Matt Meola is the 20-year-old surfer from Maui with whom you’ve become acquatinted with over the past couple of years, mostly from his flips and tweaked spins, but also from his surprisingly strong showings at Jaws.
It’s a style of surfing he calls el modernismo. Lavishly contradictory airs that protest the sensibility of competition-style surfing, Filipe and John John excepted.
Landed two weeks ago, but released today, is Matt’s first-ever Spindle Flip 540. A Spindle Flip, in case y’aint aware, is like the ol bodyboarder el rollo, complete with double grab, except spun the opposite way. The bodyboarder rolls with the lip and towards the beach. Matt’s is the counterintuitive version. (El Modernismo, lavishly contradictory… )
And, this with its extra rotation, adds another layer of sugar. Matt says he was going to backflip but switched the rote to match the section and ended up SF540.
If your own game is rail and jam, this might leave you cold, your eyes glassing over.
I mean, those kids!
But get into the minutiae of the hit: see how heavy the section is, the size of the wave, the utter directness and intensity, the way Matt recomposes his body, and you might start to become dazzled by its radiance.
A pod of Great White sharks is winning hearts at Huntington Beach!
At least six Great White sharks, ranging from five to eight feet in length, were recently photographed just outside the surf line in Surfside, California, an Orange County gated community.
Response to the pictures has been mixed: local residents expressing emotions ranging from appreciation of the animals’ beauty to baseless fears created by inflammatory media coverage and lack of knowledge regarding shark behavior.
News of the increased shark presence comes only weeks after a fatal attack on a 65-year-old woman off the coast of Maui. Leading sharkologists are currently investigating whether the attacks may be related, current theories point towards an evolutionary adaptation that causes greater shark fertility in the presence of human blood.
With the recent closure of the beaches in Reunion Island to surfing and a four-year period that has seen more than 35 attacks in Hawaii alone over the last four years, shark aggression is rapidly becoming a global concern.
Online sentiment, combined with a rapidly approaching summer season sure to draw millions of beach-goers to the Golden State’s sandy shores, indicates a potential for a bloodbath unseen since the sinking of the USS Indianapolis.
Local authorities have probably advised residents to remain calm and stay indoors until the danger has passed.
The great generational change we thought was going to be wrought by Jordy or John John or Dane is being delivered, on our screens, in dramatically increasing increments by a surfer who was still in his teens a few weeks ago. (Filipe turned 20 on April 16.)
Three years on tour and, despite the occasional huck, it wasn’t until Snapper Rocks in March that the full breadth of his ability was finally revealed to the world. Watch the final here.
When the Oi Rio Pro wraps up some time tomorrow, Brazil time, unless Filipe is suddenly blinded by God, Filipe will win and he’ll slide into a tight second-place on the tour ratings, just behind Adriano de Souza.
Look at his results. Snapper, he wins. Bell… Bells… a fifth. The QS at Lowers. He wins it. And now, a guaranteed third or better. Heat averages of nearly 16 points or an eight on every scoring ride.
One great surfer, a former pro turned coach, who adores everything about Filipe (and who was rated #1 in the world on tour when he was the same age) is the American Brad Gerlach, a former world number two and world title contender.
“I watch Filipe so I can teach my students how to be the best,” says Gerr. “I watch him to learn and to confirm all the things I’ve learned.”
Personally, I wanted to know, how does the tour solve a problem like Filipe? I’d asked Jeremy Flores and he said, “Uh, hope he makes a mistake.”
Gerlach, I knew, would at least have some practical ideas.
BeachGrit: So tell me, in your opinion, why is Filipe unbeatable?
Gerlach: Why? He’s technically superior. And then, he’s not thinking. He’s surfing so spontaneously you don’t know what he’s going to do. He doesn’t know what he’s going to do. And that’s fucking awesome. What surprises me about a lot of the guys I watch is they’re confident but they look conservative on the wave. Filipe’s excited to be surfing! And his posture’s good, but his front foot is the biggest reason he’s so gnarly. He uses his back foot but not like a Bede Durbidge or even Conner (Coffin) for that matter. Slater is too. Dane’s front-footed but he knows how to use his back foot. And so does Filipe.
