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Underdog Is Up to the Task

Durbidge, who made the Boost Mobile Pro field only after another athlete withdrew, defeats Slater for the title in San Clemente.

September 17, 2006|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

One of Saturday's finalists came into the $280,000 Boost Mobile Pro as the top-ranked surfer with seven world titles.

The other didn't even qualify for this year's World Championship Tour, but was allowed into the field when another competitor withdrew because of injury.

The advantage, it seemed, obviously favored Kelly Slater.

But Saturday was Bede Durbidge's day, one that neither he nor the pro surfing community will soon forget. It was a sunny, wind-swept day on which the easygoing bloke from Brisbane, Australia, became known as the giant killer.

Not only did Durbidge take down the greatest surfer ever to strap on a leash, but to get to the final against Slater at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Durbidge eliminated third-ranked Andy Irons in the fourth round, local hero Chris Ward in the quarterfinal and second-ranked Taj Burrow in the semifinals.

Asked afterward how he might celebrate his accomplishment, he replied, "I'd better not get too drunk tonight because otherwise I might forget what I did. It's a dream come true."

Durbidge, 23, who barely missed re-qualifying for this year's 44-man WCT, was placed in the field when Richie Lovett was forced to withdraw after a bout with cancer that led to hip replacement.

Lovett, who has recovered and was among the standouts in an exhibition on Saturday, received a hug from Durbidge before the awards ceremony.

What makes this story more remarkable is that Durbidge, whose only WCT experience before this season came in 2004, had never even advanced to the semifinals.

"It's good to be the underdog," he said.

With the victory he banked $30,000 and jumped from No. 19 to No. 10 in the standings and, with four events remaining, he is all but assured a place on next year's WCT.

Slater, meanwhile, could have built a nearly insurmountable lead if he could have defended his Boost Mobile Pro title.

As it is, though, Slater remains comfortably in front of Burrow and well ahead of Irons, Bobby Martinez and Taylor Knox -- the latter two having been eliminated before Saturday's marathon four-round conclusion.

"This is not a one-off thing -- Bede will win more events on tour," Slater said of Durbidge. "This will give him confidence, knowing he can win against anybody in the world."

Slater's route to the final went through Shaun Cansdell in the fourth round, Joel Parkinson in the quarterfinals and Dean Morrison in the semifinals.

Durbidge, the tallest athlete on tour at nearly 6-foot-2 and one of the heaviest at 180 pounds, showed throughout Saturday's competition that he was comfortable with his size and the WCT's man-on-man elimination format, in which surfers trade wave priority.

Holding priority, he took control after letting Slater having a smaller-set wave, on which Slater moved briefly into the lead with a score of 6.67, attained via a 360-degree spin and a series of top turns and tailslides on the inside section.

Surfers are judged on a scale of 1-10 and their best two waves count toward their final score. Durbidge needed a 7.84 to pass Slater, no small feat in choppy and inconsistent three- to five-foot surf.

But on the larger-set wave about halfway through the 35-minute heat, which followed the one ridden by Slater, Durbidge scored an 8.50 and later added a 7.33.

Slater, who last year defeated Australia's Phillip MacDonald with a high-scoring wave as time was running out, needed a 9.17 to overtake Durbidge. But he did not get the type of wave he needed and was outscored 15.83 to 10.84.

The 34-year-old from Cocoa Beach, Fla., who has hinted on and off about retirement, seemed content with his result and said he's looking forward to the next event later this month in France.

"I'm having a good time traveling with my friends," he said. "It's a good excuse for a job and I think I'll keep it going for a while."




The World Championship Tour points leaders. (TF-Trestles finish):

*--* No. Surfer TF Points 1. Kelly Slater (USA) 2nd 6,141 2. Taj Burrow (AUS) 3rd 5,558 3. Andy Irons (USA) 9th 4,965 4. Bobby Martinez (USA) 17th 4,643 5. Taylor Knox (USA) 17th 4,470 6. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 5th 4,384 7. Damien Hobgood (USA) 9th 4,367 8. Mick Fanning (AUS) 5th 4,309 9. Tim Reyes (USA) 9th 4,175 10. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 1st 3,939



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