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Friday, February 13, 2009
Updated: March 6, 8:41 PM ET
ASP Tour Rookie Preview

By Jake Howard

The 2009 ASP World Tour is now under way with the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper Rocks. And while usual suspects like the Hobgoods, Taj, Parko, and Bede are eagerly anticipating a chance to stake their claim against Kelly, for the 15 surfers who qualified this year via the WQS, now is just a chance to be part of the big dance. This year we'll see a healthy combination of fresh, new faces and a few grizzled old mugs. To give you a little perspective on next year's class, I thought I'd take a second fill you in on some of the freshmen and some veterans who've just re-enrolled.

The lone Californian qualifier this year, young Nathaniel Curran, has already got seasoned moves.
From: Oxnard, Calif.
Born: Aug. 6, 1984
While older brother Timmy is out doing the rock-star thing, Nathaniel is upholding the Curran family crest on the ASP World Tour. Winning the WQS in convincing fashion, Nathaniel definitely arrived in 2008. Bred into the boundary-less beachbreaks of Oxnard and Ventura, he's a creative, lightning-fast regular-footer who's well suited for spots like Snapper Rocks, Bells, Lowers and Brazil. As far as the hollow, reef waves go, with Fiji off the schedule he only really has to contend with Teahupo'o, and he's been around the block enough to understand its potential. Nathaniel is the lone California qualifier this year, but being able to travel and cruise with a friend like Dane Reynolds will be a huge asset; plus, his brother's probably thrown him a few tips, which doesn't hurt. He started 2009 with a win at the O'Neill Sebastian Inlet Pro, but as I'm sure he already knows, it's a whole different ballgame when he paddles out at Snapper for that first heat as a World Tour surfer.

From: Northern Beach, Australia
Born: N/A
One of the less predictable veterans returning to the tour this year, Dave-O's a classic example of the Aussie competitive animal. With a resume reaching back to the late '90s, Dave-O has more experience to his credit than anybody else on this list. He's beaten Kelly -- twice -- and has logged a copious amount of road time with Tom Curren. His unpredictability is what everybody fears -- that, and from time to time he's shown up at the beach with the most hideous Aussie mullet you can imagine.

From: Toahotu, Tahiti
Born: Dec. 30, 1985
You have to love a dark horse, especially when their nickname is "the Spartan." At the start of the 2008 WQS season, Michel Bourez was but a minor blip on most pundits' radars; now some are reckoning him an eventual world title contender. No? Think that's just a bunch of hype? Consider this: As a wildcard last year at the Quik Pro in France, he took out both Bede Durbidge and Joel Parkinson -- rated 2nd and 4th in the world, respectively. Add to that the fact that he won the Reef Hawaiian Pro this year in absolutely flawless conditions at Haleiwa, and you've got yourself quite a competitive threat. He's the first Tahitian to make the tour since Vetea "Poto" David did eons ago, and because of that is carrying the weight of an entire island nation on his shoulders. So, combine his aforementioned competitive savvy, a penchant for power, a surfing upbringing over some of the sharpest, shallowest reefs in the South Pacific, and you've got yourself a guy named Michel Bourez. All that, and he's a hell of a nice guy, too.

From: Tweed Heads, Australia
Born: March 29, 1984
"I'm not going to do the tour next year anyway, even if I re-qualify," Josh Kerr said last year, just before failing to re-qualify. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the great irony with which Kerr's made the cut for 2009. A free-surfing freak, a man seemingly without limits when he gets above the lip, Kerr cited being "held back" by a stagnant world-tour system as being the reason for his dissatisfaction. Well, what a difference a year makes. He jumped on the 'QS for a few six-star events, and proving his talent may exceed his attitude, he qualified without a hitch. He's good enough to beat just about anybody on tour—including Dane and Jordy—not to mention he's gained maturity and wisdom in the last couple of years. He also has a growing family to support, which always helps add a little fuel to the fire. As they say, the ball's in his court … again.

Kling on! Gabe's moves could test the final frontier.
From: St. Augustine, Fla.
Born: Aug. 18, 1980
Kling is on. After passing up an offer to be a waterboy for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Gabe Kling has rededicated himself to surfing. OK, so maybe the waterboy thing's a farce, but there's little question Kling's taking his second go-around on the tour more seriously than the first. It's not that he really screwed around all that much his first year on tour, it's just that making the adjustment to the big leagues can be overwhelming. In the weeks preceding the start of the '09 season, he's been in California reworking his equipment, dialing in his boards, training and surfing. He also has plans to leave for Australia a couple of weeks early and "only surf right points."

From: Jan Juc, Victoria, Australia
Born: Aug. 12, 1982
The perennial World Tour fringe dweller, Nic somehow seems to just barely keep missing the tour cut over the last couple of years. Thankfully for the Winkipop local's sanity, he managed to pull it off this time around and will be on tour full time this year. A well-rounded regular-footer with immense free-surfing ability, around the turn of the century he began to turn a few heads Down Under, and, well, he's turned that initial attention into a fairly decent career. It'll be interesting to see how he handles life on the world stage next year. He certainly has the ability to blow up at any given time -- big or small -- but like a lot of other prodigious free surfers, his issue is translating that ability to high heat scores.

