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Aussie Open a look at the future

2/19/2012
Manley fans packed the bleachers for the conclusion of the 2012 Australian Open. Joli

Day 1
Day 2
Day 3

If you were a betting person, what sort of odds would you have last week on a 17-year-old kid from the mid-north coast town of Port Macquarie, New South Wales taking the double [Pro Juniors and ASP 6-star] at the Australian Open of Surfing at Manly Beach?

Matt Banting did the unbelievable today, especially for a young grommet, by winning the Australian Open of Surfing. Fellow pro grom, Evan Geiselman, was the only other surfer that could have snapped Banting's dream run, but when he failed to land a full forward air rotation with his second last wave of the final, it was all over. Banting took the heat 16.83-15.53.

"I never thought I'd ever double it up," said Banting after the presentation. "I did think I'd go as far as the quarters or semis or maybe even a second, but even after my win yesterday [Pro Juniors], I never thought I'd be standing here with a trophy and another winner's check. It's like, 'whew!'"

If you check the book of sporting clich├ęs you're bound to find the one about being 'on a roll.' Right now I'm going to pull it out to describe Banting's week at the Open. The contest ran eight days and Banting surfed seven of them.

"I missed one day mid-week but I surfed 14 heats so I averaged two heats a day for a week," he explained.

No other surfer had as many heats and he rolled through the week winning one after another and developing an intimate knowledge of the fickle Manly banks.

Adrian 'Ace' Buchan was the last world tour surfer left in the event this morning and New Zealand surfer, Billy Stairmand, eliminated him in the quarters.

"The young kids definitely showed how dangerous they are, especially in waves like we had here this week," Buchan said as he packed his boards and headed to Queensland for the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks that starts later this week.

"Those young kids are right there snapping at our heels and in an event like this, they don't give you an inch. I'm still pretty happy with my result (equal 5th) because I've got a few heats under my belt heading into Snapper," he added.

While all of the top seeds were out of the men's event by the semi finals, in the women's division it was the opposite, with top seeds filling all four spots. Hawaiian tour rookie Malia Manuel was up against former world champion Sofia Mulanovich and Sally Fitzgibbons took on hometown favorite Laura Enever. Neither Manual nor Enever really got going, leaving Fitzgibbons and Mulanovich to battle out the final.

Fitzgibbons won, edging Mulanovich 14.67-12, and performed her own type of double. Back in August 2011, (her last contest), she won the US Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach, Calif.

"It's a strange double because the US Open was five months ago, but it was my last contest so it's back to back wins at both Opens, winning both is pretty special."

Fitzgibbons had come into the event under an injury cloud. She competed with her left wrist in a specially constructed cast after breaking it in Fiji last December. She had also suffered knee and leg injuries during the off-season.

"Coming back from injuries always leaves little doubts in your head," she said after the final. "I had to push them out of my mind and just knuckle down. Sophia had surfed so well all week and especially today on her backhand. I knew I was in for a tough battle especially with the small conditions so I'm just stoked to start the year off with a win."

Banting and Fitzgibbons' wins were in front of a massive crowd at Manly. Although the skate bowl was in action at one end of the contest site all eyes seemed to be on the water and the beach was absolutely packed.

The contest has featured amazing surfing all week with large crowds packing the beach, CEO of Hurley; Bob Hurley was almost in awe of how the whole event had unfolded.

"When I first walked up to here last Monday it felt almost surreal to see the set up and to understand that surfing in Australia actually started right here, in Manly," he said before adding, "As an American company, we feel really privileged to be part of all this with Billabong. I keep calling home saying 'I can't believe this is all happening, the surf, the athletes the crowds, the thing with Billabong, it's all so cool.'"

It was strange to see the CEO's of rival companies, Derek O'Neill from Billabong and Bob Hurley on the podium together to help present the winners' trophies and their checks. Strange bedfellows indeed and the contest has been such a success that the two companies will be back in bed together for another two years. See you in 2013.