King Kelly backs Pro

Jackson Lavell-LeeBusselton Dunsborough Times
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Picture: Jackson Lavell-Lee
Camera IconPicture: Jackson Lavell-Lee Credit: Busselton-Dunsborough Times

Surf champion Kelly Slater says last year’s Pro cancellation was more about surfers worried about points than fears among professionals about sharks.

Speaking at the opening of the Margaret River Pro on Tuesday, the legendary surfer, pictured, questioned reigning world champion Gabriel Medina’s claims of “not feeling safe” at last year’s Pro.

“Gabriel had a couple of last places here,” he said.

“Where I’m from in Florida, we have a lot of big fish, and there are a lot of big fish in the world. We know that when we get in the water, it’s their habitat.”

The event was moved to Uluwatu after two non-fatal shark attacks on local surfers Alejandro Travaglini and Jason Longrass at Gracetown on a competition day.

Two-time champion Medina posted “I don’t feel safe training and competing in that kind of place” to his more than 7 million Instagram followers, helping spark the cancellation. Other surfers, including Gracetown’s Bronte Macaulay, this week said the focus on sharks was “disappointing”.

“It seems crazy to me how (sharks) are even a factor,” she said.

“I surf here every day and I feel so comfortable. It sucks how it takes away from how beautiful the area is.”

Former Margaret River Pro winner and 2017 world champion John John Florence said: “We have sharks in Hawaii, there are sharks in South Africa, sharks kind of everywhere we go.

“When you go out there, you know you’re stepping into their territory (but) I’ve always felt pretty safe here.

“I haven’t seen anything in the water, just a couple of dolphins.”

Medina will compete in this year’s Margaret River Pro as will fellow complainant, Brazilian Italo Ferreira, amid more shark security measures including drone technology, jetskis, spotter planes and a fisheries life boat.

As competition started on Wednesday, after locals Jacob Willcox and Mia McCarthy scored wildcard entries, 47-year-old Slater was upbeat about his chances and positive about the Margaret River Pro’s entry on the championship tour.

He said Main Break was a “puzzle” for all competitors so “may the best man win”.

“I was close last week (in Bali) and I felt like I had a little bit more in me, so I’ll try to focus this week and see if I can make it come together, but you know, there’s a long road before then and a lot of good guys,” Slater said

Slater said Margaret River is a unique location for the tour because of its isolation.

“I love it. Around the contest, it’s tough because there’s so many people, it’s hard to find a wave to yourself this time of year, but I’ve been here without the event, chasing waves, it’s just such a great place,” he said.

“I like the Box, I think it’s kind of easy compared to Main Break. There’s no secrets. I like a wave that breaks in the same spot and is predictable like that.”

Florence and Sally Fitzgibbons took out the last Margaret River Pro in 2017 while Willian Cardoso and Johanne Defay won at Uluwatu.

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