There is a very apt age-old cliché to describe today's conditions at the Telstra Drug Aware Pro "Be careful what you wish for." The 15-foot surf arrived as predicted, but the howling on-shores and driving rain were not on the wish list.
After months of hot weather, no rain, offshore winds and a consistent run of surf, the fall conditions finally arrived in the southwest of Western Australia with a blast. Spectators lining the limestone cliffs bundled up in winter jackets while the surfers in their heats were wearing trunks because the water temp is 74 degrees. The air temp had dropped from 90 degrees down to 65 overnight.
Taj Burrow finally got to surf today after waiting three days. If he'd surfed in an early heat, he would have been on a shortboard, but today he was on a 6'9" that he couldn't get to turn. He was also having trouble figuring how he was going in his heat.
"Nobody knew who was winning in the heat. It was hard enough hearing what the other guys were saying, let alone the scores. We'd be asking each other how their waves were but nobody really knew what was going on. It was tough. Without the skis, you would probably have only caught one wave."
Kelly Slater described yesterday's conditions, as "double overhead." Today he claimed they were four times overhead at times. "I watched Mar (Masatoshi Ohno) launch himself over the lip of a 20-foot face. I was in the perfect position as the whole thing came down on top of him. I'm glad it wasn't me."
From the cliffs, the competitors look like dots swirling around in a white-capped ocean. There was a semblance of the famed "Margs lefts" and by the smallest margin cleaner "rights" with lumps of swell hitting the reef in the over 15-foot range. The surfers were in a macho mood, calling it a solid 10 foot with 12-foot rogue sets and lots of energy behind them at a very short interval, but when you watch them trying to duck dive the huge chucks of water, you could forgive them if they'd called it a little bigger.
"Maybe we should have run later on a couple of the earlier days, but we are out of time and have to run today," said Event Director and former pro surfer Mike McAuliffe. Prime events don't have the luxury of a long waiting period or the small field of competitors like the World Tour events, so time is always an issue.
Pat Gudauskas wholeheartedly agreed about the conditions. "That was possibly the worst heat I could have ever surfed. I was excited to surf, but it was definitely challenging," he said.
Gudauskas scored an interference call on Australian Junior Champ Jack Freestone. "I tried to let Jack know I was going right and I was going 'Jack! Jack! Don't go!' He went, then I then got lucky with a big left. I was just so frustrated and I went 'I'm just going to hack this thing.' Luckily for me my rail held and I made the turn."
Despite the interference, Gudauskas won the heat with the one massive hack on the left. His story was the story of the day -- one strong wave, and you were going through.
Slater got straight to work in his heat and nailed a couple of solid scores to put him into a cozy position early. He was not going to get caught playing catch up like he did yesterday.
His win today put him into the Round of 24 and back into his comfort zone of man-on-man heats.
After Mick Fanning's heat, I asked how he went in the conditions, "I was getting seasick out there. We were waiting for the heat to start and I was just getting sick sloshing around."
Tomorrow's conditions are predicted to be smaller and cleaner, maybe not in the "sick" category but a lot better than today.