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Kelly Slater nearly misses opening round heat at ASP World Tour Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay

July 16, 2010 |  6:56 am

Kelly Slater almost missed his opening round heat of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay but went on to victory.

The biggest surprise in Round 1 of the ASP World Tour Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay wasn't so much the surfing, but that top-ranked Kelly Slater almost missed his opening round heat.

Suffering a bevy of travel delays,  the iconic natural-footer proceeded to put on a Jeffreys Bay clinic, hunting barrel after barrel, blasting off the top and executing carving 360s.

"Everything that could have gone wrong on my trip over here did," Slater, 38, said. "My flight got delayed on the East Coast because of storms, and then there were mechanical failures and more delays. I had to overnight in Johannesburg and then my bags didn't show up. I think it took me 40 hours door-to-door and I only arrived this morning. That said, sometimes all that happens for a reason and I ended up having a fun surf there and getting through Round 1."

Currently sitting in the No. 1 spot in the hunt for an unprecedented 10th ASP World Title, the Floridian is firmly in the driver's seat and looking for another solid result at J-Bay.

"They're all important events to get results at, but you definitely know when you need to strike," Slater said. "It's approaching the middle part of the year and you definitely don't want to be picking up any throwaways. You want keepers from here on out, and Jeffreys has historically been a venue where I can perform."

With 4- to 6-foot waves at the iconic pointbreak in South Africa, consistency seemed the form of the day, with no upsets in the early round of event No. 4 of 10 on the 2010 ASP World Tour.

Australian Mick Fanning, 29, reigning ASP World Champion and two-time winner of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay (2002, 2006), showed fine form, lacerating the pristine walls of Jeffreys Bay with the highest heat total of the event, a 16.70 out of a possible 20, to advance through to Round 3.

"The conditions changed a bit in our heat and we were slightly out of sorts," Fanning said. "We were all hunting for the barrel because a lot of the previous heats had them, but they didn't pan out for us. After I readjusted to the conditions, I was really focusing on my turns, and if a barrel presented itself, I would go from there."

Currently ranked No. 4 in the hunt for the World Title, Fanning is confident in his ability at Jeffreys Bay.

"This year, you have to take every heat seriously," Fanning said. "There are so many threats and even the rookies can do damage. I feel like I've been surfing well all year and I'm just focusing on every heat, and hopefully that takes me to a solid result."

On many minds is the new format that will reduce the roster from 45 to 32 surfers after the fifth event of the season, the Billabong Pro Teahupoo in August.

Former three-time ASP World Champion Andy Irons, who took a sabbatical last year, surfed with a vengeance, seamlessly threading the barrel and mixing it up with his signature forehand blasts to advance to Round 3.

"J-Bay is a special place for me," Irons, 31, said. "I've had some of the best results of my career here and I've also had some of the hardest losses. To come back here after taking last year off and to get such amazing surf for Day 1 is a great feeling."

Currently rated No. 23, the Hawaiian will be looking for a good result in Jeffreys Bay and Tahiti to survive the mid-year field reduction.

"So happy to get through Round 1 here," said Irons, the 2004 winner of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay. "At the last event in Brazil, I came there rated 13th, got a 33rd and dropped down to 23rd, so this is an important event for me. No one is immune from that mid-year cutoff and yeah, it can be stressful."

With clean, consistent 3- to 4-foot waves racing down the point, officials are looking to complete the remaining 14 heats of Round 2 as well as move into Round 3. Depending on the consistency of the conditions throughout the day, event organizers will consider the option of activating the Dual Heat System.

"We're running 30-minute heats at the moment, but will monitor conditions to see if there is an opportunity to run the Dual Heat System and take advantage of the surf we have today," said ASP International head judge Richie Porta.

Remaining Round 2 match-ups:

Heat 3: Jadson Andre (BRA) vs. Sean Holmes (ZAF)
Heat 4: Taylor Knox (USA) vs. Joan Duru (FRA)
Heat 5: C.J. Hobgood (USA) vs. Tim Reyes (USA)
Heat 6: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Blake Thornton (AUS)
Heat 7: Damien Hobgood (USA) vs. Marco Polo (BRA)
Heat 8: Kieren Perrow (AUS) vs. Jay Thompson (AUS)
Heat 9: Roy Powers (HAW) vs. Neco Padaratz (BRA)
Heat 10: Tom Whitaker (AUS) vs. Tanner Gudauskas (USA)
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (FRA) vs. Brett Simpson (USA)
Heat 12: Daniel Ross (AUS) vs. Dusty Payne (HAW)
Heat 13: Luke Stedman (AUS) vs. Drew Courtney (AUS)
Heat 14: Luke Munro (AUS) vs. Travis Logie (ZAF)
Heat 15: Pat Gudauskas (USA) vs. Ben Dunn (AUS)
Heat 16: Dean Morrison (AUS) vs. Mick Campbell (AUS)

-- Kelly Burgess

Photo: Kelly Slater almost missed his opening round heat of the Billabong Pro Jeffreys Bay, but went on to victory. Credit: Cestari / © ASP