With conditions pumping in Western Australia, the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro kicked off at the Box, the infamous slab that breaks just north of the contest site. When the action got going, whistles and cheers carried from the beach to the takeoff zone as the men's Championship Tour (CT) surfers dropped into hollow bombs.
John John Florence (HAW), always one to put on a big show, warmed things up with fireworks. After earning a 7.83 for a deep tube, Florence free-fell into a heavy tube, driving behind the curtain. As the wave began to close out, he sprang off his board and into a magnificent wipeout, cartwheeling with the tube as it shut down.
"When we got here this morning we saw some really good ones," said Florence after winning his heat. "There's an end step, which makes it really challenging. It's hard to pick the right waves and it's really gnarly if you don't. It's definitely scary but I'm so stoked because it's fun to surf some clean, bigger waves and amazing to get barreled at The Box."
Many surfers struggled with the steps at the Box, where ledges of water appeared across the face, which led to some epic wipeouts. At one point, Kelly Slater (USA), who had won his Round 1 heat, lent a board to C.J. Hobgood (USA). But after after a head-over-heels fall, the whip was returned in two pieces.
"It's fun and exciting out here today," Slater said. "I didn't come out for an early surf and when John John came in after his heat he said it gnarly so I was excited. I fell on those two waves and if I watch the highlights I'm going to watch the ones I fell on. Those were insane."
Mick Fanning (AUS), currently No. 1 on the CT rankings, also found a good rhythm, pumping the brakes to stall inside a hollow tube for an 8.67 on his first wave. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) was the first surfer to achieve a score in the nine-point range when he received a 9.23 for a clean barrel with plenty of time under cover.
"Adriano (de Souza) got off to a great start -- I saw his first wave and it was mental," Zietz said. "I just kept catching waves, you never know what's going to come your way out there. Then that one came my way, I just stood tall in the first section and then I thought I was gone and I somehow made it."
The right-breaking Box proved to pack an additional punch of a challenge for the goofyfooted competitors, who had to take on the heavy conditions on their backhands. Freddy Patacchia (HAW) was able to overcome the disadvantage late in his heat, finding a last-minute bomb. He rode out and got the score he needed to upset reigning World Champ Gabriel Medina (BRA), who will now compete in the sudden-death format of Round 2.
Round 1's other standout goofyfooter was Adrian Buchan (AUS), who showed total commitment when he logged solid tube-time for a 9.57, the highest single-wave score of the morning.
"That one let me in behind the section, ironically the deeper you are, the safer you are a lot of the time," Buchan said of his big ride. "There was a lot of lumps and bumps and I slipped sideways but somehow managed to hang on. I had one really big set that I had to bail my board on and luckily there wasn't a wave behind because I was in a really bad position. The fans want to see us in those gnarly waves and that's what we do."
Despite the exhilarating morning, conditions at the Box were deteriorating by midday, and the contest moved back to Main Break.
Learn about the different breaks at Margaret River with the break breakdown.
Glenn Hall (IRL) and Brazilians Filipe Toledo and Miguel Pupo were the first to hit the lineup at Main Break. With the wave breaking both left and right, there were plenty of rides to go around. Pupo was the first to take advantage of the triple-overhead open faces and logged two midrange scores for flawless cutbacks. He went on to win the heat.
2012 World Champion Joel Parkinson (AUS) also seemed at ease in the face of monsters that were exploding at Main Break. His low stance allowed him to execute precise carves on the steep faces. He racked up a 15.73 heat total, the day's high, and earned a direct advance into the third round.
"I got out there and I was excited to see some size and some swell," said Parkinson. "I felt happy and relaxed and when I feel like that I seem to do my best surfing. I hope we get to surf at The Box again and it will be amazing."