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Revealed: “Faulty audio connection!”

Chas Smith

by Chas Smith

Is the World Surf League hurting its judges?

Yesterday’s Bells Classic was one of the better days of surfing competition in quite some time. Maybe even the best in… the last five years? It had everything from steady, large surf to stunning end of heat moves to John John to Mick to judging controversies to potential scandal.

If you show me what you believe to be a better day in the last five I will show you Zeke Lau and the “faulty audio connection” in the judging tower.

And how wonderfully revealing was that episode?

In case you missed, catch up here but in brief Zeke caught a wave at the end of his round 4 heat vs. Filipe Toledo/Adriano Lima. Zeke had priority at the end. Filipe caught a screamer. Zeke paddled into it to block him, very clearly before the horn. The judges ruled not very clearly before the horn, dinged him with an interference and sent him to round 5. Zeke stormed the judging tower and things were eventually cleared up when the World Surf League’s commissioner Kieren Perrow announced that the mix-up occurred due to a “faulty audio connection” in the judges booth. Zeke was sent to the quarters.

Now, I am such a fan of the judges. Hardworking salts of the earth who live only to differentiate between Caio Ibelli’s mid-face wrap and Ace Buchan’s floater re-entry. They slave over surfing minutia like I slave over cocaine. They are artists in their craft and much better at discerning subtleties than you or me.

Except this year there have been some very strange calls. Many, in fact. I feel, I know, that the judges are much better at the nuanced game than you or me but… this year… it hasn’t really felt like it and I have been confused. Sad even.

With the revelation of the “faulty audio connection”, though, everything has been made clear!

The World Surf League must have the judges sitting in some frigid box, huddled around a vintage RCA 1940s tv that periodically goes kaput. Head Judge Renato must have to slam the top with his open hand, from time to time, while Kieren screams, “Hitting it won’t do anything! Jiggle the cables!”

And it is time World Surf League. I know the free Michelob Ultra cases that can be sold on Ebay for cash haven’t come in yet but doesn’t anyone have a credit card? A 24″ Insignia flat screen television can be purchased at Best Buy for $99.99. It is small, yes, but almost high-def.

The judges deserve better. Give them the wings they need to soar.

WSL: Jordy Rings the Bell!

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

It's a good day for pro surfing!

Like employees wary of their potential expulsion, Bells and Margies came into 2017 with renewed sense of vigor and verve. Both produced consistently big, consistently cleanish swell for the entirety of their contest windows. Really makes a viewer think.

Finals day at the 2017 Rip Curl Pro Bells was a Commissioner’s dream — a full ten hours of solid surf matched with doubly solid surfing. The day’s heat average teetered around sixteen, which pretty much speaks for itself. Oh and, fun storylines!

John vs. Mick (and Owen) in round four

An amazing heat on paper doesn’t typically equate to inspired viewing. This heat broke the mold by producing the highest scoring, most climactic moment of the event. After Mick dropped a near-nine and near-ten, John became the honorary mayor of Comboville. In world champion fashion John responded with a mid-nine and saw a glimmer of hope. With one minute remaining and a nine-something required, John took off on a lumpy, windswept wall and did something nobody has ever done: a six-foot alleyoop on a legitimate Bells bomb. 9.97.

The Zeke fiasco

Man catches wave on horn; chaos ensues. Potential beatdowns a la Sunny Garcia. Judges cower in fear. Read more about that here.

Filipe, in general

Bless this little lightning rod. Filipe’s ability in the air is innate. That shouldn’t make it any less impressive, but for some reason it does. Alternatively, Filipe’s ability to sink the rail came from years of nose-to-the-grindstone labor. Sure it’s more fun than laying brick, but Filipe’s commitment to power-surfing (roughly 200% improvement from 2015) is honorable. Imagine if he shifted that focus toward Teahupo’o, Pipe, etc…

The curse of round five

None of the surfers relegated to round five made it through to the semis. Is this a result of fatigue, psychological weight or merely coincidence? The world may never know.

Can Anybody Beat John?

Yes, WSL. His name is Caio Ibelli. You might remember him from the two times he beat John last year. He’s 3-1 vs. John, career.

It’s also worth mentioning that the two semis John has lost in 2017 came down to overly-conservative surfing. John’s coach, the wonderful Ross Williams, noted mid-semi that he was happy for John to have his first “normal” heat of the event, meaning he got one strong score and back-up early on in the match. Then Caio happened. Again.

The workhorses

Frederico Morais and Caio Ibelli are as flashy as a bag o’ potatoes but equally as nourishing. They surf, for lack of a better metaphor, like dads. Strong, sturdy, always there when you need ’em and even sometimes when you don’t. I didn’t have either on my team so it was painful to watch them tear apart the talent-rich field. That said, I respect the hell outta what they do.

