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They Put On a Swell Show

Surfing: Slater and others shine in Boost Mobile Pro in the best conditions in years at Lower Trestles.

September 10, 2002|PETE THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The sun shone, the waves rose, breaking hard and fast to the south, and the world's top surfers on Monday put on one of the greatest performances ever seen at Lower Trestles near San Clemente.

In the best surf to have swept over the legendary point break in years, the wave faces measured 10 feet or higher, with a gentle offshore breeze holding their shape to nothing short of perfect.

During what organizers of the Boost Mobile Pro were calling "the competition of the century."

Indeed, on a day that the Assn. of Surfing Professionals' World Championship Tour event--the only such event this year on the U.S. mainland--thinned its ranks from 16 to four, the biggest losers were the unfortunate surfing masses relegated to lesser breaks to the north and south.

"That's the biggest reward--being able to surf [Lower] Trestles like this in heats with only one other guy," said Taylor Knox of Carlsbad. Knox, 31, was knocked off in the fourth round by Shane Beschen of San Clemente.

Beschen, 30, who had carved a clean 360-degree turn on the face of his final fourth-round wave to help him edge Knox, could not find the waves he needed to get past Luke Egan of Australia in the quarterfinals. But the wild-card entrant, who failed to qualify for this year's WCT, showed on his hometown break that he's back in top form and will be a force to contend with on the elite world tour next year.

"I'm in the mind frame where I consider these guys equals, not more and not less," a fiery Beschen said after his loss to Egan, who had nothing but praise for his rival.

Thus, today's semifinals and finals will proceed without any representatives from Southern California. But they will feature the sport's most successful athlete in Kelly Slater, the six-time world champion who finally is starting to resemble the Slater of old.

Slater, 30, back on tour after a three-year hiatus, struggled through the first five WCT events, finishing no higher than ninth and starting the Trestles event ranked 21st in the world.

In the early rounds of the Boost Mobile Pro, he hung on largely with late-heat heroics he said were taking their toll emotionally. But Monday, his inner fire fueled by conditions that improved throughout the day, Slater had little trouble beating Darren O'Rafferty in the fourth round, and even less against fellow Floridian Damien Hobgood in the quarterfinals.

Against Hobgood, Slater used a series of high-powered, snapping top turns and deep-carving cutbacks to post a score of 9.60 out of a possible 10. Three waves later, with a pair of dolphins cruising through the lineup, he caught a wave and faded to his left before turning to his right. He picked up speed as he raced to beat the section, and then snapped a turn hard off the lip and turned his board 180 degrees to get back into the wave. He rode the wave to completion and the judges gave him a 9.0.

Suddenly, the man who in the early 1990s ran off five consecutive world championships is closing in on his first tour victory since 1998.

"It just feels great to be able to kick back and exhale after all that," Slater said after his quarterfinal triumph. "I've been able to work off a lot of nervous energy out here and it's good to get my legs working and my blood flowing again."

Slater, an avid golfer and fan of the game, called Monday moving day--just like Saturday on the PGA Tour--and by posting the day's highest two-wave total, 18.60, he made the day's biggest move.

His first foe today is Egan, who has been taking things in stride since the contest began Thursday and said, "I'm not about to change my game plan now."

In the other semifinal, Brazil's Guilherme Herdy will face Australia's Michael Campbell.

*

Because of security concerns and logistical problems, a paddle-out ceremony to honor the victims of the Sept. 11 tragedy will be held today instead of Wednesday. The ceremony, which is open to the public, will be held about noon, before the Boost Mobile Pro finals.

Lower Trestles is in San Onofre State Beach, just north of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

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