Had you been off the grid the past few weeks and just got your first glimpse of the Jeep Leaderboard rankings you might insist they were inverted by mistake.
Heading into the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Kelly Slater's not even in the Top 20. Joel Parkinson, John John Florence and Adriano de Souza are scraping to stay in the Top 10. There are two rookies and an injury replacement in the Top 8, and Matt Wilkinson has a commanding lead?
For what it's worth, things seemed to be returning to some semblance of normal during day one at Margaret River. On Friday, Round One began with a bunch of of veterans stepping back into leadership roles with inspiring performances in the rippable righthanders at Main Break.
Taj Burrow opened things up looking very comfortable in the wild environment that shaped him. Burrow has had a rough start to 2016, so it would be nice, after 18 years on tour, for him to find his groove on home turf. And he did with a notable, last-minute win over an impressive looking Jeremy Flores.
Julian Wilson is another veteran who's had a horrendous start to the season, a situation all the more frustrating for someone who's constantly in the contender conversation. Julian's performance in his opening heat was by far his best of the season. There was ferocity and fire in every turn, and he had quite a few of them while racking up more than 17 total points (out of 20).
Before this year, Matt Wilkinson wasn't exactly a reliable winner of Round One heats. (Winners of the three-man round advance straight to Round Three.) He's won all of them this year, including his opener here at Margarets, but his win was much more tenuous today. He left the door open for Dusty Payne and Stuart Kennedy, but neither of them even got to the porch.
Italo Ferreira proved again he's somebody you never want to leave out the back at the end of a heat while within striking distance. Unfortunately for rookie Kanoa Igarashi, he did just that, after earning what looked like a nice lead with some solid surfing. But Italo, with 20 seconds to go, found a righthander with a steep wall and a ramp at the end. Ferreira went to the air on his backhand, and spun his way into Round Three.
Conditions started deteriorating during Adriano de Souza's heat, turning it into a chess match. Chess matches with champions are never good if you're the challenger, as wildcard Jacob Willcox and Tour sophomore Keanu Asing learned. Adriano's mental toughness helped him grind out a low-scoring win.
Michel Bourez and Jordy Smith got into a heavyweight battle in the punchy rights. They traded blows with each other in the tricky conditions, with both looking strong. Jordy is getting looser with each heat, while Bourez seemed to be reliving one of his career best victories here. It came down to the final exchange, and it could have gone either way. The judges gave Bourez the pass to Round Three.
The closest heat of the day was between veteran Nat Young, rookie Caio Ibelli, and near-rookie Matt Banting (who was injured most of his rookie season). Banting took to the air, showing us his best surfing yet this season. Nat Young leaned into his backside hooks. While Caio Ibelli did a little bit of everything on his highest-scoring ride. He earned an 8 on what could easily have been a 9, and the gap was the difference between first and last. Young, the veteran, got the nod.
In the final heat of the day, Joel Parkinson got the rematch he wanted with rookie Conner Coffin, who knocked him out at Bells. It wasn't the prettiest of wins, but Parko looked smooth and silky despite the vicious afternoon chop. He even got his wings back and went to the air on the inside, right in front of the surgeon's table rock. Joel took comfort in the win, feeling like the world was making sense again.
Of course the true test will come when Kelly Slater, John John Florence, and Josh Kerr get their first crack at the lineup when Round One resumes. Next Call: 7:00 a.m. AWST.