One sign of an accomplished surfer is his or her ability to perform on any and all craft. From single blades, twinnies and thrusters, there's a lot to be said for the wave rider who's proficient on all of them.
Enter the Four Seasons Resorts Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy. A distinct specialty event, the invitation-only contest features six of the most influential surfers of the modern era. In its fourth incarnation, this year the roster includes Tom Curren, Tom Carroll, Damien Hardman, Taylor Knox, Pedro Henrique and Layne Beachley. Between them they hold 15 world titles.
The format is simple, in Round 1 everybody is relegated to the old school single-fin, Round 2 sees the twin fin come into the equation, and for Round 3 everybody gets to jump back on their more conventional three-fin thrusters.
Taking place at the world-class right-hander known as Sultan's Point, Round 1 got underway in playful 3- to 4-foot surf. And when it comes to the single-fin, it seemed everybody had their own strategy. Carroll dusted off a Phil Byrne-shaped sled that he acknowledged he had not ridden in almost 10 years. Curren rode a Channel Islands Rob Machado model, while Knox rode a board that Machado actually shaped for him. And because he's such a nice guy, when Curren noted that he wasn't all that happy with the fin he had in his board, Knox gave him his backup fin.
In Round 2 Curren and Knox were paired up against one another. It was the first heat the two had ever surfed against each other. Over the years Knox has consistently pointed to Curren as a huge inspiration. But a contest is a contest, and Curren made short work of the recently "retired" Knox. As they say, nice guys finish last.
"That fin really made the difference in the board," Curren said afterward. "It was really cool of Taylor to let me use it. I kind of felt bad beating him."
On the other side of the draw, 31-year-old Henrique upset two-time Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy winner Hardman in Round 2, setting up a final with the 49-year-old Curren. Riding a small, responsive single-fin, throughout the day Henrique set the pace as the man to beat.
"To get to surf against Curren, it's one of those things you dream about," Henrique said. "He's such a legend, such an icon of our sport. It's a privilege to be here surfing with him."
It's hard to imagine Curren felt the same way about Henrique. In the final, Curren got out to an early lead that he would never surrender. Holding priority in the last 10 minutes of the final, Curren used his decades of competitive experience to put the lock on the frantic Brazilian. Scrambling to put something together, Henrique tried to make the most out of the waves that Curren passed on. But Curren's wave selection was impeccable and ultimately was the deciding factor in the final.
"It was a lot of fun out there today," Curren said after winning the final. "These are boards we don't ride normally, and everybody's had to adapt. It makes things interesting. Pedro surfed great. He's going to be really dangerous as this contest moves on to more conventional equipment."
Up next is the twin-fin round. Curren brought an old board from Dane Reynolds that was originally built as a twinzer (two big main fins and two smaller fins), but the craftsmen at the Channel Islands factory knocked the fins out and rebuilt it as a standard twin-fin. In a warmup session on it Curren looked downright deadly -- flowing, flying, connecting sections and blasting big turns.
While there's still a lot of surfing left, he seems intent on going the distance. He finished runner-up last year, and while he'd never admit it, it's clear he'd love to go one better this time around.