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Slater is making his move

The veteran defeats Machado and is in position for a shot at a ninth world title. Other surfers provide glimpse of tour's future.

September 14, 2007|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Kelly Slater and Rob Machado have surfed many memorable heats over the years, but the one that stands out was a 1995 semifinal at Pipeline on Oahu's North Shore.

The two men repeatedly tucked into and blew out of wickedly hollow barrels, at times trading high-fives as one would emerge while the other paddled back out.

Slater ultimately prevailed, dashing Machado's world title aspirations.

Thursday's Round 3 heat at Lower Trestles in San Clemente was nothing like that.

While the matchup between these surfing icons was the most anticipated, it ended up being the dud heat of a day in which the rest of the field enjoyed reasonably clean and consistent two- to three-foot waves.

It was also a day in which the future of the Foster's ASP World Tour appeared to take shape.

In the heat before Slater-Machado, Mick Fanning, the world's top-ranked surfer, and rising star Dane Reynolds, a wild card headed to the tour next season, dueled in a thriller.

Reynolds, 19, of Ventura, defeated the Australian, 17.70 to 15.50, his two-best-waves score buoyed by a 9.93 out of a possible 10. .

"His whole heat was that one wave," Fanning said. "When someone comes out and starts with a 9.93 it's pretty difficult to catch up."

In a heat after Slater-Machado, Jordy Smith, another wild card who will make his rookie debut next season, defeated third-ranked Andy Irons, a day after knocking out fifth-ranked Joel Parkinson.

"They still treat me like a little kid," said Smith, 19, a baby-faced South African. "But next year it's going to be a different ballgame and they're going to have to start treating me with a little more respect."

When Slater and Machado took to the lineup, a 10-minute flat spell ensued. Machado's trademark mop of hair remained dry and bushy.

As ASP officials mulled a restart, which occurs if 15 minutes pass without a wave being ridden, a small set rolled in.

Machado, 33, who finished the 1995 season ranked No. 2 and would subsequently split with the ASP and only surf select events, took off on a promising left but fell while trying a top turn on a soft spot.

Slater ripped a small right to the beach and opened a narrow lead.

Then came another 10-minute lull, a few smaller, low-scoring waves before Slater caught a small right on which he finished with a 360-degree reverse, scored an 8.5 to open a lead -- one that would not have been insurmountable had the waves cooperated.

But they didn't and Machado, needing a 7.18 or better, fell further behind and ultimately lost to his close friend for the 11th time in 15 meetings.

The victory was important for Slater, 35, who is ranked No. 4 as he goes for a ninth world title. With four of the top five surfers eliminated, Slater, with an event victory, would move to No. 2, behind Fanning, with four contests remaining.

"If Jordy knocks out Andy that would basically put all the pressure back on me because then everybody would be looking and saying, 'Can he capitalize on that?' " Slater said after his heat. "But either way I like the situation."

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pete.thomas@latimes.com

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