Two days ago Kelly Slater struggled to get through his first Round heat in the Telstra Drug Aware Pro, needing a six, finding it, and narrowly defeating a virtually unknown New Zealand surfer, Billy Stairmand. Friday, Stairmand became known around the world after he knocked "King Kelly" out of the contest.
After days of four-man heats, the contest format went man-on-man this morning, which should have put the World Tour surfers back into their comfort zone. But things certainly didn't go to plan especially for top horses like Slater, Fanning, Buchan, Parkinson and Perrow.
Admittedly, the bottom half of the draw was stacked with World Tour surfers and Julian Wilson knocked out tour mate Parkinson. But most of the big names eliminated Friday fell victim to those aspiring to get into the World Tour. Hawaiian Granger Larson knocked out Buchan, Brazilian William Cardoso accounted for Perrow. And Stairmand disposed of number one seed, Slater.
Slater summed it all up in a post loss interview:
"It's a big playing field out there and the young guys are hungry and focused. You make one little error and you lose a heat like that. I was literally one paddle away from Billy's nine-point wave. I was sitting with priority and I saw this wedge just move a couple of feet over towards him and he just got it. There was a good right on that wave too and if I had got that, there could have been a different outcome. But that's the way heats go."
Slater now figures he'll be able to go free surfing around the Margaret River area. The Box, a spot you can see from the event site, was barreling this morning and he was half-hoping to surf it. The wind came up just after he lost, but he won't have a contest to distract him if it's working tomorrow morning.
With Slater out, Western Australia's favorite son, local surfer Taj Burrow, became the highest seed left in the event. Just to make sure everyone knew he was around, Burrow blasted the highest scores of the day in his two heats and registered the contests first perfect 10 to move him into the quarterfinals.
Burrow was back on his favorite Firewire board today and he applied his local knowledge to every wave he surfed. Kia Otten was his first victim in the man-on-man heats and in the three-man "No Losers" round, Julian Wilson and Michel Bourez felt his sting.
Up until the heat against Burrow and Bourez, Wilson was the stand out surfer nailing scores in the "excellent" range in every heat. Parko and Wilson surfed one of the toughest heats this morning with Wilson getting past Parko by just 0.1 of a point. Wilson he decided to use tactics late in the heat.
"I'd just snuck into the lead and there was a good wave coming and I thought, 'There's only five minutes left, what am I going to do?' The judges hadn't been giving me good scores, so I thought I'm just going to sit here and hold my priority and make sure I win this heat and that's what I did. Maybe it wasn't the cool thing to do, but it feels really good to beat Parko."
Up against Mick Fanning very late in the day, Wilson continued his killer form, narrowly eliminating the two-time world champion on a count-back to the best one wave score after their scores tied.
The contest is down to the pointy end here at Surfers Point, and could wrap up tomorrow, as organizers are worried that the swell could disappear by Sunday.