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Surfing World Champions Honored at Night of Nights

Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP)
2004 World Championship Tour (WCT)

Surfing World Champions Honored at Night of Nights

Gold Coast, QLD, Australia (Sunday, February 29, 2004) The Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) officially crowned its 2003 World Champions last night and honored a host of other illustrious contributors to the sport at its annual "Champions of The World Awards Banquet". A red-carpet gala affair, the evening was attended by the top 45 rated men, top 17 rated women, and hundreds of distinguished international guests at the Marriott Hotel in Surfer's Paradise.

A media throng and fans greeted the sports elite as they arrived by limousine and walked the red carpet. Multi-talented musician and Bells Beach-based surfer Xavier Rudd performed at a pre-awards cocktail reception before guests took their places in the ballroom and ASP President Wayne "Rabbit" Bartholomew opened proceedings with a welcoming speech.

"This really harks back to the early days," explained Bartholomew, the 1978 world champion. "Crowning the World Champions just days before the commencement of the new season, before anyone has had a chance to surf a heat or get any runs on the board. We should be in for a great night," he joked. "Because no one here has any reason to hate the person sitting next to them."

Local Mayor Gary Baildon praised the surfers and ASP, welcoming the banquet (formerly held in Hawaii) to Australia.

"The surfing culture underpins the Gold Coast Community. Nowhere is the love of surfing and the respect and admiration of surfing's stars any greater than here," said Baildon.

Following what many regard as the tightest, most exciting title race in the sports' 28 year history, Andy Irons (Haw) was then crowned Men's World Championship Tour (WCT) winner for the second consecutive year. The Kauaian was gracious in the acceptance of his award, singling out six-time World Champion Kelly Slater as an intense rival that drove him to his own personal limits during the deciding final event at Pipeline last season.

"There were times when I thought I couldn't do it and just wanted to forget about it and go home," said Irons before receiving a standing ovation. "But I'm glad I didn't. Right now, this is the stuff I dreamed of as a kid."

Layne Beachley (Aus) then received her record-breaking sixth consecutive ASP world title, and put any unfounded predictions that she may retire to rest by announcing a fully committed return to competition in 2004. In the process, praised female champions who came before her for their pioneering efforts.

"Pam Burridge (Australia's first 'Queen of the Waves' in the 80s and 90s) used to earn $500 a month and next week we're competing for US$62,000," said Beachley. "It's clear women's surfing has come a long way. And for all the other girls here tonight, just letting you know I'm not retiring. You're going to have to win the title off me fair and square!"

2003 men's runner-up Kelly Slater made the night's longest acceptance speech, bringing the room to a hush as he sincerely thanked two close friends, Quiksilver's Bruce Raymond and former Australian Iron Man champion Trevor Hendy, for helping him shake a personal nadir following his overwhelming competitive run in the late 90s.

"In 1998 when I'd only just won the World Title from Mick Campbell and Dan Wills (Aus) at Pipeline, I told myself I'd experienced the best time in my life and things probably wouldn't get any better, and so they didn't," explained Slater. "But I finally achieved a turn-around last year when my friends caught me at an opportune time and sat me down. They helped me to become honest with my life and where I was going. I'd like to congratulate Andy for pushing me to new levels last year, the best year of my life. Now I've got a total new motivation."

Other winners included Adriano De Souza (Brz) - World Junior Champion, Beau Young (Aus) - World Longboard Champion, Gary 'Kong' Elkerton (Aus) - World Masters Champion (aged 35-44) and Wayne 'Rabbit' Bartholomew (Aus) - crowned World Grand Masters Champion (45+).

Young clinched his second world title by defeating American prodigy Joel Tudor in the final of the Oxbow World Longboard Championships at Raglan, New Zealand last November. Beau's win is the sixth world surfing crown for the Young family, with his father and legend Nat, previously claiming four.

"The surfing tribe is very large and fills all walks of life. We're open minded and tolerant of religion, race, income and board choice," joked
Young. "We are all one. We need to ensure that the oceans we enjoy today are here for our children, and our children's children, years from now."

Other awards were presented to 2003 women's WCT runner-up Keala Kennelly (Haw), men's Most Improved Dean Morrison (Aus), women's Most Improved Samantha Cornish (Aus), 'Rookies of the Year' Luke Stedman (Aus) and Sophia Mulanovich (Peru), as well as the 2003 World Qualifying Series (WQS) winners - Neco Padaratz (Brz) and Melanie Bartels (Haw).

Retiring surfers Shane Dorian (Haw), Shane Powell (Aus), and Brazilian heroes Fabio Gouveia (Brz) and Flavio Padaratz (Brz) were also mentioned, with Padaratz receiving special recognition for his tireless competitive energy following 15 years on tour, and serving countless terms as a representative on the ASP Executive Board.

"When I started there was nobody from South America competing on the world tour," explained Padaratz to hoots from his fellow countrymen. "So this award is dedicated to you guys (pointing to two tables full of fellow competitors) and Brazil!" Padaratz's younger brother, Neco, was similarly patriotic after claiming his title for the WQS.

"I do this for me and my country," explained Neco. "Years ago my mother told me her dream was to provide a life which enabled me to grow and make my own choices, and one of those dreams I had was to be a pro surfer."

The ASP Cultural Award was presented to Jokin Arroyo, on behalf of the Basque people of Spain who have contributed to the growth of international surfing since the late 80s, each year continuing to stage major events while making significant cultural impacts on the sport. Previous Cultural Awards have been presented to the Tahitian Surfing Federation and Chief Druku of Tavarua Island, Fiji.

Hawaiian-based Mike Strata accepted the Special Acknowledgement award. Mike kindly allowed organizers of the Xbox Pipeline Masters event to have full use of his four story beachside mansion at Pipeline, when permit restrictions stopped the usual beach structures being setup. Judges, media and promoters made use of Mike's house for days as the 2003 season came to its dramatic close.

A video montage and speech by Rabbit honored the unique lifestyle, skills and character of Californian legend Miki Dora - who passed away aged 67, on January 3rd, 2002 following a six-month battle with cancer. Dora was famous for being one of surfing's "most tirelessly committed surfers" and for "living outside the system" most of his adult life.

There was also an emotional and lengthy standing ovation for the tireless efforts of ASP CEO Peter Whittaker, who has been battling severe illness the past year, yet still managed to attend the function.

The night also launched the Fosters Men's Tour and ASP Women's Tour into the 2004 season, with the first World Championship events commencing in two days - March 2nd, at nearby Snapper Rocks for the Quiksilver & Roxy Pro presented by Boost Mobile.



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