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Tuesday, September 20, 2011
Updated: September 22, 1:27 AM ET
Riding with the king

By Jake Howard
ESPN Action Sports

Preview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Final

Adriano, you fool! Don't you know you don't give the champ reason to try. We had a perfectly good little surf contest going down here at the Hurley Pro before you went and fired up Kelly. Now nobody has a chance.

Tuesday at Lowers was more or less standard operating procedure until about 3:00pm PST, when Adriano De Souza out flanked Taj Burrow for the winning wave in their round four heat. Kelly Slater was in the channel paddling out for his heat, and maybe caught in the moment, De Souza shared some words with Slater. Slater countered with some splashes and a few words of his own. That was the only inspiration the 11-time world champion needed to unload on Josh Kerr and Heitor Alves, a performance that earned him a berth into the quarterfinals.

By the time both De Souza and Slater were on camera for their post heat interviews they shrugged it off as nothing more than heat-of-battle banter -- but given the competitive nature of each, the incident won't be forgotten tomorrow when the Hurley Pro conceivably comes to a conclusion.

"He's passionate," concluded Slater, who spent most of his day hanging on the second floor of the VIP area, watching both the waves and his competitors. The past couple of days he's been riding a standard three fin set-up that appears relatively conventional by his standards, even with a smaller-than-normal trailing fin. It'd be hard to disagree that the thing has been looking pretty close to magic under his feet.

Channeling the spirit of Neco Padaratz, Adriano De Souza was fired up in round four.

"He has a five fin here. He broke the one he was riding in NY, but he's been pretty happy with what he's on so far," noted Channel Islands' Travis Lee.

Meanwhile, searching for redemption and his first world title is third rated Joel Parkinson. Until today he's been clopping along at a relatively quiet pace, making heats but not blowing minds. He's been showing up early in the morning, working closely with Luke Egan on his equipment, and being very diligent about his preparation. Like Slater, he spent most of the day isolated upstairs in the competitor's area studying all the goings on.

In round three Parkinson managed to edge out Brett Simpson, who really seems to have taken his surfing to the next level the last month or two. The case could be made that Simpson actually surfed better, consistently riding out of air reverses and big tail blows. At the very least it was more "progressive." But being the seasoned competitor that he is, Parkinson found the winning waves. Able to control priority most of the heat, Simpson was mostly relegated to the inside, while Parkinson was able to capitalize on the set waves that peeled down the cobblestone point and allowed for more scoring maneuvers.

Five years ago the only place you saw varials was in air shows, but Josh Kerr and Julian Wilson (shown) both landed them.

On paper Parkinson's round four heat couldn't have been much more stacked (although to be fair the same could have been said about any of the round four groupings). He squared off against Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson, and somehow advance on into the quarters. Throughout the day Fanning was looking like one of the most inform, surfing with power, speed and accuracy. But in this instance it was Wilson that almost spoiled Parkinson's campaign.

Not more than an hour earlier Kerr had landed a big varial on a left that earned him close to an eight-point score. Then, with his back against the wall, Wilson dropped the hammer, landing a varial and 360 air on one wave. He would get a 9.8 for the effort, and momentarily took command of the heat.

"The wind died as I was paddling out so I thought the lefts might not offer any sections but they were actually really rippable," said Wilson afterward. "I got a ramp on that one and did the shove-it then reverse, I was pretty psyched to pull that off under pressure."

At 6'3" Owen Wright is one of the biggest surfers on tour, and he's pretty much been having his way with Lowers this week as a result.

But proving that he can thrive under pressure too, Parkinson grabbed a set wave in the dying seconds, carved his way all the way to the beach and was given the score he needed. A lot of people were left wondering how exactly Parkinson had been able to turn the heat when Wilson's wave was so absolutely, well, "progressive," but regardless, both will surf again tomorrow.

The Hurley Pro should be wrapped up by tomorrow afternoon. The top three surfers in the world, Slater, Owen Wright and Parkinson, are all into the quarters already, so yeah, whatever happens has world title implications. Slater and Parkinson keep alluding to the fact that they see Lowers as the turning point in the year, when it's time to buckle down and really go to work. You could never get Slater to admit that he's in it to win it this year, that an 11th world title is the object of his desire, but judging by the laser focus he exuded today, and his response to De Souza's outburst, he's dead set on going the distance.

Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) vs. Heitor Alves (BRA)
Heat 2: Josh Kerr (AUS) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 3: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Mick Fanning (AUS)
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)

Heat 1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 16.33, Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.93, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 12.23
Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.90, Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.60, Heitor Alves (BRA) 11.77
Heat 3: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.73, Damien Hobgood (USA) 15.20, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 12.46
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 18.06, Julian Wilson (AUS) 17.77, Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.50

Heat 1: Taj Burrow (AUS) 15.50 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 12.97
Heat 2: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 15.50 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 13.10
Heat 3: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 10.27 def. Fredrick Patacchia (HAW) 9.57
Heat 4: Heitor Alves (BRA) 11.63 def. Michel Bourez (PYF) 11.43
Heat 5: Josh Kerr (AUS) 12.33 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 11.83
Heat 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.64 def. Tom Whitaker (AUS) 12.93
Heat 7: Owen Wright (AUS) 17.84 def. John Florence (HAW) 17.13
Heat 8: Damien Hobgood (USA) 14.13 def. Kieren Perrow (AUS) 8.17
Heat 9: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 15.80 def. Chris Davidson (AUS) 10.40
Heat 10: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 17.00 def. Brett Simpson (USA) 16.80
Heat 11: Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.23 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 9.00
Heat 12: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.93 def. Taylor Knox (USA) 13.17