Sally Fitzgibbons wins in Portugal 

The day belonged to Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS), 18, and the new generation of women’s professional surfing. Fitzgibbons, current ASP Women’s World Tour member, surfed every heat of her final assault flawless, methodical and mechanical as she swept the field to win the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) 6-Star Estoril Billabong Girls Pro taking the valuable 3000 ratings’ points up for grabs.

Fitzgibbons defeated fellow finalist and other rising wunderkid and ASP Top 17 surfer Coco Ho (Oahu, HAW), 17, with both surfers scoring near perfect rides as Bufuriera’s beachbreak was delivering clean three to four foot (1 to 1.2 meter) waves. Fitzgibbons came out blazing in the final locking-in four excellent scores before Ho managed to answer back with a near perfect 9.80 point wave. Meanwhile, Fitzgibbons was quick to respond and net a 9.85 pointer and take the win.

"It’s great to be back on the podium and definitely it has been some time between drinks," Fitzgibbons said. "I surfed a lot of heats before the final and paddled out quite relaxed and sat wide. I saw the tide starting to drain out and thought there were two peaks. I was lucky when the first one came wide and I got it."

Fitzgibbons, who is a rookie on this year’s ASP Women’s World Tour, leaves Portugal with a solid back-up result in case she ends up needing to requalify through the ASP World Qualifying Series (WQS) at the end of this year. So far, Fitzgibbons remains well in position to fullfil expectations from the international surfing scene which considers the young woman a future ASP World title contender.

Coco Ho, who secured another great result by finishing runner-up in the ASP WQS 6-Star event, had defeated fellow Hawaiian and friend Carissa Moore (Oahu, HAW) in the Semifinals whilst Fitzgibbons was taking the most out of her encounter with experienced and former ASP Women’s World Tour Rookie of the Year Jessi Miley-Dyer (New South Wales, AUS).

"It was great to surf with my friend Sally (Fitzgibbons) in the final," Ho said. "We had really fun waves, we were talking and having a good time. Sally started with three great waves and it took me a while to get a good one. Then I got my 9.80 pointer but Sally came straight back and bettered it with a 9.85 wave."

The Estoril Billabong Girls Pro was not only the stage of an international gahering but alos crowned this year’s ASP Women’s European Champion, the best European performer taking the prestigious crown for 2009. It was Lee-Ann Curren (Anglet, FRA) who ended with the highest result in the ASP WQS 6-Star event, taking her second regional crown after a year break to succeed to Justine Dupont (Lacanau, FRA).

Curren, 19, who has targeted a qualification for next year’s ASP Women’s World Tour for her main goal this season, placed equal 13th at Estoril and was not able to go any further than Round 3, still enough to grab the European title.

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Fred Patacchia wins the 6.0 Lowers Pro

Fred Patacchia (North Shore, HI), 27, won mainland America’s first Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP) World Qualifying Series (WQS) 6-Star PRIME event, the 6.0 Lowers Pro, when he defeated defending event champion Ben Bourgeois (Wrightsville Beach, NC), 30, by a score of 16.84 to 14.10 in two-to-four foot (1 metre) surf at the famed cobblestone reef of Lower Trestles in San Clemente, California. Today’s action also saw defending ASP World Junior Champion Kai Barger (Haiku, HI), 19, claim the ASP Grade-2 Oakley Pro Junior, which ran in conjunction with the 6.0 Lowers Pro.

The 6.0 Lowers Pro’s ASP 6-Star PRIME status marks the event as a critical stop on each competitors 2009 ASP WQS campaign because it offers the maximum amount of points towards qualification for the ASP World Tour. The Oakley Pro Junior is the second of eight stops on this year’s ASP North America Pro Junior Series, with the top five seeds at year’s end earning their chance to compete against the best ASP Junior talent in Narrabeen, Australia where they battle for the ASP World Junior Championship title.

Patacchia demolished the Lower Trestles righthanders in his Final against Bourgeois, opening up his battle against the former ASP World Tour campaigner with a 9.17 out of 10 in the opening minutes of the heat. The Hawaiian talent backed up the score with a 7.67 to solidify the win over Bourgeois.

“I’m psyching,” Patacchia said. “We got fun waves throughout the whole event and to do it at pretty fun Trestles with only one other guy out is even better, so I’m happy.”

Patacchia is currently sitting in the No. 3 position on the ASP World Tour after two events and was using the premier ASP WQS 6-Star PRIME to help his competitive focus before launching into the Billabong Pro Teahupoo next week.

