Monday July 21, 2003 (Jeffreys Bay, South Africa) Six-time world champion Kelly Slater (FL, USA) today claimed the Billabong Pro after an inspired week of surfing. The US$250,000 World Championship Tournament (WCT) resumed with remaining round three heats this morning and then progressed all the through to it’s climax this afternoon.
Great 4-6 ft (1.6-2m) surf was on offer. Unfavorable Northwest ‘Devil’ winds came and went throughout the day, but warm weather and sunshine added to the epic finish of the 2003 event.
Slater – the 1996 event champ – was pitted against fellow Floridian Damien Hobgood in the 35-minute decider. Having posted four of the top combined scores of the tournament – including the benchmark of 19.5 (out of 20) in round three, and six of the top 10 waves scored – including the only perfect 10, he was clearly the form surfer during this year’s Billabong Pro.
- 1. Andy Irons (Haw) 5,280
- 2. Kelly Slater (USA) 4,620
- 3. Kieren Perrow (USA) 4,416
- 4. Joel Parkinson (Aus) 4,356
- 5. Mick Fanning (Aus) 4,320
- 6. CJ Hobgood (USA) 4,140
- 7. Taj Burrow (Aus) 4,080
- 8. Cory Lopez (USA) 3,936
- 9. Dean Morrison (Aus) 3,852
- 10. Damien Hobgood (USA) 3,792
While Hobgood earned the first good score of the final, his opponent answered immediately back with a near-perfect 9.47 – following more of the incredible floaters and vertical re-entries he’s performed all event. He then caught a succession of quick waves and continued to increase his lead, before nailing it on his last wave for an 8.93. On this, he executed a couple of snaps and another long floater, before pulling off a carving reverse 360 – similar to what last year’s champion Mick Fanning had done to win.
Today’s victory earned the 31-year-old his 25th major WCT title (2nd this year), another US$30,000 and most significantly for him, a jump from 6th into second on the current ASP ratings. Only 660-points now separate him from reigning world champ and ratings leader Andy Irons (Kauai, Haw).
“I feel so good,” began an emotional Slater. “It came together for me. The week started off so badly, as I was in New York and missed my flight, but I just had to get back on the job. I got myself focused and just stayed really positive.
“After my third wave which was my big score, I knew all I really had to do was get something close to his first score and the pressure would be on,” he continued, of the match itself. “I was so stoked we made the final together. I remember seeing him and his brother CJ paddling out in contests when they were like six-years-old and I was about 12. It’s just so cool to see a bunch of guys from my area all doing the tour together and be doing so well. It’s a great feeling.
“Game’s on,” he added, of the 2003 world title race. “It’s kind of the dream scenario for me. Andy (Irons) was at the top and lost first, and then other guys started dropping out around the 9th and 5th (place) rounds. Then all the guys ahead of me were gone, so it just makes us all more even and gives me a better chance to be where I want to. If I can just keep my contest head together the way it is now, I think it’ll work out.”
Hobgood – in his first WCT final – waited patiently throughout and only really caught two rides. The 24-year-old managed two good scores however, and required an 8.44 toward the end. While he did take off on another wave, Slater held priority further down the line and ultimately turned the ride into one of his best. Nonetheless, Damien secured his best result to date and moved from 14th into 10th on the ratings.
“I was trying to get it out of my head who I was against and just catch some good waves,” admitted Hobgood afterward. “I started off with an OK first wave, but when I was paddling out I saw Kelly get that crazy one. It actually wasn’t even that good of a wave, but he just blew the bag out of it and turned it into a really good score. I got another wave that was better, but I took a long time and still needed to better my first.
“I had the 9th plague going on,” he joked, of failing to progress further all year. “I’m stoked to make it out of that round and then end up in the final.”
Equal third were Taylor Knox (CA, USA) and world #4 Taj Burrow (West Australia). Knox, who had actually placed runner-up twice previously (1996 & ’01) in the Billabong Pro, was stopped one round earlier by a rampaging Slater. Still, the California still secured his best result of the season and moved into 16th position.
“He was surfing so good all day,” began Knox. “This whole event he’s been on fire, so I knew I had to lift my game. Unfortunately by the end I still needed a couple of big scores and was just trying to save face. He was by far the best surfer this event, so to be beaten… to be the best you’ve got to beat the best.”