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The Hurley Australian Open of Surfing landed in Manly, New South Wales, Australia, last week, and Carissa Moore and Adriano De Souza walked away victorious.
From day one the man to beat was Julian Wilson, while World Tour peers Bede Durbidge, Felipe Toledo, De Souza and a host of world qualifying competitors lined up as potential threats. The Brazilian contingent was atop their small wave game and hugely supported by Manly's enormous Brazilian population. On the back of their support, De Souza found that little something extra to put him over the top.
Come Silverware Sunday, Wilson and De Souza seemed destined to match up in the end game. Battling through Gudauskas and Tomas Hermes, respectfully, in the semis, a brief rain squall temporarily calmed things down, but as soon as the final got underway, De Souza came out swinging. He opened with a string of powerful hacks, segueing fluidly into an air-reverse finish for an 8.33. He backed that score up with an 8.87 to completely stall Wilson's momentum, leaving him needing a combination of scores with a dozen minutes remaining.
On cue the first southerly squall for the week hit, leaving a frustrated Wilson trying a half-dozen aerials while the cross-shore wind stole his board from under him and delivered De Souza the Australian Open title.
"I've got so much respect for Julian Wilson, he's number six in the world and the best guy in the event," said De Souza. "I was lucky that he fell off a few times in the final. It's great to have the support from the Brazilian guys in the event and the fans on the beach. It's the perfect start to my year."
"I wish that had held off for another 10 minutes," said Wilson from the podium, before congratulating De Souza and admitting that he'll take a lot of confidence from Manly into the first event. "Snapper? That's exciting, I can't wait."
On the women's side of the draw, reigning world champ Moore seemed like a lock as soon as Sally Fitzgibbons, Laura Enever and Tyler Wright were knocked out in the early rounds. In the final, Moore dismantled Alyssa Quizon, a 2014 rookie and fellow Hawaiian. The win was sealed with the best move of either final, a huge fin-throw to layback for a 9.43.
"I didn't come here expecting to win," said Moore. "It's been a while since I had a jersey on and it was good to get back into it, then this morning I started getting nervous and I just had to tell myself to relax and have fun."
If a wave-starved contest has one redeeming trait, in the eyes of the spectator at least, it is the frustration and aggression that bubbles over in the water. The would-be-qualifiers have no problem winning ugly, and in knee-high conditions it's the only way. Interferences of all kinds dotted the score sheets, and splashed water and angry words were common. There was a heat-long tussle between Mason Ho and Felipe Toledo that ended in Toledo wobbling on the air-reverse he needed to progress, thanks to Ho paddling back out directly under his flight path. Cue more splashed water, many more angry words, and Toledo exiting the contest in a flurry of punched walls and tossed toys. Later that night Mitch Crews was seen trying to calm the still enraged Toledo on the Manly beachfront, pleading with him that fighting wouldn't fix anything.
Meanwhile, Dane Reynolds provided his own drama. The king of couldn't-care-less actually cares a lot, though he's hid it well the past year. Since Reynolds turned his eye to extracurricular interests and filmmaking, the surf world has been baying for more action from the man. It appears in 2014 that is going to happen. Word from inside the ASP is that only one athlete has paid entry fees for each and every Prime and Six-Star event this year: Reynolds.
At Manly, Reynolds performed the functional and far-from-fashionable sort of surfing you'd expect from a guy trying to qualify, banking fives and sevens, "laying a foundation," "building house," and generally taking it "one heat at a time." Dane was eventually knocked out by former tour foes Pat Gudauskas and Bede Durbidge, but he hung around the event a while longer and seemed psyched enough on the scene to offer hope that the ASP's prodigal son might soon be back from his wandering ways.
All eyes will now turn to the Gold Coast and the Quiksilver Pro Australia, the official start of the 2014 ASP World Tour. The waiting period begins March 1.