Right around the time the final horn sounded at last years Pipeline Masters putting an end to a year of unexpected outcomes and less than stellar waves on the 2007 ASP World Tour, all eyes turned to 2008 and anticipation has been steadily building as the opening event gets set to kick off at Coolangata, Australia in less than two weeks.
As we move closer and closer to the lead-off contest, the story lines that this year’s tour will be the setting of continue to look more and more intriguing by the day and promise to make this years tour one of the all-time greats. Every year the tour produces dramatic finishes, surprise winners, adrenaline fueled confrontations, the arrival of up-and-comers, and of course, mind-blowing surfing by some of the most creative and talented athletes world-wide. However 2008 promises to be special for a lot of different reasons and here are ten that we think will amp your stoke level just few more notches and make this years tour one for the ages.
1. Will he stay or will he go? – “I’m sure Mick is going to be hungry to back up his title, the new guys will be hungry to make a statement, Andy is going to be hungry to find his place again, and as for me… I don’t think I’ll do a full year on the tour so I’m just going to have some fun.” With this comment, Kelly Slater once again hinted at retirement and has done so for some time. However, he is the first to admit that he has a hard time walking away from world-class conditions should the swell chart for an upcoming event call for them. He has confirmed his spot at the season-opener, the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast and following that event he has pretty much left it wide open. One thing is for sure, Slater would like to go out on top. If he shows good results early on in the tour and conditions at future contests are forecast to produce, I would find it almost impossible to see any scenario in which Kelly decides not to continue on. His competitive nature is part of what makes him who he is, and if he can feel one more championship in his grasp, you can be sure that he will put it all out there in order to go out on top. Then again, with Kelly, you just never know.
2. Aussie connection – With Mick Fanning taking the ‘07 title, Bede Durbidge winning the Triple Crown, and Joel Parkinson and Taj Burrow keeping pace with top 5 finishes, the Australians have a very legitimate shot at dominating and holding the top spots on tour for many years to come. They finished last years tour holding 4 of the top 5 positions with only Slater keeping them from a top 4 sweep. If you throw in Dean Morrison’s 9th place finish that makes half of the top 10 residing in the land of Koalas and Kangaroos. They each take the pressure off holding Australia’s title hopes in their hands and if Slater does indeed retire and others don’t step up, there is a solid possibility of these guys having a repeat of last years domination and once again bringing the title back to the land down under.
3. Andy Irons, Andy Irons, and Andy Irons – For many surfers, a sixth place finish on the tour would leave them content and pleased with the way that they rode throughout the year. Andy Irons is not most surfers. Irons thrives on being the alpha-male on tour, the center of attention, and the face of surfing. Finishing behind Slater and the Aussie contingent has undoubtedly not sat well with him in the off-season and you can be sure he will be as determined as ever to seize his crown and bring surfing glory back to Hawaii. Look for Andy to come out charged up and ready to rock.
4. The Chris Ward Saga – While this story-line is obviously of the more somber type, Ward’s legal issues and proceedings will definitely make it’s own waves throughout the tour this year. Already sitting it out for the first event, Ward is facing some fairly heavy charges and there is a real possibility of him sitting the whole year out. We wish him the best in resolving his legal issues and hope he is able to make it back. This will definitely be one to follow up on.
5. Jordy Smith – Smith, who holds down the 34th place seed after finishing 1st on the 2007 ASP WQS, has lofty aspirations for his debut season. Having already made a Final in an ASP World Tour event as a wildcard (JBay in 2006), he is certainly one to watch. Having recently signed an astronomical deal with O’neill, there will be the proverbial 800-pound gorilla sitting squarely atop his shoulders in the form of lofty expectations for the young South African. Think Jordy is worried? “I would say that I am looking forward to gaining experience and doing my best,” Smith said. “I am just going to put my best foot forward and hope that I can link together some good results. That might see me in the Top 5.” Doesn’t sound like it… does it?
6. Nations collide – The 2008 ASP World Tour is comprised of 17 Australians, 14 Americans (five of which are Hawaiians) 6 Brazilians, 4 South Africans and 4 Europeans – the greatest number of elite tour surfers Europe has ever boasted. The ASP tour obviously holds competitors from all over the world year after year, however with the immensely skilled and talented riders that each nation has produced, this year as much as any gives us the real chance of seeing the title going back to any of the aforementioned countries.
7. Dane Reynolds – The two most talked about surfers outside the Big 5 of Slater, Fanning, Irons, Parko, and Burrow over the past year are the previously mentioned Smith and Dane Reynolds. Both are powerful young surfers with a ferocious repertoire and as expected cut through the WQS with a fair amount of ease. By virtue of their 1-2 finish they have secured mid range seedings and will not meet any of the usual suspects on top until at least the round of 16. Although you wouldn’t be able to tell by his surfing, Dane has admitted to being torn between wanting to surf competitively and simply wanting to free-surf without being limited by the rules, limits, and politics that go along with competitive surfing. The humble Ventura prodigy had this to say when asked about Jordy Smith and the tour, “I just know that he’s going onto be world champion, and that’s not where I’m headed.” This is part of the intrigue with Reynolds, and coupled with his limitless potential he will be very interesting to watch as his career progresses.
8. More of 2007 or will conditions excite? – It’s no secret that the conditions throughout last years tour were sub-par at best. Slater summed it up best with this – “I do think it will be a tougher year competitively this year and the surf can’t be any worse than it was last season, so 2008 will definitely be a better year all around for the tour.” There are 11 events scheduled on the 2008 ‘Dream Tour’ and after a rather lackluster season wave-wise in 2007, the world’s best are eager to start from scratch and return to idyllic locations like Australia, Tahiti and Fiji with another opportunity to ride the best waves on the planet.
9. Expect the unexpected – One of the great things about the sport of surfing is it’s limitless scenarios and possibilities. Put down your cup of java and raise your hands if you foresaw the relatively unknown and unsponsored Bede Durbidge taking last years Pipeline Masters and Vans Triple Crown titles? Me either. There is so much talent on tour that it is impossible to foresee what will transpire. We can talk about Andy, but what about Bruce? We can rave about Dane and Jordy, but cannot forget to throw in last years rookie of the year Jeremy Flores. With surfing growing to be as big as it is worldwide and showing no signs of slowing down, the tour will continue to see the uprising of previously unknown surfers opening eyes year after year. Who will be 2008’s Durbidge? Who will be the tour-regular that puts it all together this year to make a run at the title? You’ll just have to stay tuned to find out.
10. 2008 Pipeline Masters – Thousands of surf contests are held worldwide year after year. When it boils right down to it, the Billabong Pipeline Masters is the crown jewel of them all and everything else is a distant second. Taking place at the epicenter of the surfing world, year after year all eyes become squarely focused on this historic event. It’s the Super Bowl of surfing and the quickest way for a professional surfer to put his name on the map and go down in the history books. With last years lack of title-drama, big names, and classic bone-breaking, picturesque Pipeline barrels coupled with a tension fueled confrontation out of the water, more than ever all eyes will be on this years event in hopes that lightning doesn’t strike the same-place twice. As for myself? I personally don’t think the surfing gods will allow a repeat of last years event and therefore look forward to the Pipeline Masters returning to its heralded form, captivating the minds of surfers and its fans everywhere. Look for Pipe to be the legendary break that we have come to to know and decide who it is that will be crowned the 2008 ASP World Champion.
ASP world tourandy ironskelly slaterjordy smithdane reynolds