JEFFREYS BAY, South Africa — He’s done it again.
Eight-time ASP World Champion Kelly Slater of Florida beat reigning ASP World Champion Mick Fanning of Australia yesterday to win the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, earn his 38th ASP World Tour victory and claim the fourth event on the 2008 ASP World Tour.
“I didn’t realize I was going to be overwhelmed by it, but I haven’t been in this position before, at this point of the year, with this many wins,” Slater said in a release. “There are great things going on in my life so I’m just trying to soak it up and be appreciative.”
Surfing his 14th season on the ASP World Tour, Slater is still the only member of the Top 45 to win an event this season. The one tournament Slater lost was won by an event wildcard. He now has a 1262 point lead on World No. 2 Joel Parkinson and is in commanding contention to claim his 9th ASP World Title.
“I’ve put a lot of years in obviously, it’s been my life on so many levels for so long, in a way I was trying to pull back from it, but also I do love it,” Slater said. “I get a lot of enjoyment out of competing because competing really pushes your level. The best performances in the world are on tour.”
Slater beat Fanning 16.73 to 9.40 in the Billabong Pro Final. While conditions early yesterday were clean and 6 foot, onshore winds made the semifinal and final tricky.
“It was really challenging,” Slater said. “You really have to change your frame of mind because we were looking at waves the other day where we were getting 30-45 second rides and doing six to eight maneuvers and now we’re looking at waves where if you get three moves it’s a good score. It’s really hard to change your perception on how you are going to surf a wave. I didn’t really catch on until the very end of that heat when I realized I could get a three-move wave and probably seal it.”
With six events remaining, there is still a possibility the title could be clinched by another surfer on the ASP World Tour roster, but the probability that will happen is small n something Slater’s competition knows all too well.
“I’d like to think I have it in the bag but I have to be realistic, it’s early on — we’re not quite half way yet,” Slater said. “We have 11 events this year and this is number five. Last year at this point I was looking at Mick that way. He had a first, a couple seconds and a third so I’d imagine being on the same side of that coin and looking at someone with four firsts and a throwaway is probably tough to look at.”
Only one member of the Top 45, Taylor Knox, is older than Slater. At 36, Slater already owns the title of youngest and oldest ASP World Title winner. He won his last World Title at age 34 in 2006.
“When I was a kid I would never have imagined a guy who is 36 winning four events on tour, let alone having a chance at the world title, so I’m just trying to soak that up,” Slater said.
Fanning was understandably disappointed to lose his second final of the year to Slater n the two met in the final of the first event of the year on the Gold Coast of Australia too.
“I surfed like an idiot,” Fanning said. “I had the opportunity to win the whole thing and I fell and I don’t know why. I don’t know what happened, I just had a shocker. I was feeling great, I just couldn’t stay on my board.”
Fanning, who was hoping to defend his ASP World Title this year can’t help but take a defeatist’s look at the 2008 title race.
“I guess it’s not over ‘till it’s over, but it’s like climbing Everest and he’s halfway up the bloody hill,” Fanning said.
Fanning moved to 4th with his second place result at Jeffreys Bay. He beat last year’s World No. 2 and the defending Billabong Pro Champion Taj Burrow in the semifinals. Burrow now sits 5th on the ratings.
“I’m pretty disappointed,” Burrow said. “Mick just wave-ed me to death basically. He picked the absolute best waves and must have surfed them pretty well because he got a 9.00. I got really crap waves and tried my guts out to try to do some turns and throw airs but it was just really choppy and hard. I needed to be more patient, really.”
Burrow, like most of his compatriots, shares Fanning’s sentiments on Slater’s victory today.
“Kelly wins another final, enough said, unbelievable.” Burrow said. “The door is really closing as far as I can see it. He’s got a ridiculous amount of keepers now so… how many events left? Not enough.”
Slater beat Parkinson in a close semifinal en route to the final. He stays in second on the leaderboard with the result.