 8.90
Heat 4: Josh Kerr (AUS) 18.40 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.53
RIP CURL PRO PORTUGAL ROUND 4 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.50, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 10.50, Kai Otton (AUS) 9.90
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.00, John John Florence (HAW) 11.70, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 4.74
Heat 3: Nat Young (USA) 14.67, Jordy Smith (ZAF) 9.60, Josh Kerr (AUS) 6.46
Heat 4: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 15.33, Taj Burrow (AUS) 9.30, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 8.17