Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Preview
The Drug Aware Pro
As the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro in Western Australia gets ready to roll, men's and women's world title races hang in the balance. The second stop of the ASP World Tour, the event will be making its first appearance as a men's tour event. Local boy Taj Burrow has his sights trained on a big finish, but here are a few other surfers to keep an eye on.
In 2013, Carissa Moore took top honors at the Drug Aware Pro. It was the first time the event was run as a world tour stop, and given the solid performances in testy conditions, it proved itself worthy.
Can Kelly Slater bounce back from his disappointing finish at the Quik Pro? Fifth place may be fine for most surfers, but Slater isn't most surfers. When he paddles out, he expects to win, and that didn't happen in the quarters against Adriano de Souza. Historically, he has struggled at Margaret River, making the Drug Aware Pro a proper test of his mettle.
Stephanie Gilmore started her 2014 ASP campagin in fine fashion. Taking out the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, she heads to Western Australia with a head full of steam. But Margaret River is a different animal than Snapper Rocks, and the champ will have to adjust her approach and strategy accordingly.
Trialists Nathan Hedge, pictured, and Yadin Nicol will be in the main event, albeit seeded against the top surfers. Both have world tour experience and ample experience in the West Oz badlands, which makes them prime contenders for a few unexpected upsets.
Besides the main break at Margaret River, it's rumored that The Box is being considered as an alternate venue. More mutant than perfect, it's a heavy wave that breaks in extremely shallow water, able to give locals like Chris Ross moments like this.
With a second-place finish at the Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Bianca Buitendag unexpectedly threw herself into the world title race. Capable of handling the many moods of Margaret River, the South African should contend for a spot in the finals. After she gave all of her prize money from the Roxy Pro to charity, it's hard to root against her.
A dozen years ago, a fresh-faced Joel Parkinson put his stamp on Margaret River. Winning the contest in 2002, he would love nothing more than to find some of that old mojo and put himself into the 2014 world title hunt.
Looking to defend his 2013 ASP World Title, Mick Fanning was left with much to think about after the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast. First he stumbled in the opening round against Dane Reynolds, then he was upset by Gabriel Medina in the quarterfinals. It's a long season, but Fanning knows he's not getting any younger.
The West Oz surf zone is world class for all the right reasons. Exposed to raw, powerful swell energy and ideal offshore winds, spots like North Point can be both mentally and physically trying.
Courtney Conlogue has to be in the conversation when it comes to Margaret River. She has hovered in or near the ASP's top four for the better part of the past three years. She won the Margaret River Pro two years in a row when it was part of the qualifying series, but in its first year as a WCT event, Moore ran away with it. Conlogue will be eager to take back what's become her signature event.
Last year, Tyler Wright finished runner-up to Carissa Moore. While the women claim there's no rivalry brewing between them, they both love beating each other and use that as motivation. Wright would love to go one better this year, but Moore has other things on her mind.
Margaret River has always attracted some of the sport's biggest names. In 2006, Mark Occhilupo won the contest when it held a lowly ASP 4-Star rating. A wave that demands answering power with power, Occy's approach has proved to be timeless.
Over the past several years, the Drug Aware has steadily built a reputation for quality surf and quality surfers. In 2011, it attracted up-and-coming Julian Wilson, who proceeded to light the place up.
Sally Fitzgibbons is another perennial favorite at this event. She is long overdue for a big win, and given how well conditioned she is, maybe it's her time. With all the hype around Moore and Gilmore, she hasn't been in the conversation as much as of late, but she's still just as dangerous.
The Box By Sea
It doesn't look nearly so scary from here, as long as you don't pay attention to the great white sharks that frequent the area's waters.
Thanks to her Hawaiian upbringing, Coco Ho feels comfortable in the powerful surf at Margaret River. She's familiar with open-ocean swells and shifting takeoff spots, which gives her a distinct advantage.