Second in the world after the Australian leg of the Dream Tour – I’ve got to be pretty happy with that! After finishing last year so well, the key for me in 2008 was always going to be holding momentum into the new season and retaining the top five status I’d worked so hard to get. That’s why I trained the house down in the off-season.
My semi-final appearance at Superbank and then the runner-up result to Kelly Slater at Bells have pretty much ensured my goal of hitting the ground running in the two Australian contests has been achieved. Last year, I knew I had it in me to move from 15th in the world to the top five. Now I know I have what it takes to stay here and to contend for the title as well.
It’s flattering to hear others such as Kelly and Rabbit Bartholomew saying the same but that’s not what drives me. My personal goals and getting results that stoke my support crew as well as me are the most important drivers. That’s helped me get into a good space where I am feeling very confident, relaxed but still focussed in every heat. Competing against Kelly in the Rip Curl Pro was a privilege.
People have asked me if I was bummed he turned up at Bells – the inference being I might have won if he wasn’t there. To be honest, if that was the case, it would have been a hollow victory. I meant what I said on the podium when I thanked Kelly for coming to the contest and said I hoped he would compete on the full tour this year.
My pre-Bells blog talked about how I learn so much from competing against him and how he raises the performance bar for all of us – and I think the Rip Curl event showed that. I beat Kelly in the final of the Boost Pro at Trestles in 2006 for my first WCT event win and I’ve got no doubt my development as a competitive surfer was fast-tracked by the experience. Same as our semi last year at the Quiksilver Pro on the Goldie.
So while I obviously would have preferred to “ring the bell” on the bigger trophy at Bells rather than the runner-up’s version, surfing against Kelly in the final was huge and again I learned many things. Would I have done anything different if I could have that final over again? The honest answer is no.
I’ve had lots of people ask why I didn’t paddle after Kelly when I held priority and he took off up to Rincon in the late stages of our final. To follow him and try and attempt to squeeze him through having priority would have meant abandoning chasing a second strong wave to back up my 8 plus score that had put me in the lead early in the final.
My second scoring wave was around 6 and even though the conditions were fickle in the Bowl there still seemed enough time on the clock to find something to improve on that and still hold the lead. I was always confident that if I could find a wall that would stand up and let me make it through to the inside section I could get a high scoring six or seven pointer. Plus there simply weren’t any waves of substance coming through at Rincon at that time.
I could have followed Kelly but it potentially meant forgetting about improving my second wave, and also risking being “sucker-punched” into losing priority by taking a poor wave. I don’t regret that decision. As it turned out, Kelly found one that held up long enough for him to pull that aerial. Good on him.
But even after that I could’ve still won with a 6.8 score. Unfortunately, the surf didn’t co-operate during those last five minutes or so but had it I know I could have got the score I required. That’s surfing though, and that’s what I mean about lessons. I don’t know if there would be many other guys who would have done what Kelly did in the situation. He was behind, I had priority and the waves weren’t really happening.
But a champion doesn’t just sit there and helplessly let the clock wind down. He or she tries to make something happen to force the issue. That’s what Kelly did – and that’s why he is undisputedly the greatest competition surfer we’ve ever seen. I can’t say that I would have done the same if the roles had been reversed because I wasn’t put into that sort of decision -making mode. But I tell you what, it’s something I will think about now if I’m ever in a similar situation.
For now, though, I’m stoked. Second after the opening leg and Kelly saying he will be turning up at Teauhpoo next month. For me, the focus is on surfing as many good qualify lefts as possible over the next few weeks. I’ve got an Indonesian trip planned to help plus my shaper and I are going to head south to surf a few NSW left hand reefs like Aussie Pipeline at Ulladulla. I’ll let you know how training’s going! Till then Keep surfing
- Bede Durbidge