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Slater shares bond with Beachley

Kelly Slater last season won his eighth world title. Layne Beachley won her seventh and hopes to match her male counterpart before retiring from competitive surfing.

“We’re like brother and sister,” Beachley said. “We constantly push each other and motivate each other and I rely on him for advice, and it’s nice to know that he’s always willing to provide it.”

That advice may have been just to relax and have fun. Both surfers were fiercely competitive early in their careers, demanding success, anguishing when it didn’t come.

But age mellows. Slater, who turned 35 this month, went into last season’s campaign determined not to put pressure on himself.

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“When you don’t expect anything, good things happen,” he said in advance of Tuesday’s season-opening Quiksilver Pro, which will be held at Snapper Rocks on Australia’s Gold Coast. “When you expect to win something, there’s no upside. It all just came together.”

Beachley, 34, who is in Australia for the simultaneous Roxy Pro, is of the same mind-set.

“Instead of the previous years when I’d always been trying to prove a point to someone else, I really wanted to do this just for myself,” she said.

The $10-million question

Slater has hinted that he may surf a limited schedule this season.

Of course, he said the same thing before last season and won his second consecutive crown.

Most likely, Slater will stay on tour as long as a ninth title remains within grasp. After all, Quiksilver, his primary sponsor, has not denied rumors that its megastar athlete will be paid $10 million if he sticks around long enough to win a 10th title.

Outside, looking in

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Beachley’s title run in 2006 was more remarkable than Slater’s in that she had spent 4 1/2 months recovering from a herniated disc, which had been cutting into her spinal cord.

She was perhaps one wipeout away from becoming paralyzed, so she spent the latter half of 2005 out of the water and undergoing physical therapy.

A 16-year pro who had been surfing since she was 4,

Beachley said she enjoyed the view from the sidelines.

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“I was able to soak things up and see what it’s all about,” she said. “I appreciated the experience more than anything and so coming back gave me a renewed understanding of what I had put myself through, what I was capable of and what I really wanted.

“It allowed me to put my life back into perspective.”

Gentlemen, start your surfboards

Last year’s rookie of the year is this year’s athlete to watch -- certainly the top Southland prospect.

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Of course it may soon be impossible to ignore Santa Barbara’s Bobby Martinez, who finished his rookie campaign ranked fifth in the world.

According to his agent, Bryan Taylor, Martinez is close to a sponsorship deal with Monster energy drink, “which would effectively turn all of Bobby’s surfboards into floating billboards.”

The bottoms of his boards will be black with a large green M in the middle.

Added Taylor, via e-mail: “Surfers have never exploited their surfboards in an efficient manner before, and it’s high time their boards were used more as income generators, rather than just as tools in order to win contests.”

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Down Under blues

The last Australian to win a men’s world title was Mark Occhilupo in 1999. Fourteen of the last 15 were won by surfers from either the U.S. or Hawaii, which is considered a separate entity by the Assn. of Surfing Professionals.

Eight were won by Slater and three by Kauai’s Andy Irons.

But the odds may be tilting. Five of 11 rookies this year are Australians, bringing to 21 the number of Aussies on the 47-man roster.

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The U.S. and Hawaii combined have 13 representatives. The rest are from Brazil, South Africa and France (one).

Steph has the stuff

The last three winners of the women’s world title -- Beachley, Chelsea Georgeson and Sofia Mulanovich -- may not even be the best surfers in the 17-woman field.

Stephanie Gilmore, a rookie from Australia, is an instant title contender based on a stellar amateur career and past performances in World Tour events.

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In fact, she won the Roxy Pro as a wild-card entry two years ago, kicking proverbial sand in the face of Mulanovich,

Beachley, Samantha Cornish and, in the final, Megan Abubo.

“Holy cow ... my body’s just like jelly,” a gleeful Gilmore said after her triumph.

The Big Daddy on tour

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Perhaps most dangerous among rookies on the men’s tour is Josh Kerr, an aerial specialist and Snapper Rocks regular.

But life has its distractions. Kerr’s wife, Nicole, gave birth to their first child, Sierra, last Friday after spending three days in labor.

“Surfing is something that I will do for 20 years and then it’s over,” he told the Gold Coast Bulletin. “But I’ll have Sierra by my side for the rest of my life.”

Flotsam and jetsam

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* Storm-watch: Surfline.com says the stubborn high-pressure system that has led to a wave drought in California has not affected Australia and predicts waves head-high and bigger for the Gold Coast contests.

Meanwhile, the contest window closes Wednesday for the Quiksilver Big-Wave Invitational in Memory of Eddie Aikau at Waimea Bay, and March 31 for the Mavericks Surf Contest near Half Moon Bay.

* Latitude adjustment: World Tour contests were to be webcast live on Lat34.com this season, but the deal fell through, leaving it up to event sponsors to provide that service. The Quiksilver Pro and Roxy Pro will be on quiksilver.com and roxy.com. There’s no live TV for ASP events.

* She’s taken: There’s a new name on the women’s roster, but it’s the same freckly face. Georgeson, who married her board shaper, is now Chelsea Hedges.

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* Southland swing: The only World Tour event on the U.S. mainland is the Boost Mobile Pro, Sept. 11-15 at Lower Trestles in San Clemente. The Body Glove Surfbout, a four-star men’s World Qualifying series contest, is scheduled April 24-28 at Trestles and the six-star men’s and women’s U.S. Open is scheduled July 23-29 at Huntington Beach.

pete.thomas@latimes.com


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