ARICA, Chile (Tuesday, June 19, 2007) – Reigning and 8X Foster's ASP World Champion Kelly Slater (USA) and three-time Foster's ASP World Champion Andy Irons (HAW) are accustomed to filling top spots in the ratings.
They will enter the Rip Curl Pro Search Chile an uncharacteristic 6th and 7th in the world respectively. The event is the 4th of 10 on this season's Foster's ASP World Tour and is being held in the North Chilean village of Arica from June 20 to July 1, 2007.
Slater, who was sitting with a mammoth ratings lead that saw him well on his way to earning his eighth world title by this time last year, hasn't won an event since early 2006. His 9th place finish at the last Foster's ASP World Tour event in Teahupoo was his worst result in years.
"I haven't really surfed an inspired year so far," Slater said. "I did pretty well on the Gold Coast but I haven't really been able to concentrate start to finish to put an event together for myself yet. Realistically I need to put a hundred percent toward the goal to win 10 world titles, but if I'm not going to put myself in the right place to win nine, I can't do that."
Slater has posted victories at every event on the Foster's ASP World Tour except the Rip Curl Pro Search. He arrived today, the day before the contest, and has yet to surf the contest break off Ex-Isla Alacran.
"Somebody asked me, 'are you really showing up and just expecting to surf this wave?' but I've surfed so many waves all over the world and this is the kind of wave I really like, I think it suits me really well," Slater said. "I've watched a lot of video of the spot and just going down there and watching it today, even though obviously it won't look the same tomorrow because it's going to get much bigger, I got a quick feel for it. It's not a huge lineup to learn."
Despite having yet to experience the power and flux of the lineup, Slater admits that his affinity for waves such as Ex-Isla Alacran will play to his advantage.
"It's like a beach break on a reef – a short, punchy little wave that's really hollow – the kind of wave I love," Slater said. "There's a right, a left and you've got to just look at the angles the wave is coming in on. When a wave comes in that's going to barrel, you can line the thing up and know where you need to be so that's not the biggest problem; the bigger problem is knowing where is the reef really shallow, where you can get hurt, that sort of thing. That's probably the biggest concern for all of us."
Irons, defending Rip Curl Pro Search champion, won his last world title in 2004. He sits just behind Slater on the ratings and both are expected to make a push in Chile given their prowess in conditions similar to those on offer.
"Well Kelly is a great surfer and he's been saying that he might retire for a while now, but he's here and he says he's ready, so I'm sure he'll go out there and make an effort," Irons said. "Personally, I'm not approaching this event any different than I would any other. I kind of like not having the spotlight on me as it let's me slip under the radar a little bit."
Taj Burrow (AUS) is among the surfers headed to Chile with a bull's eye on his back; he currently sits in second place just below ASP World No. 1 Mick Fanning (AUS). Burrow, who finished world runner-up in 1999 and 2001, hasn't sat above both Slater and Irons on the ASP ratings for some time.
"It's different to see those two sit a little further down the ratings – I think they were kind of just cruising earlier this year," Burrow said. "For me it just seems the people that are the hungriest and most focused are ahead for that reason. I think myself and Mick are really trying the hardest out of anyone right now. Kelly, Andy and Joel (Parkinson) are huge threats and they could easily get on a roll any day now. It's going to be exciting for sure when it comes down to crunch time later in the year."
The 48-man format used by the Foster's ASP World Tour is generally comprised of the Top 45 and three event wildcards. However, a rash of recent and still healing injuries will see five wildcards and one ASP replacement surfer offset the 42 full-time Foster's ASP campaigners in Chile.
Timmy Reyes (USA) has yet to surf professionally since doing major damage to ligaments in his knee seven months ago. Though first ASP replacement Trent Munro (AUS) just missed requalifing for the elite tour last year, he has surfed in Reyes absence in the first three events of 2007. When Munro declined the Chilean berth, second ASP replacement surfer, South African David Weare (the surfer next in line to qualify via the World Qualifying Series) accepted the invitation.
Mark Occhilupo (AUS) and Mick Campbell (AUS) suffered back and ankle injuries respectively and were forced to withdrawal as well. Manuel Selman (CHL) and Cristian Merello (CHL) are the two Chilean trials winners who earned main event berths. They will be joined in the draw by Rip Curl appointed wildcards Kieren Perrow (AUS), Kekoa Bacalso (HAW) and Bruno Santos (BRA).
According to Ben Matson at Swellnet.com.au: "A solid swell and favorable conditions are expected to deliver great waves at Ex-Isla Alacran on Thursday morning."
That said, the Rip Curl Pro Search waiting period will commence tomorrow, Wednesday, June 20, and a call on competition status will be made at 7am.
RIP CURL SEARCH PRO ARICA - ROUND 1 MATCH-UPS:
Heat 1: Bobby Martinez (USA), Ricky Basnett (ZAF), Troy Brooks (AUS)
Heat 2: Bruce Irons (HAW), Adrian Buchan (AUS), Gabe Kling (USA)
Heat 3: Tom Whitaker (AUS), Raoni Monteiro (BRA), Neco Padaratz (BRA)
Heat 4: Bede Durbidge (AUS), Phillip MacDonald (AUS), Luke Munro (AUS)
Heat 5: Damien Hobgood (USA), Adriano de Souza (BRA), David Weare (ZAF)
Heat 6: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Luke Stedman (AUS), Bruno Santos (BRA)
Heat 7: Andy Irons (HAW), Pancho Sullivan (HAW), Kieren Perrow (AUS)
Heat 8: Mick Fanning (AUS), Dean Morrison (AUS), Cristian Merello (CHL)
Heat 9: Kelly Slater (USA), Chris Ward (USA), Manuel Selman (CHL)
Heat 10: Taj Burrow (AUS), Ben Dunn (AUS), Kekoa Bacalso (HAW)
Heat 11: Daniel Wills (AUS), Fredrick Patacchia (HAW), Victor Ribas (BRA)
Heat 12: Jeremy Flores (FRA), Bernardo Miranda (BRA), Michael Lowe (AUS)
Heat 13: Travis Logie (ZAF), Greg Emslie (ZAF), Royden Bryson (ZAF)
Heat 14: Cory Lopez (USA), Leonardo Neves (BRA), Shaun Cansdell (AUS)
Heat 15: Kai Otton (AUS), Josh Kerr (AUS), Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA)
Heat 16: Taylor Knox (USA), CJ Hobgood (USA), Dayyan Neve (AUS