Pro surfing finally boasts a fun rivalry again, featuring 10-time world champion Kelly Slater and second-year ASP World Tour competitor Owen Wright. Living legend versus rising star. U.S. versus Australia.
Slater won the first of the three finals in Tahiti. Wright got even in New York. And on Wednesday afternoon it was Slater claiming the rubber match with a high score on the last ride of the day to win the Hurley Pro at fabled Lower Trestles in San Clemente, Calif.
Slater, 39, pulled ahead by earning a 9.00 out of a possible 10 on the final wave to prevail by a best-two-scores margin of 17.50 to 16.74, and with the dramatic victory he proved yet again that he's not quite ready to relinquish his dominance in a sport he has ruled for two-plus decades.
Conditions were ideal, with three- to four-feet waves and no wind. Both surfers unleashed aerials, vertical top turns and savage tail-slides, which pleased the judges and a large crowd that lined the remote, cobblestone beach.
Wright needed an 8.31 to take the lead when the last set rolled in, with 1:50 remaining. He earned an 8.87 on the first wave of the set, but behind him was Slater, carving up a slightly larger wave. Slater earned the 9.00 to win just before time expired.
“Owen is tough and he’s been surfing great," said Slater, who won his fifth World Tour contest at Lower Trestles. "There really are no weak points to his surfing and he’s going to be a standout in every spot. A lot of the guys tried to get him this week and I got lucky in that last exchange."
The victory, Slater's third this season, gave the Floridian a commanding lead in the race for the world title, with four competitions remaining.
The 21-year-old Wright, however, solidified his second-place spot in the rankings and made yet another statement to the rest of the tour that he should be considered the heir apparent to Slater, and the top Aussie on a roster top-heavy with Aussie talent.
"I’ve been enjoying the rivalry," Wright said. "We’ve had some great heats and the last three finals have been great. I’m glad the sets came through at the end. It was a bit of a dud final but I’m glad that last exchange came though at the end. It made it exciting."
Next up is the Quiksilver Pro France, Oct. 4-13.
-- Image showing Kelly Slater enjoying some air time in Wednesday's Hurley Pro final is courtesy of © ASP/ Kirstin