The Drug Aware Margaret River Pro in Western Australia has been a favorite competition amongst elite surfers since Occy became its first winner in 1985. Its secluded location, wild beauty, and unforgiving waves attracted the world's best long before they were required to be present. This year, the event was upgraded, making it the second stop on the ASP Women's World Championship Tour, which means that the Top 17 will chase new world number one Tyler Wright across the continent with that much more ferocity, in the hopes of slowing her momentum toward a 2013 world title.
Margaret River's everyday conditions are notably more challenging than those of many other stops on Tour. In the absence of a Hawaiian (or Tahitian or Fijian) event on the women's circuit, many have expressed hope that WA contest will deliver waves of consequence and, in turn, underscore the winner's versatility.
The main event site is at Surfers Point in Prevelly, Margaret River. For the first time, competitors will also have the option of surfing the Box, a heavy, hollow, right-hand reef break a half mile to the north of Mainbreak. Surf forecasting site MagicSeaweed.com calls it "a wave for the clinically insane."
At this point, the forecast is looking pretty fantastic for the first day of the event: A seven-foot swell from the southwest, 13-second period, and light offshore winds. After that, it drops off until Tuesday, when a more westerly swell will build from five-foot, resulting in solid head high-plus surf.
"It needs solid swell there to break nice," explains Rebecca Woods, a nine-year tour vet. "It's looking to be good on Saturday."
There's a nine-day waiting period (Mar. 16-24), which should be adequate time for getting the girls into some grandiose surf.
"I think they have time," Woods agrees. "I hope they split it evenly between men's and women's." She adds that she hasn't been disappointed in the past with the calls: "We have had waves every year."
So, who do we think will take the win? Well naturally, you can never discount Steph Gilmore, Sally Fitzgibbons, and Carissa Moore, but the Margaret River Pro has traditionally belonged to the "underdogs."
Two-time defending champ Courtney Conlogue finished 2012 in fifth place and has already logged second, third, and fifth-place finishes in 2013. She's said that the women need "more sizeable and challenging waves on Tour," and has used her exceptional strength and explosive backhand surfing to win the Margaret River Pro the last two years in a row.
Coco Ho heads to Margarets fresh from an equal ninth-place finish at the Roxy Pro and a deceptively humble spot on the ranking. Ho's lowest heat total at the first WWCT event this year was actually a 16.87 and she can claim the highest single wave score of the entire event: 9.87. As a North Shore local, she's comfortable in the size that we hope to see in WA.
"I love Margaret River because it reminds me a lot of home," says Ho. "It's really powerful, there's reef under you, and it's a left. I'm really comfortable going left, I grew up at Rockies (Rocky Point on Oahu). You can go right at Margarets–it's a little bowl-ier, but it is actually really fun. It reminds me of Haleiwa or something. I think everyone will be going right this year."
Ho says that with all of the women surfing at such a high level, success at Margs will be dependent on sound equipment choices and smart wave selection: "I think a lot of it will [have to do with] being comfortable on a bigger board and in bigger waves. I'm lucky because I grew up with that."
With such a wide open playing field and a positive forecast, the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro should a much needed dose of intrigue to this year's world title race.