From: Mililani, Hawaii
Born: July 22, 1985
There's a new keg with legs, and his name is Kekoa Bacalso. "Bam Bam," as he's known to friends, may not be the guy who's going to win too many paddle-battles, but who cares? The tour isn't about how fast you are, it's about how well you surf, and this 2006 World Junior Champ can drop nines and 10s almost at will. Bringing that classic Hawaiian, Sunny-esque power back to the tour, Kekoa's going to be fun to watch—and even more fun to root for. Fitness is his biggest hurdle to clear, but thanks to his island upbringing, his comfort level in anything from 2-foot to 20 more than makes up for it. Besides, after a few years of slogging around on the WQS he's acutely aware that bottom-dwelling's not much fun. He may not win a world title his first year on tour, but he shouldn't have too much problem re-qualifying come year's end. And, mark my words, at some point he's going to show the world what he's really made of.

From: East London, South Africa
Born: Nov. 29, 1976
Greg Emslie's the guy that everybody on tour seems to like. He's bright and articulate, surfs well, and somehow always seems to have a smile on his face; plus, he kind of looks a little like Popeye. As with Davey Weare, Greg's part of a road-tested, tight-knit South African contingent who seem only to be causing more and more trouble for the rest of the world. The veteran of the pack, Greg's got years of experience to share with his countrymen. He's no Dane Reynolds -- or Jordy Smith, for that matter -- but he does know how to make heats, and over the course of the season will revel in playing the role of spoiler.

After a World Tour hiatus, Dave Weare is back on the program.
From: Durban, South Africa
Born: Sept. 12, 1980
One of the handful of surfers returning to tour life in 2009, Davey's initial stint on the World Tour was brief, but now, after a year hiatus, he's back on the program. He has a multitude of WQS wins to his credit -- most notably among them his 2008 6-Star win at the Quik Pro Durban and his 2005 win at the Body Glove Surfbout at Trestles -- but he has yet to explode in a World Tour event. Time away from tour may change this. Remarkably adaptable to the conditions, Davey has the potential to standout any and everywhere on tour, save possibly Tahiti and Pipe, so expect to see him find his way into the later rounds at least a couple of times this year.

From: Tomakin, Australia
Born: March 4, 1979
For a couple of years around 2005, "Macca" was the ultimate giant killer. He finished the '05 season rated fifth in the world, and looked like he was on the verge of huge things. Lord knows he gave Kelly a run for his money at Lowers that year. (Some would say he cleaned the champ's clock.) In '06 and '07, the wheels somehow came off. But after grinding it out on the 'QS last year, Macca's back, and surely eager to pick up where he left off. The only real question is how he'll fare against high-fliers like Dane, Jordy and Kerr. His brand of surfing is all rail, all power, but not a lot of flare, which could hinder the comeback, depending on the judge's perspective.

From: Umina, Australia
Born: Jan. 26, 1979
It only took Drew 11 years on the WQS to qualify. A gregarious Aussie who's guaranteed to make you laugh, he barely slipped in this year. It's hard to say how long his run on the world tour's going to last, but either way, he's fun to have around.

Frenchman Tim Boal's career has surprised many. And he's got a few more tricks up his sleeve.
From: Anglet, France
Born: July 8, 1983
Tim Boal's emergence on the world's stage is maybe the most unlikely out of everybody that qualified this year. A virtually unknown Frenchman, it wasn't until the U.S. Open in Huntington that Boal stood up and everybody took notice. Beating local boy Brett Simpson in the shadow of the famed pier, Boal would go on to claim second there -- a result that helped springboard him to where he is today. "I feel very fortunate to have been able to put together a year like this," Boal said in France this past October. "I've had some good results, but my overall consistency's been the key." It wasn't long after Boal clinched his spot on the '09 World Tour that he broke his ankle trying to get into a friend's second-floor window. This kept him out of the water in Hawaii, but by the time the Quik Pro gets under way he should be good to go.

From: Lagos, Portugal
Born: Feb. 15, 1984
The buzz around Marlon Lipke is that he's the first German surfer on tour. Hate to crush all the dreams of you folks from Deutschland, but by all accounts Marlon has spent and continues to spend most of his days living and surfing in Portugal … not that there's anything wrong with that. And not to take anything else away from Marlon, but he can thank Andy for his spot on tour. Until Andy announced his hiatus, Marlon was sitting as a first alternate, so it just goes to show, good things come to those who wait. He has his shot; now all he has to do is take it.

Jake Howard calls Dustin Barca "the Hawaiian Rocky."
From: Hanalei, Kauai, Hawaii
Born: Feb. 10, 1982
Unfortunately Barca comes to the tour after Bruce and Andy are all but done. Regardless, Barca's worked exceptionally hard to get on tour, and you know he'll savor every minute of it. "I don't want to say I'm on or off," Barca said when I tried to congratulate him in Hawaii this year. "Until I put that jersey on in Australia, I'm not sure I can believe it. Crazy [stuff] happens, but it's definitely something to look forward to." While Barca may be cautiously optimistic about next year, I'm not. If you get him in some surf, he's going to smash a few heats. The Oz leg could be a bit of a slog if he doesn't make those all-important early-round heats, but get him in Tahiti and Hawaii and he's nails. With a body more like a boxer than a surfer, fitness isn't going to be Barca's problem. He's like the Hawaiian Rocky, complete with the drive, determination and talent to make things very interesting.