First pro surfer suspended for drug use makes big splash

Controversial Brazilian surfer Neco Padaratz signalled his intention to rejoin the elite World Championship Tour ranks when he blitzed day two of the Vodafone Open at Newcastle Beach yesterday.

The 29-year-old became the first professional surfer to be suspended for drug use in July last year after taking a banned steroid for chronic back pain.

He was subsequently stripped of all his WCT and second-tier World Qualifying Series (WQS) rating points, forcing him to fight his way back from the bottom.

The former world No. 13, who won the 2003 and 2004 WQS circuits, displayed a sharp competitive edge today to dominate his secondand third-round heats.

Padaratz said he was determined to make up for what was “one of the worst years” of his life.

“I’m looking forward to doing everything right to bring back my life again,” he said.

“I’ve been competing for the last 20 years so it is in my blood.

“The past is past 2005 was a year where a lot of things happened to a lot of people in the world.

“For myself, it was one of the worst years ever in my life, but in 2006,1 want to be a better person within myself and make everything happy.

“It was an experience but now I want to get everything back together.

“It’s coming back to normal.” But his preparation today was anything but normal. He was running late for his heat following a delay in his surfboards arriving from last weekend’s event at Margaret River, WA.

Unfazed, he surfed fluidly in the smooth one-meter waves to account for Brent Symes (Lake Cathie, NSW) and Joe McGregor (Seaford, South Australia). Hawaiian surfer Gavin Gillette moved through to round three with the Brazilian.

Padaratz then produced the session’s equal highest individual wave (9.17 out of 10) and best heat score (17.17 out of 20) to knock over Cortney Brown (Waterman, WA), Geoff Brack (US) and Charlie Carroll (Hawai’i).

“Newcastle has a lot of meaning for me,” Padaratz said. “This was my best result in the year that I qualified for the WCT. A lot of really good surfers come from here and it’s always a really hard event with strong support.” Australia’s top ranked junior Laurie Towner (Angourie, NSW) proved his surfing versatility today, powering through his second round heat.

Nominated last week for a Billabong XXL Global big wave award for a five-meter monster he rode in Tasmania, the 19year-old’s opening ride set the pace as the day’s highest score until Padaratz matched it in one of the last heats of the day.

Towner easily progressed over Blake Wilson (Alexandra Headland, Qld), Tom Rudd (Avalon, NSW) and David Steele (Seaford).

“This is my first WQS event,” Towner said, “so to see names like [Kelly] Slater and Occy [Mark Occhilupo] in the draw is pretty crazy because they are the world’s best surfers. I’m sure they all want to win it so it will be hard to go good, but I’ll definitely be trying my hardest.”

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