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Saturday, October 29, 2011
Updated: November 7, 6:19 PM ET
Rip Curl Pro Search Preview

By Jake Howard
ESPN Action Sports

Preview Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Final

"We're confident we picked the right time," says Rip Curl marketing director Dylan Slater of the company's choice to bring the Rip Curl Search to "somewhere in San Francisco," aka Ocean Beach, aka "The Beach."

Upon the announcement, critics immediately jumped on the brand's decision to go urban surfing in mainland USA. Not exactly emblematic of the "Search" ethos, Ocean Beach isn't tropical, but then neither was Chile in 2007. It's hardly exotic, but neither was New York, and that worked out all right for Quik this year. And while reputed as a world-class beach break on its day, it's not the dream locale, but Portugal in 2009 wasn't either and now it's been a scheduled stop for three years.

With a promising series of acute 300-degree northwest swells stacking beyond the Farallons, it's time to see if Rip Curl's cold water gambit pays off. And you can expect this thing to get going straight away. "The first couple days of the contest waiting period, Tuesday and Wednesday, will see solid surf and favorable wind conditions. An area of low pressure now developing in the Gulf of Alaska is setting up the mid- to long-period groundswell," states Surfline.com's official contest forecast. "The surf will build through the day on Tuesday, into the overhead range through the afternoon, before easing and cleaning up on Wednesday."

Beyond that, it looks like the event may get a dose of classic northern California weather. As my grandma, who has lived blocks from the beach for 90 years, always says, "You never get more than a day or two of sun before the fog rolls back in." 

But let's be honest, the world won't be tuning in to see whether Dylan Slater and company made the right call. No, all eyes are on Kelly Slater (no relation). With a ninth-place finish or better, Slater clinches his record 11th world title, a feat he could hardly have dreamed possible when he started this journey 20 years ago. Of course, true to form, he says another title hasn't really been on his mind.

"Being this close doesn't change my approach too much," Slater noted in his pre-event statement to the ASP. "I have to ride four waves as well as I can against probably a really good wild card. The approach doesn't change because of the situation. The approach got me to this place and I'll stay in the same head space as much as possible."

San Francisco isn't exactly the first place that comes to mind when "searching" for surf, but on its day Ocean Beach can be as good as anywhere in the world.
  

Slater started the 2011 season with a win at the Quiksilver Pro Australia back in March, but he was noncommittal as to whether or not he'd fire up another title campaign. In July, he missed the Billabong Pro South Africa, forsaking it for better surf in Fiji. According to those close to him in the South Pacific, he wasn't sure what was going to happen next.

But the man just loves a challenge, so when the Billabong Pro Tahiti went nuclear he rose to the occasion, besting Australian Owen Wright in the final. The two would meet in the next two finals. Wright got him back at the Quik Pro New York, and Slater returned the favor at the Hurley Pro in California. By that point Slater was in familiar territory -- first in the ratings. And now, for a man that loves numbers, Slater seems destined to clinch number 11 in '11.

Of course, like most on tour, Slater's spent little to no time surfing at the Bay Area break. "I expect cold and paddling," Slater says.

With no jet ski assist, that's a fair assessment. Surfing Ocean Beach is as much a test of endurance as it is a contest to see who can rip the hardest. With water temps hovering in the low 50s, and 10- to 12-second swell intervals, The Beach is well known for dumping a lot of water on surfers' heads.

Personally, I love the fact that these guys are going to have to work for their money. Thousands of surfers around the world spend their days in pedestrian lineups like Ocean Beach, and that alone makes this event interesting and hopefully even a little bit humbling. Do you really want to see another contest at some blue bird reef pass? Or do you want to see some beatings? The pro tour hasn't been to Ocean Beach since it was a stop on the Bud Pro Tour in the late '80s, and for as hard core as the San Francisco local is, they deserve to see a little star power warm up their lineup for a few days.