Zeke

With forty bucks on the line, my heart jumped  when Jordy took that last wave in the semi. The Saffa needed a 7.25, and I could really use the gas money. When he stomped the final lip-line float I squealed with glee. Still, I wanna offer congratulations to Zeke. Dude surfed a Herculean event and you can bet no one wants to draw his name from this point on.

Final

Caio looked significantly more solid on his feet and he picked better waves than Jordy all day. With that in mind, I slated him as the unlikely favorite going into the final. He surfed that 9.63 to perfection and was a legitimate threat until the dying seconds. It’s amazing how many guys could potentially win an event on Tour in 2017.

A claiming Jordy is my favorite Jordy. When those fanatical gestures start pouring out, well that must be the greatest expression of happiness I can imagine. Jordy’s preemptive bell-ring made me laugh out loud. The silly, the smile! Who could hate that?

Jordy’s final performance was an example of an athlete peaking in confidence. Backwashy floaters, under-the-lip larries, and sandy faceplants had no chance at stopping the big Saffa. He got his bell, I got my forty bucks. Everybody wins!

Did Zeke Lau Just Pull a Sunny?

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

Chalk one up for the big guys!

We all know about Sunny Garcia’s intimidation techniques. The beefy Hawaiian was famous for using his immense size and alpha nature as a means to prolong his career, be it by vibing on the beach, hassling in the lineup or, if ploys against his direct competitors failed, throwing muffins at judges.

“It’s not a personal thing,” Sunny once told Skuff TV. “You know, if they’re fucking up and I think they’re giving someone a low score or giving me a low score, yeah I’m gonna say something. It’s definitely made a difference in my career…. Like Pat O’Connell, for instance, Pat never really snapped about anything. I’ve seen them rob Pat quite a bit of times, but you rarely see me get robbed, ‘cos they know if they don’t give me that 8.5 that I deserve I’m gonna be up in that tower saying something — or possibly doing something. There’ve been quite a bit of times they’ve locked the doors.”

Interesting! But how does it connect to the 23-year-old Ezekiel Lau? Well, aside from being Sunny reborn (the size, the power, the stone cold stare!), Zeke had a verrrrry interesting moment today at Bells. It went something like this:

Zeke was leading his round four clash against Filipe and ADS when Filipe went for a wave on the buzzer. Zeke, holding priority over Filipe, decided to block the young Brazilian from getting a score on this last-ditch effort. Filipe stood up three seconds prior to Zeke, whose hands left the rail just as the buzzer sounded. Reminiscent of the Seabass/Michel debacle at Lowers in 2015.

Zeke came to the beach thinking he won, but the contest went on hold as the judges poured over the replays. Had he stood up in time? On first glance, four judges thought no. After reviewing the video, the fifth judge conceded that Zeke had in fact stood up after the horn. It was announced that Zeke would receive an interference and be relegated to round five. That led to an aggravated walk across the scaffolding and this heated interaction…

As you can see, Zeke and coach Patterson attempted to ascend the stairs to judges’ tower when they were intercepted by Commissioner Perrow and Deputy Commissioner Hickel. What happened next is unknown, as the cameras panned to the heat in the water.

Not an hour later, Commissioner Perrow took the screen alongside Barton Lynch for an urgent briefing. He informed us that the replay the judges used to make their decision had a faulty audio connection. What the judges had seen was, apparently, an inaccurate depiction of reality. With the correct audio-visual connection in hand, the judges deemed that Zeke had in fact stood up before the buzzer. As a result Zeke was rewarded the heat win and Filipe would go on to surf round five.

Interestingly there are two videos that they showed the viewers. In one, a clip that is either more zoomed-in or was taken from closer to the surf, Zeke stands up maybe two milliseconds before the buzzer. In the other, which is either much less zoomed-in or was filmed from closer to the judging tower (and the buzzer), he’s a solid second after. It appears as though the original ruling was made off of video two, while the ultimate decision was determined off video one.

Tricky, weird, mysterious. This just begs for a conspiracy theory!

So what if Zeke, after his staircase stand-off with Kieren and Renato, advanced on to the judges’ perch? What if he continued to de-suit and used the neoprene arms to deliver a dizzying series of slaps? What if that incident persuaded the judges to scream, “Uncle! Uncle! You win Bruddah Zeke! We’ll fudge the data!”

Probably not but if yes Sunny will be so proud.

Opinion: Shark Policies “Insane”!

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Government policies "costing lives" says Fred Pawle after yesterday's fatal attack on a surfer… 

On Holy Saturday, I bumped into the writer Fred Pawle while shopping for Easter eggs at a chocolatier in Bondi. The reader will be pleased to note I selected two one-pound eggs and a dark chocolate rabbit of equal heft, all of which were happily received by kids and lover.

