A major pro surfing competition begins today at Lower Trestles near San Clemente, just four days after a fatal shark attack occurred 30 miles down the coast.
But for many in the field of 192, there will be too much at stake in the Trestles lineup to be concerned about what lurks below.
The 6.0 Lowers Pro, sponsored by Nike and running through Saturday, is an $80,000 Assn. of Surfing Professionals qualifying contest with a 4-star rating -- worth valuable points for those trying to qualify or re-qualify for the 2009 World Tour.
The event also kicks off the Macy's California Trifecta Surf Series, an ASP North America specialty contest. The second and third legs are this summer and fall at Newport Beach and Santa Cruz.
Additionally, the $10,000 Oakley Pro Junior will enable stars of the next generation to showcase their surfing talent at one of the world's premiere point breaks.
At center stage, though, is the 6.0 Lowers Pro.
Nobody is more keenly aware of this event than Patrick Gudauskas, who was groomed on the waves at Trestles and currently sits atop the World Qualifying Series standings.
"Pat Gudauskas definitely represents the leading edge of the next wave of challengers," said Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew, ASP president and a former world champion. Gudauskas, 22, won the 2003 national amateur championship at Trestles, edging Ventura's Dane Reynolds, now a World Tour rookie ranked No. 11.
Gudauskas won the season-opening Sebastian Inlet Pro and has performed consistently enough since to hold his top WQS ranking.
Trestles' high-performance waves suit his hard-driving, lip-bashing style. But he is not the only Gudauskas competing there, nor the only story line. Among others:
* Dane Gudauskas, born three minutes after Patrick, is ranked 31st on the WQS. Dane and Tanner Gudauskas, ranked 65th, also will compete.
* Brett Simpson of Huntington Beach is ranked No. 8 on the WQS in his best-yet endeavor to make the World Tour.
* Chris Ward of San Clemente was an established star on the World Tour before his scandalous preseason fall from grace outside a Mammoth Lakes bar. Ward, 29, faces charges after allegedly assaulting three women with a block of ice and missed the World Tour season opener. He has been allowed to compete but sits in 46th and last place on the elite tour and may require a high WQS standing to requalify.
* Hawaii's Carissa Moore, 15, tabbed as a future women's world champion, is the lone female in the lineup, having been granted a sponsor wild card and advancement to the Round of 64.