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Wednesday, September 21, 2011
"The morning of the final"

Joel Parkinson's looking for some momentum at the Hurley Pro to propel him to a title, but there's no easy road to the final this year.

In the immortal words of Kelly Slater, "It is the morning of the final." Told in a scene from his 1991 film "Black and White," a bright eyed and bushy tailed teen Slater wakes up and mumbles the sentence that would launch the greatest career in pro surfing history. I wonder if he's saying that this morning? I wonder if Julian Wilson is?

It is the morning of the final day of the Hurley Pro, and after what we saw yesterday, Slater's in it to win it, but so are a lot of other players. Slater's motivations aren't hard to figure out, his world title campaigns traditionally begin at Lowers. Wherever his plans lead him in the not too distant future, it was clear from watching him react to Adrian De Souza yesterday that he's fully engaged, that the fire indeed still burns white hot deep within. Given how well he surfed, where he was putting his board, and his apparent satisfaction with said board, he's going to be a tough man to topple in the three heats he has left.

Then there's Mr. Owen Wright, who probably never saw himself as a world title contender last March, but then he finaled in Tahiti and won New York. Now here he sits, into the quarters, a few thousand points behind Slater in the ratings, and very much looking the part of a shark that smells blood in the water.

The man to beat...for the last 20 years.

Wright's 6'3" frame has allowed him to overpower the wave at Lowers like nobody else. He's climbing over sections that most wouldn't be able to, but more importantly, he's found that special blend of classic, full-rail surfing and progressive, new school maneuvers that the judges love oh-so much. He can do airs with the best of them, but is able to get wins on turns, too. His wave choice is usually spot on, and as he's matured into a very smart competitor. Another final pairing against Slater is far from out of the question.

Meanwhile, it's probably eating Joel Parkinson up that Wright, Wilson and Josh Kerr are the Aussies snagging all the headlines lately. Or maybe not. He's quietly, methodically approached the Hurley Pro this year. A lot of his heats have been at the beginning of the day -- save that cracker yesterday afternoon with Mick Fanning and Wilson -- so a lot of the crowds and punditry may have missed him.

Parkinson's run a tight operation; Luke Egan constantly by his side, out early testing a new quiver of boards during the free surf sessions before competition gets underway. He appears relaxed yet focused, unhappy with how Tahiti and New York went, but convinced that he's still in the hunt for a world title. Considering who he is and the fact that he sits at number three in the world, it seems weird to think of him as a dark horse, but that's just where the level of surfing has gone this week.

Adriano De Souza moved from Brazil to California just to surf Lowers, so far it's paying off.

And you just know good ol' De Souza's going all in today. Given the size of the waves throughout the week one would have figured more Brazilians would still be standing, but Gabriel Medina, Jadson Andre and Miguel Pupo all flamed earlier than expected, leaving the 24-year-old and 29-year-old Heitor Alves as the last men standing with the green and yellow flag. A competitor through and through, De Souza out positioned Taj Burrow yesterday to advance into the quarters, but also managed to put a bee in Slater's bonnet -- which never bodes well for anyone. Last year in Puerto Rico the two mixed it up a little bit and it didn't not end well for De Souza. Slater unleashed all his Slaterness and De Souza was out of the heat in the first two minutes. The same could very easily happen today if the two go on to meet in the semis.

That's the quarterfinalists that we know of already. Progressive technicians Burrow, Fanning, Kerr and Wilson are all surfing in round five, which not only gives Australia a lot to cheer about, but also anybody that loves a good air. Both Kerr and Wilson landed varials in their heats yesterday, so there's no telling where they could take it today. Hard to tell if the judges really know what to make of the things their doing and how incredibly difficult they are, but then they've made it this far, so there must be some level of appreciation.

Out of the 12 surfers left, three are goofy-footers. As far as scoring is concerned Ace Buchan has led the way for those that put their right foot forward. He'll face Wilson in heat four of round five, which is no small order, but his strength all week has been on his backhand, so with the rights being a little better earlier in the morning he could surprise a few people.

Quarters in Tahiti, semis in NY, can Julian Wilson go one further and final?

Damien Hobgood has a taller order. He'll face a hungry, maybe somewhat frustrated Mick Fanning. Fanning's not happy about sitting eighth in the world, and he's even less happy he barely got a mention yesterday in that heat with Parkinson and Wilson. Riding a Matt Biolas shape, Fanning's uncharacteristically using a local shaper's design, and to be honest, the board is working for him. Biolas shaped boards for about a dozen of the top 32 for this event, but Fanning and Wilson are the only two still standing.

Judging by the forecast and what both contest direct Pat O'Connell and tour director Renato Hickle were saying, a champion should be crowned today. Stay tuned to ESPN Surfing's Twitter feed for live updates from the beach.

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)