When the dates for the Australian Open of Surfing at Manly Beach were announced last year the skeptics jumped straight in.
"It's summer time," they scoffed, "Manly? What are they thinking? Sydney doesn't get any surf in the summer."
With day seven of the nine-day event done and dusted, where are those skeptics now? Their voices have been silenced by crowds in excess of 10,000 last week, surfing that has seasoned observers baffled at the airs, skating from the world's best vert riders, and music from some of Australia's top bands.
In a collaboration that still has industry insiders shaking their heads, Hurley and Billabong have successfully brought the US Open of Surfing to Australian Shores. Manly Beach is, in effect, an inner city beach. It's the first beach on Sydney's northern peninsular and the easiest to access from the city via a cross-harbor ferry. The event structure is over 100 yards long. It starts with the sound stage, which joins up with the skate bowl and then the surfing structure that rolls into a media area. It takes about 10 minutes to walk past the whole structure -- or if you've got one of those groovy Vespa scooters or a beach cruiser, then you can half that time. Driving by in car? Forget it -- it's jammed up night and day.
The surfing part of the Australian Open has been a marathon. They are running a Junior Men and Women's event along with six-star Men and Women's events. The schedule has been full every day, and with just two more days to go, all four divisions are at the business end.
The Junior event is down to the semi finals. Matt Banting, of Australia, is in the semis of the Juniors and made it through to the round of 16 in the six-star where he dropped top seeded Taj Burrow late today. He's set for a busy couple of days if he keeps the results coming.
The women are down to the semis and it's all big hitters. Laura Enever, Sally Fitzgibbons, Sofia Mulanovich and tour rookie, Malia Manuel, will fight it out for the title.
The Men's six-star still have a few rounds to go but the big names are putting their stamp on the event. Jordy Smith pushed his big frame around in the two to three-foot surf today.
"It feels good to pull on a jersey again," he said standing on the water's edge after his win today. "I haven't had one on my back since Hawaii, so it's good to get out there again. Today's a little small for me and a little hard for someone my size. I weigh around 190 pounds and every one else is around the130 zone, so that extra 60 pounds makes for hard work [puffs], but it's still fun."
Joel Parkinson is the number one seed for the event, and while he was laughing after his heat late today, it wasn't an easy one for him. The conditions were small and had an afternoon sea breeze roughing up the waves. He was up against Top 34 tour rookie Kolohe Andino and former world tour surfer, Shaun Cansdell in one of the toughest heats of the day.
Parkinson surfed a very smart heat but he'd gone out of his comfort zone to get through. Normally Parkinson would be riding a rounded squash tail, or occasionally a rounded pintail, but he's been mixing it up a little. He had a warm up surf on one of his traditional boards but wasn't happy so he just grabbed the swallow tail out of his bag, which worked incredible well for his first heat. When questioned about his board choice he just laughed and replied, "Yeah, I've been riding them at home. [Gold Coast] It is something a little different for me -- a little JS special [laughs], but they're working."
The boards needed to work because the conditions were perfect for Andino. When asked about the heat, Parko asked a question straight back:
"Kolohe? Out there in little waves with an onshore? What do you think? Those waves were right up his alley. It was really tough and I was kinda lucky."
Parkinson showed why he's rated number two in the world by jamming a little air reverse to finish. "I'll try and hold off doing too many airs until the last day because I don't want to give too much away," he joked as he left the beach.
The massive crowds at Manly have so far been treated to world class surfing and skating with bands to match. If it's a hot summer weekend the final days will see the event rival its northern hemisphere cousin in every way. Skeptics, take cover.