- Micah Abrams, Writer, Action Sports
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Calling Bede Durbidge a World Tour "underdog" has become a cliche on par with calling Trestles the Tour's "most high performance wave." Both used to be true; but these days? Not so much. Pretty much every wave on Tour that's not Teahupoo or Pipe is now high performance, and anyone calling Durbidge an underdog is just underestimating him.
The 26-year-old from Queensland, Australia has been ranked in the top five for three years running, finishing as high as second in 2008. And while he may have lacked a major sponsor for that whole run, a lack of support has not equaled a lack of focus. Now that Fox has stepped up to give him mini-major support, he's got even less to worry about in 2010. And that just leaves more time to worry about the only thing that matters to him: his first World Title.
Do you understand all the changes the ASP made to the World Tour this year? Be honest.
It took me a while to get my head around them, and I was bit confused, but now I think I understand them. I think it's good for surfing -- we needed the change, and this "bridge year" will work itself out. It should be free-flowing for the following years.
With the One World ranking system, do you foresee yourself approaching things differently -- maybe doing a QS 6-Star PRIME where you wouldn't have in the past?
No, I'm just going to concentrate on the World Tour events. If you're going for world titles, those events don't count. A few surfers who maybe wouldn't have might do them now, but I'm concentrating on the 10 events and the title.
With the changes, some of the top surfers who've chosen to avoid most competitions no longer face a year-long WQS slog to make the World Tour. Do you expect to see, say, a Jamie O'Brien try to buckle down for a few months and fight his way on Tour this year?
Definitely. That's why I was pleased [with the rule changes], to get new guys in there. Sometimes, guys don't have the best run of it, and they stay on tour but really can't do much at the end. They can't qualify or go for the title. It's good that the new system brings new guys and filters the tour the whole year. Guys like Jamie, or Clay Marzo -- all the guys that are the best freesurfers can put in six months and crack it. Then they get to surf good waves instead of slogging and getting bummed and over it. It's exciting to see who will make an impact.
Anyone in particular that you think would benefit from that approach?
I haven't heard if anyone is doing it, but I reckon it would be perfect for Julian [Wilson]. With his talent, he should be able to get on straight away. He wouldn't have to wait a whole year -- he'd just bust in.
How do you feel about Teahupoo moving from May to August?
It's going to be different. I guess they think it's more consistent then? They have all the reports and the knowledge from the local guys, so I'm sure they wouldn't have changed it for no reason. I hope it's not pumping in May and no good in August, though. We've been really unlucky there the past few years.
Heavy left barrels have been pointed out as a weak spot of yours in the past. Do you think that criticism is fair?
Definitely. That's one of the only places that I haven't done as well as I want to. I want to go there for a swell and put in the time and make the extra effort to get the results I want to achieve. That's how you win a world title-- by having no weak areas. It hasn't been my top event, and I want to change that this year.
What was your reaction to the ASP and head judge Perry Hatchett parting ways?
I was blown away when I heard that Perry wasn't going to be the head judge. I didn't see it coming; just read it on the ASP site. I don't know why the decision was made or how it came about. It's sad to see him leave. I think he's done a really good job for as long as he's been doing it. There's always going to be controversy with judging because it's someone's opinion. I guess someone will probably like [that Hatchett is gone].
It seems like the shorthand for complaining about judging is to suggest that airs aren't scored high enough. Do you agree with that?
That's tough. Airs are amazing and spectacular, and they should be scored really high, but some of the turns that Kelly does are so tight in the pocket that no one else can do them. They're harder than the airs some people do. It's why you have to score both in terms of difficulty.
Of this year's rookie class, who do you think is the strongest competitor and has the best chance right out of the gates?
They're all really good surfers, and they're going to make an impact, all of them. They'll push the level up again. But Owen [Wright] has already done well on the Tour, so I expect him to do really well this year. In the first year, you're learning a lot. But I've just seen him surf because he's been in Portugal and at Bells, and he's already done well where the other guys haven't surfed World Tour events yet. Owen's won everything in the Juniors series and he won on the QS as well. He knows how to win.
What do you think of the boards that Kelly Slater's been riding and how have they effected your own quiver for the coming season?
I've taken a lot of notice to what Kelly's been riding, but even more of what Dane's been riding. What Dane was doing on those small boards is amazing. Kelly's boards seem a little more extreme than Dane's. I've changed my boards -- a lot shorter, a bit wider -- to get more radical on the wave, as that's where surfing is heading. If you're not doing crazy stuff, you're not going to win. So my boards are different this year. They're a few inches shorter and the outline is totally different. My bigger ones are the same quiver as last year, but for anything under six foot, they're different.
You've been top five in the world for three years running; still feel like an underdog?
No, definitely not anymore. Maybe in the media sense. I don't get as much coverage as the other guys and don't have all the hype around me. But I don't mind that. I can concentrate on what I want to do and not have expectations from others. I can just go for it and enjoy.
World Number Three on the tour's changes