"I've only surfed the Lane in one event in 1994. I lost. My record here is only bound to improve," said Kelly Slater.
Or maybe it's not bound to improve. With the weight of a potential 12th world title on his shoulders, he went into round one of the O'Neill Cold Water Classic needing a good result. Trials winner and local hero Nat Young had other intentions. In his first-ever world tour event, 21-year-old Young, who stands a very good chance at qualifying for the tour in 2013, proved he's ready for primetime, offing Slater and good friend Kolohe Andino.
"It was a real special heat to surf against Slater, he's been my idol since I started surfing. I'm really happy, I wish we could have all had better waves, but ..." sighed Young.
Starting the day the smart money would have been on the world title race coming down to the Pipe Masters. The variables for Joel Parkinson to clinch the title in Santa Cruz seemed too great. But then fifth seeded Adriano De Souza lost in the second heat of the day. Then forth-ranked John Florence fell. Then it was Mick Fanning's turn to nosedive. And by heat five Slater was relegated to the loser's round as well.
Forced to take a long midday break because of a high tide swamping the lineup, it would have been easy to blame the mishaps on the conditions, that were slow and warbly at times. Then Parkinson paddled out in heat six and put on a clinic. Laying down the best scores of the day, a 9.00 and a 7.83, it was clear what was on his mind.
"It's a really fun wave when they come, it's tricky, but when they're there it's really nice waves," said Parkinson, who didn't even look like he had to get out of first gear. "Avoiding round two is a good thing, but I guarantee those guys in the red jerseys [the top seeds] will make it through and into the quarters and semis. It takes a while to feel your feet out here, so I'm sure after one little slip up they'll be here. A righthand point break is what I grew up on, it reminds me a lot of Bells. You get a good vibe here, it's really sick."
The Cold Water Classic organizers ran through the low tide in the afternoon, but for all intents and purposes the drama was over by 3:00pm. Gabriel Medina and Yadin Nicol, alongside Young, proved that goofy-footers can be a force at the Lane. And with his O'Neill contract up this year, Jordy Smith surfed like a man looking for a job ... or an extension.
The swell's supposed to linger into tomorrow morning, so there's a chance they can jump into some of round two on the prime tides, but with so much riding on it, maybe it's better if we're forced to wait for awhile to see what Slater, Fanning and Florence's next move is. Put it this way, is Slater loses in round two and Parkinson wins the event, the 11-time world champ's officially out of the race. Who wants to see that be decided in hip-high burgers? Surfline's calling for a cleaner, bigger swell from Nov. 4-6. Stay tuned.
O'NEILL COLDWATER CLASSIC ROUND 1 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Taylor Knox (USA) 12.80, Julian Wilson (AUS) 11.40, Alejo Muniz (BRA) 10.60
Heat 2: Kai Otton (AUS) 13.00, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 9.86, Jadson Andre (BRA) 8.60
Heat 3: Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 13.16, Heitor Alves (BRA) 12.96, John John Florence (HAW) 7.00
Heat 4: Dusty Payne (HAW) 15.30, Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.94, Kieren Perrow (AUS) 12.93
Heat 5: Nat Young (USA) 12.17, Kelly Slater (USA) 10.00, Kolohe Andino (USA) 9.57
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 16.83, Damien Hobgood (USA) 11.40, Jason Collins (USA) 7.00
Heat 7: Taj Burrow (AUS) 14.46, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 13.67, Brett Simpson (USA) 13.33
Heat 8: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 16.53, Bede Durbidge (AUS) 14.77, Adam Melling (AUS) 6.80
Heat 9: Yadin Nicol (AUS) 16.03, Owen Wright (AUS) 12.50, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 10.33
Heat 10: Michel Bourez (PYF) 14.70, Josh Kerr (AUS) 14.56, Raoni Monteiro (BRA) 11.40
Heat 11: Travis Logie (ZAF) 15.27, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 14.93, C.J. Hobgood (USA) 4.37
Heat 12: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.10, Tiago Pires (PRT) 15.67, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.93
O'NEILL COLDWATER CLASSIC ROUND 2 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Jason Collins (USA)
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA)
Heat 3: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Matt Wilkinson (AUS)
Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Adam Melling (AUS)
Heat 5: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Raoni Monteiro (BRA)
Heat 6: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Tiago Pires (PRT)
Heat 7: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Damien Hobgood (USA)
Heat 8: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Kolohe Andino (USA)
Heat 9: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 10: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Heitor Alves (BRA)
Heat 11: Miguel Pupo (BRA) vs. Alejo Muniz (BRA)
Heat 12: Bede Durbidge (AUS) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)