There is an old saying within the surfing community that goes, "If you can surf Ocean Beach, you can surf anywhere." Rare is a mantra more accurate in surfing. And thus sets the stage for the 10th stop on the ASP World Tour, the 2011 Rip Curl Pro Search San Francisco.
The premise behind surf industry giant Rip Curl's "Search" is a roaming ASP World Tour contest that each year brings the world's greatest surfers and fans to a new, exciting and exotic locale. The first Rip Curl Pro Search contest was held at Reunion Island in 2005 and subsequent contests have been held in Mainland Mexico, Chile, Bali, Portugal and most recently at Puerto Rico, where Kelly Slater won his unprecedented 10th ASP World Title. While the other 10 ASP World Tour events are held annually at fixed locations, the Rip Curl Pro Search is held at a different location each year, providing something new and exciting to competitors and fans of surfing.
The previous Search events were held at locations that featured near perfect surf and conditions. Outside of exposing some previously unknown surf locations to the masses, thus resulting in unwanted exposure and the consequences that go with it, there has been a very positive reaction to the idea of having an ASP World Tour event held at a different location each year. This year, Rip Curl decided to go with the urban theme of the 2011 contest year (New York City and Rio de Janeiro being the other urban cities to host an ASP World Tour event) and selected San Francisco as the host of the Rip Curl Pro Search.
"San Francisco is the perfect location because there hasn't been a competition there in well over a decade and because there's so much potential for swell and great conditions during our November 1-12 window," said Dylan Slater, marketing director for Rip Curl.
The most interesting facet of the Rip Curl Pro Search San Francisco, other than watching the world's greatest surfers tackle arguably the world's most difficult waves, is the possibility that the greatest surfer ever, Kelly Slater, will likely win his 11th ASP World Title in San Francisco. Considering that Slater is 39 years-old, this could be the last time the Floridian celebrates winning a World Title. For Northern Californian fans of Slater, to have him surfing Ocean Beach with a World Title on the line is exhilarating to say the least.
"Being this close doesn't change my approach too much," said Kelly Slater. "I have to ride four waves as well as I can against probably a really good wildcard. The approach doesn't change because of the situation. The approach got me to this place and I'll stay in the same head space as much as possible."
Unlike the 2011 Quiksilver Pro New York, which had young up and coming local surfers like Balaram Stack surfing in the immediate area and competing in the contest, the regulars at Ocean Beach are mostly grizzled veteran surfers in their 30s and beyond. With a relative lack of young surfers in San Francisco, Rip Curl decided against running local trials, which are usually customary for surf contests. Instead they selected company sponsored surfers Dillon Perillo and Dean Brady as the two wildcards, one of whom will face Slater in the first round of the contest. When asked what he expected surfing Ocean Beach, Slater stated the obvious.
"I expect cold and paddling," said Slater.
One of the interesting facets of the contest will be how exactly the surfing will play out given the wild conditions often experienced at Ocean Beach. Between its close proximity to the entrance of the bay, its wide exposure to the Pacific Ocean and the potential of howling winds, surfers can theoretically spend the vast majority of their heat time trying to paddle out past the breakers.
With the National Park Service reversing its decision to allow PWCs for the contest, Dylan Slater said organizers were going to be flexible with the formats. "A couple of years ago a new format was introduced at the Pipe Masters. It was a duel format heat often credited to Kelly Slater, which is a possibility," said Dylan Slater. "If it's eight to 10 feet and firing, we can introduce that format, where we're essentially going to have four guys out in the lineup surfing two completely different heats."
Surfline reported that contest organizers gained approval to use a zodiac to assist surfers with getting to the lineup. It comes with a catch though, as the zodiac will only assist surfers once they get past the breakers. Meaning the surfers will still have to battle Ocean Beach's strong currents and heavy inside waves.
Unlike most surf contest, Dylan Slater said Rip Curl's goal is not to turn Ocean Beach into a circus atmosphere. "We really want this event to focus on the world's best surfers versus the elements of Ocean Beach. At the end of the day, it's about having a surf contest. We want to provide the platform for the world's best to put on a show for San Francisco, and we don't need skate ramps and a circus behind us in order to do so," said Dylan Slater. "For the most part, there aren't going to be a lot of vendors setting up tents and trying to sell stuff. There will be food offered at the beach, but we're going into it with a pretty nuts-and-bolts approach, making sure that there's what's needed to actually have a good experience watching the event but, at the same time, we're very conscious of not going overboard and not doing anything that will disrupt what's there."
Most of the competitors in the Rip Curl Pro Search San Francisco have spent the past week 80 miles south competing in the O'Neill Cold Water Classic Santa Cruz. With that contest completed Sunday, the surfers will next head north to join the rest of the ASP World Tour competitors. Ocean Beach will be a battle not just of surfing skill, but of the elements. The strongest paddlers will very likely have the advantage. Meaning there's a very good chance that Kelly Slater will win his 11th ASP World Title in San Francisco.
The contest window for the Rip Curl Pro Search San Francisco opens on Tuesday, November 1st and runs through November 12th. The contest will be held on the northern end of Ocean Beach, from stairwell 20 at VFW's north to Kelly's Cove. To watch the webcast, and for all other information, visit the official contest website.