Print and Go Back ESPN.com: Surfing [Print without images]

Thursday, September 15, 2011
Updated: September 22, 1:28 AM ET
Hurley Pro preview

By Jake Howard
ESPN Action Sports

Historically speaking, nobody's better than Kelly Slater at Lower Trestles ... nobody.

Preview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Final

If there's one event on tour that's in Kelly Slater's wheelhouse (besides all of them), it would be Lower Trestles, this year's seventh stop of the ASP World Tour. Historically and statistically speaking, nobody's better. The site of his breakout win at the 1991 Body Glove Surfbout ("It's the morning of the final"), Slater has owned the cobblestone point for 20 years. In the 10 years since Lowers was added to the World Tour calendar, Slater has never missed an event, and from 2004 to 2008 he didn't miss a final. He owns four titles and a win percentage close to 90 percent. He also holds the record for the highest heat score. Seems as if a result in San Clemente, Calif., is a foregone conclusion, meaning (as we've seen time and again) a world title can't be far behind.

At the start of the year the biggest challengers to Slater's title defense would have come in the form of Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning and Jordy Smith. Nobody really pegged Owen Wright to do what he's done. We knew he had it in him, we knew he was capable, but the skinny lad from Lennox Head, Australia, has certainly stepped it up. He could very easily meet up with Slater in the final at Lowers, which would be their third consecutive final together and serve as a rubber match after Slater's win in Tahiti and Wright's in New York.

"My confidence level would definitely be at an all-time high for myself," Wright said in his statement to the ASP earlier this week. Dangerous stuff from the former rookie of the year, who has so successfully played the role of student.

"Owen is the toughest guy in my opinion, given the venues we're facing," Slater said in the same ASP release. "That might be a big call to some, but having just won and probably should/could have won in Brazil and how things are shaping up, he's the most well-rounded and confident competitor to deal with. He's got a good head on his shoulders and I don't think [the ASP world title race] is an unwelcome pressure for him."

At 21 years old, Wright has the elasticity of youth on his side. At 39, obviously Slater brings the experience, along with all the other intangibles that come with being the 10-time world champion. Due to their seeding, the two find themselves on opposite sides of the draw, which means a finals pairing is well within the realm of possibility.

But there are others. Not enough has been made of Josh Kerr and his "This is my after heat win interview hat" -- a trucker's cap we've seen quite often lately. Transplanting from Australia to California, Kerr knows the cobblestones well and, after New York and Tahiti, probably has some kind of score to settle with Slater. He's been down at Lowers all week warming up, and according to occasional ESPN Surfing contributor and aerial connoisseur Jon Steele, "punting some sick ones." Sitting sixth in the world at present, he drops the two 13th-place finishes he got at Snapper and Bells at the start of the year and he's right in the hunt.

As for the walking wounded, it would appear that Dane Reynolds and Jordy Smith remain day to day with respective rib injuries. After pulling out of the Quiksilver Pro New York, Reynolds' manager, Blair Marlin, could not confirm his client's status, but considering he's missed every event this year, the smart money is on him no-showing. Meanwhile, the fact that Smith was willing to surf a heat in 10-foot Teahupoo waves hours after his injury speaks well to us seeing what he can do at Lowers.

Of course, 2011 rookie of the year candidates Julian Wilson and Alejo Muniz will contend as they're at the tip of the spear when it comes to progressive surfing, and Lowers is universally considered the most high-performance wave on tour. Wilson bases himself out of Encinitas when he's in California, subsequently spending a lot of time at Lowers.

Then there's the midyear additions. "Those guys are all sick and they're going to stir things up for sure," asserted Slater, referring to the addition of Gabriel Medina, Miguel Pupo and John Florence. Pupo won the Lowers Pro in April, and Medina seems to be able to pull 19-point heat scores off in his sleep. Both Brazilians will be extremely dangerous.

As for the forecast, Surfline.com is calling for a small-scale south swell to move in for Sunday/Monday and put surf in the shoulder-high range, which is plenty contestable for the long, tapered rights at Lowers. The waiting period runs from Sept. 18-24. We'll be on the beach bringing you the latest all week.