Surfing title fight
SUPERTUBES bared its teeth and produced super-drama as surfing's world championship tour became virtually a two-man race between two Gold Coast surfers yesterday.
As the Rip Curl Pro Search used the Supertubes beach at Peniche, Portugal, for the first time since the event started eight days ago, a dramatic day left Coolangatta surfers Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson in prime position to fight out the 2009 world title.
In near-perfect autumn weather at the second-last event of the tour, Supertubes produced two-metre surf that was as dangerous as it was spectacular.
Rising star Owen Wright suffered a suspected burst eardrum after he was among three Australians to score perfect-10 rides during the quarter-finals.
Wright and compatriot Kai Otton also suffered minor knee strains earlier yesterday during the third round, while Fanning said he was sore after competing in the heavy conditions.
The semi-finals scheduled for overnight (AEDT) will be all-Australian, but Wright's ear injury means Fanning, the tour leader, will probably have a walk-through to the final.
Wright was taken to hospital in Lisbon, an hour from Peniche, and could be out of the water for six weeks.
“I'm really sorry for him, he was on such a good roll,” Fanning said.
Parkinson, who trails Fanning by only 44 points in the title race, continues to regain form after his late-season slump and he is in the other semi against Gold Coaster Bede Durbridge.
Parkinson and Durbridge, like Wright, scored 10s in their quarter-final wins.
Parkinson's perfect score came after he tamed a spectacular barrel during his quarter-final win over American Bobby Martinez.
“This year, I've had a couple of 10s, but that one to me was the most important,” Parkinson said.
“It was definitely the highlight of my European leg.
“It's been a while coming, a really good wave in a heat, I've got a monkey off my back - the ocean is working for me again.”
While Fanning and Parkinson could meet in the final - the best-possible result for the event organisers - other world title contenders suffered disastrous losses yesterday.
Before the Pro Search, the top 10 in the standings were world title contenders.
But third-placed Adriano de Souza of Brazil, American BJ Hobgood (fourth) and Australian Taj Burrow (seventh) went out in the third round, effectively leaving Durbridge (fifth) as the only man who could still challenge Fanning and Parkinson.
Nine-time world champion Kelly Slater, sixth in the rankings, bowed out in the second round last week at the hands of Wright, the 19-year-old wildcard entrant.
Wright was enjoying a dream event in an outstanding year before he fell heavily during his quarter-final against American Damien Hobgood, CJ's brother.
His right ear slapped hard against the water and he was soon groggily returning to shore.
Remarkably, Wright's 10 ride meant he still had enough of a lead over Hobgood to win the quarter-final, 12.83 to 12.5.
Rip Curl team manager Gary Dunne said it was highly unlikely that the youngster would be fit for the semi-final.
“I won't write him off until I hear him say 'no, I can't surf' ... he's got a lot of ticker,” Dunne said.