“It’s a good warm up for the Hurley Pro,” Patacchia said. “It’s not a good warm up for Tahiti, but I just want to stay in contest mode, keep my body in shape and keep my mind strong and I’m having a fairly decent year this year so I just want to keep it going.”

Bourgeois won the 6.0 Lowers Pro last year when the event was an ASP 4-Star and worked his way through to the Final again this year. The talented regular-footer donated stellar performances throughout the event and fell short of the scores needed in the Final to overtake Patacchia for the 6.0 Lowers Pro win.

“I’m stoked to make the final, it was amazing,” Bourgeois said. “I wish I could have caught a few more waves there at the end, but I’m stoked for Fred (Patacchia) he’s been ripping.”

Bourgeois, who was a competitor on last year’s ASP World Tour, topped several of the finest up-and-coming competitors and also defeated current ASP World Tour No. 6 Adriano de Souza (Guaruja Sao Paulo, BRA), 22, who was in top form throughout the event, on the way to his result.

“It was a stacked field for sure,” Bourgeois said. “To make the Final with all of those guys in huge.”

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Kelly Slater in the Billabong Pro Teahupoo 

The Billabong Pro Teahupoo, stop No. 3 of 10 on the 2009 ASP World Tour, will host the world’s best surfers from May 9 – 20, 2009, with a slew of ASP World Champions looking to capitalize at the infamous venue.

Kelly Slater (USA), 37, reigning nine-time ASP World Champion, has suffered two uncharacteristic equal 17th place finishes this season (both at the hands of event wildcards), but the allure of an unprecedented 10th ASP World Title has the Floridian geared up and preparing for an assault on Tahiti.

“The pressure of 10 isn’t a bad thing but it’s not something you want to think about all the time either,” Slater said. “I’m not happy to have such a slow start, but it’s good fuel for doing something if I can get motivated for it. It’s all how you view it. I don’t expect to have an easy heat at this event to start, more likely one of the hardest heats to with. If I can get past at least one wildcard this year, I might actually have a chance to get a result!”

Beginning with his victory last season at the Billabong Pipeline Masters, Slater has displayed a cavalier approach to experimental board design, often shaping his own equipment for competition. This season has seen the iconic natural-footer use both traditional and unconventional equipment, with his ion for the Billabong Pro Teahupoo is still undecided.

“I’m working which boards to take now,” Slater said. “I think this year is pretty much up in the air for me as I really dig into design and a new approach to what I ride. I have been really bored with design for a little while and want a new feel. There isn’t enough time to work that out off-season so I’m just going with it.”

Mick Fanning (AUS), former ASP World Champion (2007) and current ASP World No. 2, has been extremely consistent in 2009, posting a 3rd and a 5th in the opening events of the season.

“I’m really enjoying the tour this year and I feel like I’m surfing my best,” Fanning said. “It’s been a little disappointing not to get a win in the first two events, but as long as I’m surfing well and not throwing heats away making silly mistakes, I don’t let it get me down.”

Fanning’s performances at the deadly break have improved in recent years, with the Australian establishing himself as a real contender in hollow lefthanders.

“I’m really comfortable competing at Teahupoo now,” Fanning said. “I’ve familiarized myself with the break over the past couple of years and scored some big days. I stay with Alain Riou and his family when I’m there and they’re always passing on a valuable local knowledge and that has definitely helped me strengthen my act out there. At the Billabong Pro, the biggest threats are the wildcards because they’re all Teahupoo specialists.”

In addition to sparring off against the world’s best surfers in a bid to regain the ASP World Title, Fanning will also have to contend with Andy Irons (HAW), 30, returning to competition for the first time in 2009 at the Billabong Pro Teahupoo.

“I’m looking forward to catching up with Andy (Irons) – I miss the guy,” Fanning said. “Everyone knows he’s one of the best backhand tube riders on Earth and he’s always going to be a threat at Teahupoo. He’s had some time away from the tour so it will be really interesting to see if it’s re-ignited his passion for competition.”

Irons, former three-time ASP World Champion and past winner of the Billabong Pro Teahupoo (2002), will don the competition singlet for the first time in 2009 at the Billabong Pro Teahupoo, having accepted an event wildcard. Irons is currently on sabbatical from the ASP Dream Tour, but plans to return to full-time competition in 2010.

“Life off tour has been a lot more active than I thought it was going to be,” Irons said. “In a way, I think it’s been a bit more hectic than before, but it’s all new stuff. Random strike mission trips, movie premieres, award shows, promos, team trips. I’m down in Oz filming right now, and I go straight from here to Tahiti for a Billabong shoot and the event. It sounds like a lot, but it’s been good for me to see that there is a life away from tour, and there are a lot of swells I want to chase down before the year is over.”

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