BeachGrit: Okay, so this is the big thing… we’ve seen four generations of surfers on their back foot. All power, with a little air. Why is the front foot so important?
Gerlach: Front foot is acceleration. You have to have your weight and hips over your front foot to accerlate. When you’re too heavy on your back foot there’s a delay as you shift your weight to your front foot. Filipe’s whole momentum is going through his front foot so he’s not getting that delayed, stuck-at-the-top feeling and the reason he’s landing so many aerials is he knows where he’s going to land before he leaves the water. He has a clear picture in his mind where he’s going to land. He’s not up there in the air going, “I’ll see where I am when I’m up in the air”. The better surfer you are, the slower the wave appears to you. With Filipe, the wave looks slow and he has plenty of time to see exactly what he’s going to do. It’s a beautiful thing to watch.
BeachGrit: At Snapper, in the final against Julian Wilson, the difference was stark. Julian seemed almost… heavy.
Gerlach: Julian uses his front foot a lot but when I watch Julian surf it looks like he’s thinking all the time. He lets it go occasionally, like on a video he’ll go up and do one of those beautiful backside wafts, but, generally, he’s thinking too much and there’s a disconnect between your head and your body. But, fuck, Julian’s incredible. His surfing is absolutely smooth and beautiful and critical so I’m not writing it off. I’m talking subtleties and the difficulty of an opponent like Filipe. In that final, it looked like Filipe didn’t care about winning. He was excited to be on the waves and doing what the wave called for. And that’s just a natural thing he’s doing right now.
BeachGrit: What advice would you give Kelly re: Filipe?
Gerlach: Same thing. I feel Kelly could try less. I think Kelly loses power when he tries too hard, we all do, I do, and I don’t surf good when I’m trying hard. But it’s hard to switch that off when you’re in competition. In order to score you need to do certain things. But, Kelly could position himself more radically with less force. Kelly’s capable of so much flexibility, if he turned it down half a notch and focused a little more on how radical a position on the wave he could get… Kelly thinks he needs to throw a lot of water around to get the score. Kelly can do traditional and he can do progressive so he’d be way better if he turned it down a little. I was talking about that with him South Africa years ago, and I said, be less statement oriented. Can you be positionally radical? The guy is so fucking good all you have to do is give him a clue and he’ll be on it. You know what? He’ll… read this… and I hope he does because I’d love to see him take it to Filipe. It’s not an ageing thing. Surfing isn’t about muscle. The power is all in the wave. Nobody has more power than the wave.
BeachGrit: Let’s imagine you were 25 again and surfing against Filipe. What’s your strategy?
Gerlach: I would surf more positionally radical than him. He’s doing turns where the wave isn’t especially hollow ’cause he can blow his fins out and he can fly in the air. I’d use the bottom of the wave and go straight back up at the pitching lip and do redirected turns slightly under the lip, keeping the rail in the water. I mean, it wouldn’t be easy. But I wouldn’t be trying to go and blow my fins bigger than him or do bigger airs. I’d try and be more creative. To beat Filipe as an older guy you would need to train to initiate your rail turns earlier and position them more vertically. Rail surfing but in the super critical part of the wave. That’s what I train my students to do. People can feel those turns. Conner does some mental ones at J-Bay. At that level, if you get 10 per cent better it could be the difference between an incredible career and an average one. Rail game out on the shoulder is outdated, by the way.
BeachGrit: Where do you think performance surfing is going?
Gerlach: Everyone will be doing big airs, yeah we know that, but they’ll be used more fluidly and it’ll come down to what you can do on the wave face as well as what can be done above the lip. Eventually, it’ll be how you put it all together, not just turns or airs in isolation.