Fred was running late for his shift at The Australian and since I hadn’t seen him since the wake for our mutual pal Bill Leak who had suddenly been called to heaven, I offered to drive Fred into the city.

It promised to be an exciting night.

Trump was threatening to take out North Korea’s nukes; Kim was promising a spectacular retaliation.

“World War III could start while I’m on the desk,” said Fred in his breathless bass. I asked if he could call me if it did indeed commence, to which he agreed.

Then we ruminated on how quiet sharks had been in Western Australia. Fred, as you know, keeps a very close eye on shark activity, particularly Great Whites.

Well, clearly we spoke too soon. Yesterday afternoon, a teenage girl was hit while surfing and died soon after in a nearby hospital. 

And this morning, Fred opined that Australia’s timid response to overwhelming evidence that the shark thing was getting out of control was costing lives.

Unfortunately, the story is hidden by a paywall, but let’s take a small peek.

Our insane shark-conservation policies have cost another life, this time a 17-year-old girl who was attacked in front of her parents and siblings.

I would like to say that this incident will be the turning point in this debate, that our politicians will finally realise we need to reduce the increasing number of aggressive, lethal sharks in our waters, but this is unlikely.

• Senate shark inquiry ignores key issues

The forces against such action are deeply entrenched in all our major organisations. For example, Surf Life Saving Western Australia, where yesterday’s attack occurred, recommends six responses to sharks: research, education, surveillance, communication, preventive action (“shark barriers”, which can be built only in placid waters) and emergency response. It does not recommend the reduction of sharks, despite many fishermen in the state saying the size and abundance of large sharks, especially great whites, off WA are alarmingly high.

Researchers and academics whose careers depend upon continued funding into the behaviour and fragility of these “apex predators” long ago convinced politicians and large sections of the community that to reduce the number of sharks in our waters would be an ecological disaster

So a teenage kid, doing what Aussie teenagers have done for more than a century, has died instead. She won’t be the last.

The Senate’s environment committee, chaired by Green Tasmanian Peter Whish-Wilson, will coincidentally hold public hearings into shark mitigation strategies in Perth on Thursday. If, when the hearings begin, the committee expresses sympathy for the latest victim’s family, it will be an act of breathtaking hypocrisy.

As reported in The Australian this month, the committee has already reached a conclusion that its job is to help revive the number of sharks in our waters, downplay the dangers they pose, dismiss methods that have proven successful in Queensland and Sydney, and educate the public about these “wonderful” and “extraordinary” animals.

Its priority is the safety of sharks first, people second.

Of the six people invited to the Perth hearings, two are conservationist academics (UWA professors Shaun Collin and Rebecca Meeuwig); one is selling an unreliable personal electronic deterrent (Shark Shield); one advocates the immediate abandonment of drumlins and nets in Queensland, the presence of which has coincided with an almost complete absence of fatal attacks for 50 years (Sea Shepherd); and another is SLSWA, whose timid six-point plan is outlined above.

For the remaining couple of paragraphs, sign up to The Australian and dive in. 

Watch: Nazaré No Longer Boring!

Michael Ciaramella

by Michael Ciaramella

Three minutes well spent!

Here’s a confession. I often find big wave spectating to be quite boring. There are exciting moments, especially at Jaws or Cloudbreak or any of those Aussie slabs, but usually when people pull out their 10’2″s, I think about pulling a Cobain.

This is not intended to discredit big wave surfers. In fact, I have the utmost respect for their courage and commitment in such a terrifying pursuit. I could never do that shit.

But does that mean I have to enjoy watching them poo-drop into lumpy mountains? I think no.

One of my least favorite waves to watch is Portugal’s Nazaré, a beachbreak wedge of epic proportions. The bathymetty behind a bay that turns massive, long period swells into sixty foot triangles is truly a thing of wonder. But watching guys tow into giant burgers or paddle fruitlessly in the soup is grueling. At least most of the time.

Enter Nuno Dias, the 22-year-old surf filmmaker who spent this winter posted on the cliff (perhaps in a small tent) at Praia Nazaré. Never heard of him? Me neither. But Dias has produced the most filmer entries into the 2017 WSL Big Wave Awards, including one for “Ride of the Year”, another for “Biggest Paddle”, and two in the “Wipeout” category.

But Dias ain’t the point-and-shoot type. He’s a thinker, a real artisan in the editing booth. That’s why his winter recap clip, Grande, is so fun to watch.

Set to a Shining Bird track, Grande is beautiful, petrifying, and most importantly not boring. Please enjoy!