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Monday, September 3, 2012
Updated: September 7, 4:07 PM ET
Winning the Hardman way

By Jake Howard
ESPN.com

In his heyday they called Damien Hardman "The Iceman" because of his calculating, strategic approach to surfing heats. It's an approach that worked for him as he won two world titles. And once again, his smarts have carried to him to victory, this time at the 2012 Four Seasons Surfing Champions Trophy, a specialty event that featured three rounds: one where the surfers had to ride single-fins, another on twin-fins, and a third on the more conventional thruster design. Whoever amassed the most points over the course of the contest earned themselves a berth in the grand final, where a $10,000 prize was on the table.

"It's an honor just to be here," said the humble Hardman when it was all over. "To surf against guys like Tom Curren, Martin Potter and Mark Occhilupo is a real privilege. We're all a little bit older these days, but I think you could tell by the performances throughout the week that if you stay passionate and keep surfing, you can still really push yourself."

Meeting Tom Curren in the grand final, he reminisced, "The last time I can really remember being in a final with Tom was in Japan in '86, and he got me in it, so maybe now I got him back a little."

After battling through a the final round, which took place on more conventional, thruster equipment, Curren had to first get through a three-man heat with Martin Potter and Phil Rajzman. Tallying the wave of the event, an nine-point tube ride, it was as if the Curren of old had returned, conjuring scores out of seemingly nothing.

"I saw it setting up and then just tried to control my speed, and luckily it didn't pinch at the end," told Curren afterwards while tending to a fin cut on his shin that he suffered during the previous day's twin-fin round.

The next heat featured a classic clash between Mark Occhilupo, Damien Hardman and Potter, who because of the event's format was awarded a second opportunity after finishing last in the previous heat. After sweeping through both the single-fin and twin-fin divisions, Hardman's appearance in the grand final was a lock, but he ended up losing the round one heat and was sidelined until the grand final at day's end.

The real battle of the thruster round was for the second spot in the grand final, in which Curren, Mark Occhilupo and Martin Potter were all in tight contention.

"Going into the final day Occy and I were up on Curren by 100 points in the ratings, so it was still anybody's ballgame," told Potter as the day's competition got underway.

Damien Hardman
"Last year I couldn't buy a wave," joked Damien Hardman. This year he couldn't be stopped, winning the single-fin, twin-fin and grand final.

And what a difference a thruster makes as the elevation of the performance bar was immediately evident. Replaying one of the greatest rivalries of surf, Curren and Occy squared off against each other. It was a back-and-forth affair with Occy clinging to the lead until the dying seconds when Curren, as he's done so many times throughout his career, pulled a rabbit out of the hat and edged Occy out to make it into the thruster final.

In the second semifinal the upset of the contest took place when Rajzman took out Potter.

"I wasn't able to find any rhythm out there, I sat for the first 12 minutes without even getting a wave," said Potter afterwards.

The thruster final was set, Curren versus Rajzman. The smart money was on Curren, and he didn't disappoint. Posting two near excellent scores to advance into the grand final against Hardman.

"Yeah, the waves were good, it got better throughout the day," said Curren.

When the final started it was game on, right at the horn Hardman locked in an eight-point ride and Curren followed with a seven. Then the ocean decided to take a break and the surf lulled out. The two exchanged mid-range scores in the closing minutes but Hardman managed to edge out Curren.

It would have been good to have a crack at each other in more waves, but that opening exchange pretty much decided the final," said Hardman.

"I'm not disappointed at all, this has been nothing but a positive experience from start to finish," said Curren. "We all had heated battles when we were at the height of our careers, and it was fun to rekindle some of those feelings ... but it was definitely more gentlemanly."

But like Neptune himself had tuned in, the minute the final ended a massive squall blew in, pinning just about everybody on the Four Season's luxury catamaran The Explorer. "Hell of a way to celebrate," joked Hardman.

Four hours later the weather let up enough to ferry all the passengers back to the island, where the party really got started. Drinks and food flowed freely, and Curren, who has a new album coming out in the not too distant future, sat and played for about an hour and a half. And Occy, ever the entertainer, joined him on the mic for a few songs. It was the perfect way to end an amazing week in the Maldives.