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Wednesday, April 6, 2011
Updated: April 9, 11:54 AM ET
Slater struggles to advance in West Oz

By Peter "Joli" Wilson
ESPN Action Sports

Kelly Slater gouging the eyes out of this one on a quad. And if you want to make a big deal out of it, he's happy to talk to you.

Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5

Old school versus new school, power versus airs, hair versus no hair: the Telstra Drug Aware Pro at Margaret River had it all today for the completion of Round One and not necessarily from the surfers you'd expect.

New schooler Matty Wilkinson, and his long permed hair went for power moves, while Mick Fanning with his shaven head boosted airs, and number one seed Kelly Slater struggled to find a six-point wave for over 25 minutes of his 30-minute heat.

How's this for a new school heat? Wilkinson, probably the most innovative surfer on the World Tour; Gabriel Medina, one of the best young aerial specialists in the world today, former World Junior champ Maxime Huscenot, and Jay "Bottle" Thompson, known for his big power hacks. On paper (and with the side onshore wind blowing across the four-to-six-foot lefts and rights) you'd think the heat would be all about airs. Medina didn't let us down with a couple of forehand air reverses, but it was all about power moves, even from Wilkinson.

"Old school sort of dominated out there," admitted Wilkinson later. "I was just trying to do some big, solid turns. My whole plan was to catch some of the cleaner rights, do some good old fashion turns, and some backhand reos, so I could get through. But I had to get a little bit new school on one to get through."

Getting through was probably on Kelly Slater's mind too as time ticked away in his heat against Billy Stairmand of New Zealand, Gony Zubizarreta of Spain, and Brazilian David do Carmo. Who? Exactly.

Wilko keeps his hair permed and his quiver close at hand.

There has been a huge media blitz about Slater being in Western Australia for this contest. He's been traveling with an entourage that includes a personal bodyguard and significant other. Every time the media has gotten close, he's been bombarded with questions ranging from a marine reserve for the Margaret River region to marriage plans with his girlfriend, Kalani Miller. Thier relationship was the topic on talk radio here this morning. He's getting understandably a little media shy.

At events throughout the year, you see Slater carrying Channel Islands boards with five fin boxes, but rarely do you see him surf a quad fin setup in a heat, but today was an exception. When I asked if it had made a difference on the choppy wave faces he was almost defensive, "Quads are faster than thrusters," was his immediate answer before adding, "If you want to make an issue out of them, I ride them everyday. I find them a bit faster and basically it went great out there today."

Going great out there was not how the crowd and the organizers were seeing it from the beach. Kelly opened up with two quick rights and seemed to be controlling the heat, but neither wave scored above a five while the other guys got busy and jumped past Slater on the scoreboard.

For nearly 20 minutes, Slater scooted around trying to find six points to advance. You could almost hear the organizers chomping on their fingernails, wishing and hoping for him to get a scoring wave. There was a collective sigh from the crowd when he finally got the score he needed.

When asked if he'd had any doubts about advancing his answer was as direct as that about riding quads.

"If I could have found a wave, I only needed a six. That's not a whole lot to get, so if I can't get a six on an open faced wave, then I should go home."

Slater then softened and elaborated a little, "There weren't a lot of waves out there and there was a bit of hassling between the guys. It's a little bit tricky with four guys hassling for two wave sets. I was a bit hot in my wetsuit and I was surprised by today's' size, there were a few sets that were easily double overhead, so it was a bit tricky overall."

The sun sets on a long day at Margaret River. The crew at the Telstar Drug Aware Pro looking for signs of the 15-foot swell forecasted to arrive.

Mick Fanning surfed the very next heat after Slater's. Slater was still in the line up when Fanning took his first wave. While Slater had struggled for a six point wave, Fanning's first score was a nine, right in front of Slater. It was a bit of one-upmanship between the two world champs.

"I was a bit nervous," Fanning admitted later with a laugh. "I took off and it wasn't even in my plan to go left at all but it looked like an alright one and once I'd got my first turn out of the way, which felt pretty good, it had one more little section. That was it, and they were throwing nines at it so I thought, 'Wahoo'. I then concentrated on the rights and even went for a few airs, probably got a bit excited, but all's good and I'm through."

Tomorrow could be interesting with the prediction of 15-foot plus surf, which will certainly sort the two schools out. Who will come in top of their class, the old or the new?