Kelly Slater and Past Champions Progress to Round of 48 at Telstra Drug Aware Pro Margaret River20/03/2012 17:00PM WST
UPDATED: Tuesday 20th March, 2012 5:00pm
Eleven times world champion Kelly Slater breezed through his round one heat this afternoon at Margaret River. Slater dominated the heat from the outset, with his strategy to sit on the right hander paying off quickly as he soon got two scoring waves under his belt. Riding a 5 foot 9 “5 -fin”, the iconic Slater looked to be enjoying his time in the water toward the end of the heat as he pulled off a carving 360 re-entry to the delights of the strong crowd at Surfer’s Point.
After the heat Slater said he was glad to be back at Margaret River. “It is really great here. Last year we had an awesome time, the waves were not great but we relaxed and went and saw the wineries and ate some beautiful food,” he said. “But this year is different. The swell forecast is great and I am looking to do a lot of free surfing and hopefully get through the comp to Friday when the waves look like being spot on.”
It was a great day for past champions at Margaret River as a number of previous winners progressed into the Round of 48. Following the heat of Slater was local favourite and past event champion Taj Burrow who was lucky to progress through his heat. Burrow struggled to find a decent wave, leaving it to almost half way through his heat before his first scoring wave. Needing a score of 4.53 late in the heat to progress, Burrow pulled out a 4.63 on a late right hander to sneak through to the next round.
The highlight heat of the morning saw 2010 Champion Josh Kerr win through in a building 3 meter swell. He faced inaugural (1985) Margaret River Pro winner Mark Occhilupo, who made the most of his event wildcard and the solid surf to burst his way into the next round. Occhilupo won the event for a second time twenty years later in 2005.
Occhilupo attacked the large waves with reckless abandon, with the 45 year old taking a number of whipeouts. But his enthusiasm carried him through as he turned back the clock to his World Champion days, executing a number of his trademark power turns on his way to second place in the heat.
“It is just awesome to be back at Margaret River and I am so thankful for getting a wildcard into the event. I feel really great and if the waves stay good and solid like the forecast is saying, who knows, I could go all right,” laughed a jubilant Occhilupo after his heat.
World number 8 ranked surfer Josh Kerr was also laughing after his heat. “It was fun surfing with Occy. I had never surfed a heat with him and he was just making me laugh in the water. We split the peak at one stage and he was just frothing to go left and I was just laughing to myself as I went right,” said Kerr. “It is a good feeling to be back here and I had chicken skin paddling out today with all the great memories coming back.”
Defending men’s champion Damien Hobgood and 2008 champion Tom Whitaker also progressed through from this mornings’ heats. They will join top seeds Owen Wright, Adrian Buchan and Bede Durbidge who have also moved through to the Round of 48 which is expected to begin tomorrow.
An exciting line up of the world’s best surfers are expected to hit the water later today. Top seeds Kelly Slater and Taj Burrow will surf back-to-back heats at approximately 100pm and 130pm local time respectively. Both surfers will conduct a joint press conference later in the day with Women’s favourite Stephanie Gilmore.