9 April, 2008 : - - I’m into the next phase of planning for the Dream Tour – and for me that means honing my backhand attack. If Superbank and Bells light up the eyes of natural footers, it’s fair to say that the goofy footers start frothing about now with the prospect of the next two WCT events being held in primo left-handers.
The Billabong Pro at Teahupoo next month and the return of the Globe Pro at Cloudbreak means a quality opportunity for the right foot forward brigade to make their mark on the rankings. Currently, the top 10 has eight natural footers in it but you only have to look at the records of goofy-footers like the Hopgood brothers, Bobby Martinez and past winners like Mark Occhilupo at Teahupoo and Cloudbreak to know they are going to be contending.
The Globe Pro didn’t happen in 2007 due to all the government unrest going on in Fiji this time last year. It’s good to see the contest back. It was voted the surfers’ favourite event on the 2006 Dream Tour. We all love the event’s vibe plus you’re guaranteed great waves at Cloudbreak.
With Fiji returning to the tour and Rip Curl’s mobile Search event tipped for Indonesia this year, getting our act down in quality lefts is high on the minds of the leading pros. Frankly, it’s a challenge for we Aussies.
So many of our quality waves are rights. On the Gold Coast, it’s almost exclusively so. As a result, the backhand attack of Australian natural footers doesn’t get a huge amount of attention early in the season. In fact, it can be a like that for a long part of the year – including the contest season. Maybe that’s why Aussie natural footers haven’t fired as many shots in those contests as we would have liked.
There’s exceptions, of course. Dean Morrison is a huge force in qualify lefts. “Dingo’s” surfing at Pipeline has created new respect for Aussie natural footers in big lefts. But it’s fair to say that it’s been the American guys who have led the way in ensuring a backhand attack can be just as competitive at Teahupoo and Cloudbreak.
I’m mainly talking about Kelly Slater and the Irons brothers, Andy and Bruce, who all have great records in those events. I’ve been really impressed with Andy’s performances on his backhand, especially at Teahupoo where I believe he clearly leads the way. Andy is perhaps also an example of what I mean by a surfer often being a product of his own environment.
He and Bruce grew up on Kauai in Hawaii. When I was there for Andy’s wedding, I surfed Canyons which is one of the local breaks they know like the back of their hand. I found it to be a challenging slabby left that in many respects is a bit of a mini-training ground for Teahupoo (if you can ever say that about any wave compared to the amazing Tahitian break!)
I could see how time in the water at Canyons would have benefitted Andy and Bruce whereas in Australia, especially Queensland, we struggle to find those sorts of lefts.
So what do you do? Well, you’ve gotta go looking for them – and that’s exactly what I’m planning to do. I’m keeping an eye on the swell maps around Sydney and the NSW South Coast and in New Zealand over the next fortnight in search of quality lefts. Ideally, they’ll be reef breaks. I want to get used to the feel of reef waves again as quickly as possible so some good sessions in at places like Aussie Pipeline near Ulladulla would be ideal.
New Zealand has also been getting bombarded with swell this summer and autumn. They’re not reefs but breaks like Raglan, Shipwrecks and Whangamata Bar offer long, winding lefts that could be helpful for preparation for the Globe Pro in particular.
I’ve also got a fortnight-long session in Bali where I am doing some work for one of my sponsors, Mada. The chance to get into some nice clean lefts there will be a further part of my preparation. I think Mick Fanning has shown that dedicated and detailed preparation can lead to good results for an Aussie natural footer in this leg of the tour.
Mick made no secret of the fact he felt he needed to lift his act in hard-charging lefts. So he put in the time at Teahupoo last year. He’s now at the level where he and Dingo worry the hell out of anybody they draw there. The other bonus I have is my shaper is working with me on my backhand tube-riding.
That ordinarily wouldn’t mean much but my shaper is Wayne McKewen who is largely credited with pioneering the “pig-dog” backhand tube-riding style. A goofy footer on the Gold Coast has no choice but to get used to surfing on his backhand but it was Wayne in the 1970s who became the first local to consistently nail time in the barrel at places like Burleigh and Kirra.
That came via his lay-forward, grab-the-rail backhand style that was further popularised by an early Pro Junior winner Stuart Cadden and Hawaiian pros like Marvin Foster. Wayne is going to work with me on sorting out my backhand in terms of maximising time in the barrel at places like Teahupoo and Cloudbreak.