BeachGrit: What else y’got?
Gerlach: Well, I don’t want this to sound like I know it all, it’s just that I see a lot of stuff. My dad was my coach and he never surfed. You don’t have to do something to understand it. What do I do? I get on the heat analyser and watch every single wave Flipe has. It’s, like, thank fucking god there’s someone spontaneous and radical and with a decent style.
John John Florence v Kelly Slater in Copacabana freesurf…
All that swell y’saw on the WSL webcast in Rio? Somewhere had to be good before it disappeared, yeah?
This short, made by the Brazilian pay-TV channel Canal OFF, shows the loveliest object we have in the world, John John Florence, freesurfing with/against the most beautiful thing God has created, Kelly Slater. (Pre-last night’s Matt Banting catastrophe.)
While I usually have an aversion to anything that’s not Kai Neville (in the long-form) and Peter King (for tour documentary) this was worth my time, and therefore, most certainly yours.
Uncannily, PK makes a cameo in this short. “Kelly’s mean! John John’s nice!” he says with his usual air of overflowing gaiety.
Expect a version of this on his #TourNotes very soon, and therefore here.
How many second-lasts in crummy waves can he stomach before Slater slings it for good?
It was the substitute commentator Dave Stanfield who prophesied the dramatic exit of the 43-year-old Kelly Slater. As Slater and his first-year-on-tour competitor, Matt Banting, 20, organised themselves among a lineup of three-foot closeouts, Stanfield said:
“Here is Kelly Slater. Yes. You are watching history. Every time he goes into the water you’re fortunate to be able to see this incredible athlete go to town, twenty-five years as a pro… ”
Slater’s former travel buddy Ross Williams commenting on the almost-quarter age gap ‘tween the two added, “It could be Matt Banting’s pops right there!”
It all sounded more eulogy than stage entrance.
Not that it was immediately apparent. Four minutes into the thirty-minute heat and still looking like the most perfectly well-oiled machine the sport has ever seen, Kelly raced hard on a righthander, threw his back foot on the tail, extended the front, and didn’t just rotate… but… corked… a full-rotation, and then some, air. It didn’t land and subsequently Kelly scored a 1.23.
“Things are getting hot!” said Stanfield.
“Kelly is… definitely… inspired by John John and Filipe,” said Williams.
And that was it. The heat degenerated into yet another crummy find-a-corner-scrunch-into-a-tube-add-two-lip-taps-for-a-five. Hasn’t that been the story of Slater’ swansong season? These dreadful heats with a jelly-fish structure, no articulation or power?
And it will be Kelly’s swansong season because he will barely make the top 10. Even an animal of competition like Kelly isn’t going to suffer the indignity of an inexorable backward slide. Could he reconquer the world given the right conditions? There’ve been more ambitious plans. Imagine a tour that was 80 per cent reefs, run in eight-foot waves. It would be a blizzard, again, of Slater wins.
What does it say about a sport that sends its greatest ever, its one statesman, the man whom carries its success on his shoulders, into dark mildewed holes like some grunt in a poorly chosen war?
Matt Banting, meanwhile, is a bland man no one could hate. He is adept at accelerating and slowing down, rotating his shoulders and hips and adjusting his stance to complete nearly every manoeuvre currently in play. No effort is squandered on the application of style or idiosyncrasy. No sense of gesture or individuality.
Two turns, maybe a little tube and that’s all it takes to beat Slater in crummy closeouts.
For Kelly there was no hands-free, below-the-rim backside tube tens like last year. No writers searching for weapons-grade adjectives to describe another extraordinary leap forward in performance.
Just hot dogs served without mustard and a champ who took a boot in the face for his sport.
Oi Rio Men’s Pro Round 3 Results:Heat 1: John John Florence (HAW) 18.77 def. Adam Melling (AUS) 12.67Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 15.60 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 11.34Heat 3: Matt Banting (AUS) 10.80 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 6.70