COOLUM Beach surfing sensation Julian Wilson came agonisingly close to toppling the sport’s giant, Kelly Slater, off the coast of Brazil early yesterday.
Wilson, 22, fell 0.8 points short of beating the 10-time world champion in tricky conditions near Rio De Janeiro. Slater fashioned a nine-point ride to clinch victory in the round-one heat of the Billabong Rio Pro, relegating Wilson to second place and an ominous round-two date with CJ Hobgood overnight.
Wilson took command of the heat with a strong score of 7.77 on an early wave, catching Slater by surprise.
“I went down to get my jersey and there was some confusion,” Slater said.
“I was sitting there for a couple of minutes.
“By the time I got out the heat had started.
“I was probably a minute from being out there and Julian got that first one and I just went ‘oh no, that’s not a good start’.
“But I knew there was going to be some good ones down the end and I was going to be patient and wait for them.”
Wilson extended his lead with an effort of 5.17 and was in the box seat.
But crucially, the 39-year-old American then made the most of a wave that Wilson chose not pursue.
“You know, Julian passed up one that I took and I got my six-pointer, which bettered his second wave,” Slater said.
Buoyed by that effort, Slater then unleashed two furious tail-drifting backhand turns to notch the day’s highest single-wave score of nine.
“I was just next to the other kid (18-year-old wildcard Peterson Crisanto) and the wave came and he was one bump off catching it.
“That one good wave actually let me bottom turn and hit the lip,” he said.
“Most of the waves were soft and had a lot of horizontals but that one actually stood up for me,” Slater said.
Wilson attempted to close the gap and produced an effort of 6.60 but his two-wave total of 14.37 fell agonisingly short of Slater’s 15.17, the second-best score of the day behind Taj Burrow.
After a week of lay days at Aproador, Burrow, the 32-year-old Australian veteran, came out to score a 16.83 over two waves in his opening-round heat to edge out two dangerous Brazilians, rookie Alejo Muniz and event wildcard Ricardo Santos, and advance straight to round three.
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