This year has been one of the most exciting surfing seasons in recent memory. It’s not often that for the race for the ASP World Title is so open this late in the season. With only one stop to go, there is still a mathematical possibility that any six of the world’s best surfers could yet be crowned winner of the 2014 season.
The Moche Rip Curl Pro kicked off in Portugal last weekend with an underwhelming start, due to strong winds and sheeting rain rolling in off the Atlantic. Only the early heats have gone ahead so far. This means there’s still a lot left to play for.
We got down to the penultimate tour event and spoke to 11 time world champion Kelly Slater about his predictions for the competition and whether 2014 he’ll be able to clinch an incredible 12th overall tour victory.
“Even though I was behind, I wasn’t stressing. I just had this feeling like the heat was going to be mine…”
“I had a tough heat this morning,” Slater told Mpora after round one. Matt Wilkinson, currently 23rd in the world, was leading with a strong 9.57. Then with barely five minutes to go, Slater managed to score a 9.67 after dropping into a barrel late and miraculously making it out the other side.
“After [Wilkinson] got his wave, I relaxed and just thought, you know what? I’m going to win this heat. I got my head in the right place. Even though I was behind, I wasn’t stressing. I just had this feeling like the heat was going to be mine.”
And he was right. But it’s not been a smooth season for Slater so far. In fact, the 11 times world champion is yet to win an event, but he’s not fazed. “It’s been a strange year in that no one made a real charge at the title at first. Usually somebody gets on a roll and they just keep winning and winning.”
Gabriel Medina, Michel Bourez, and Mick Fanning have each won two of the first six events – but they’ve also had some bad results. Fanning, for example, dropping to 25th in the Billabong Rio Pro.
Slater, meanwhile has been consistent throughout despite his lack of a win. “My year is almost like Mick Fanning’s was last year. A bunch of good results and no wins. Then he won in France and eventually the overall title. I’ve had my opportunities I just haven’t capitalised on them,” says Slater tactfully.
If Medina wins in Portugal, then he will automatically secure the 2014 world title. However, if Slater or John John Florence win in Portugal, then the title race will go to the final season event at Pipeline in Hawaii.
“Medina knows that if this goes beyond here, the pressure is really going to be on…”
Pipeline is old stomping ground for both Slater and Florence, who’ve had plenty of years experience surfing the Hawaiian reef break in the past. When asked, Slater agrees that he definitely has the upper hand over Medina if the race goes to Pipeline, “however that’s not to say I don’t think he can win Pipeline”.
“[Medina] won at Fiji, Tahiti and the Gold Coast this year. I’ve seen him surf really well at Pipe,” says Slater. “But no one’s seem him yet on one of those big days taking off deep from behind the peak on a ten foot west bowl.”
If Medina slips up in this event, then the chances of Slater or Florence swooping in for a late season victory become more and more likely.
“If I can keep myself in with a shot for the title, I’ll be happy,” says Slater. “Medina knows that if this goes beyond here, the pressure is really going to be on. Going into Pipeline, I don’t think the heat will be on me. It’ll be on him. We’d see how he would perform under real pressure.”