The 2012 Assn. of Surfing Professionals World Tour got started over the weekend with the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in Australia, and there are plenty of storylines we'll be following as it progresses throughout the year.
For starters, there will be focus on old (Kelly Slater, 40) and the young (Kolohe Andino, 17).
For San Clemente's Andino, it's his debut season on the tour, and he found himself in the water and in the same Round 1 heat as the old man Slater himself, who won his first World Tour title before Andino was born.
Slater won the three-man heat and Andino came in third, with Andino forced into a Round 2 heat against Huntington Beach's Brett Simpson.
Andino won that matchup with a 14.33 score to Simpson's 13.87, knocking Simpson out of the competition and earning Andino his very first victory in a World Tour heat. This happened even though observers and Andino himself said he showed some "rookie nerves," falling and catching the wrong waves early in the heat before getting himself untracked.
"I'm stoked to win my first heat on tour," Andino said during an interview with ASP. "I don't think I was surfing too good, though. I was kind of jittery out there with all my nerves and stuff. The end of the waves were kind of tweaking me because they were dumping in shallow water. I didn't see too many people doing airs today, so I just tried to go for one out the back and I'm stoked that I did."
Andino, though, was knocked out of contention for the contest crown in Round 3 when he lost to Brazil's Adriano De Souza, 14.07 to 12.74.
Meanwhile, Slater cruised through the early rounds and reached the quarterfinals, one of eight remaining surfers in title contention and the only American still standing.
In his Round 4 victory, Slater changed boards in the middle of the heat.
"On that first wave I could tell my board didn't have the pop I wanted," Slater said. "Because the waves are so small, you need a small board to fit in the pocket, so I switched to a shorter, wider board. None of us really got in sync in that one. It was really tough to pick the right waves. I only woke up 40 minutes before my heat. I thought we were going to be off today, so I was sleeping in and I got a call saying, 'Get up. We're on.'"
And, of course, everyone wants to know if Slater will stay on tour and try to win his 12th world title. But Slater seems to be growing tired of the speculation.
"Everyone always makes a big deal about whether I'm going to keep going on," he said. "When I'm going to quit I'll tell everybody. How about that?"
In the women's Roxy Pro Gold Coast, Tyler Wright, Laura Enever, Sally Fitzgibbons and Stephanie Gilmore — all Australians — have reached the semifinals. Defending ASP World Tour champion Carissa Moore of Hawaii lost to Wright in the quarterfinals.
Last week in this space we talked about how so many up-and-coming pro surfers opt for home schooling over public high school, and rarely will they attend college.
But Newport Beach's Chase Wilson has been trying to make it work, first graduating from Newport Harbor High and now as a student at UC Santa Barbara.
Wilson emailed me from Australia, where he's been competing for the past month.
"My first year at school it was really tough to balance a busy class schedule and my travels with surfing, so I decided to take time off from UCSB and strictly focus on my surfing career," he wrote. "I have been deferring each quarter and in the meantime taking online classes to keep up with my studies.
"I believe my decision to stick with school was a great way to keep myself learning and grow my knowledge. Even though I haven't been back in over two years, it is always good to have that backup."
While the opportunity to go to school won't go away, the opportunity to ascend through the pro surfing ranks has a small window. So Wilson is tilting his time toward the ocean instead of the classroom.
"2012 is a big year for me!" Wilson continued. "At the start of the year I switched sponsors over to Quiksilver, which is a very positive change, and I'm really excited to be a part of their team and have their support. I'm making a big push to dedicating myself to what I want to accomplish with surfing and getting closer to my goals. Hopefully in the next couple of years we'll be having this same interview on my qualification for the (ASP) Tour.
"I'm really happy with my surfing at the moment. I try to surf every day to practice and work on my stuff. I feel like my surfing is there, now it is just my mind and mental game to win. Just recently in Australia in the Breaka Burleigh Pro I made the quarterfinals, which is my best result yet. It definitely gave me a confidence boost and a realization that I can mix it up and hang with the big boys."
JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun