Today! The dull and maybe meaningless mid-tier! Eleven through 17!
11. Jeremy Flores
J-Bay Result: Injured
WSL rating: 12 (-2)
Key Question: Can this dormant animal be roused?
“No major brain damage!” Jeremy told me proudly in June when he face-planted at a reef in Sumbawa, Indonesia. “A fucken air,” he’d said. “All frothing to learn all these new tricks and ended up landing head-first onto dry reef.”
Can you imagine?
Bleeding rapidly, blinded with his own blood, groaning, overcome with pain and terror? Being rescued by Wiggolly Dantas and Jake Paterson and helicoptered to hospital? And in this, a sort of comeback season, after so many scandals, and for all his inability to understand a crowd, when he again looked able to navigate a heat?
La vie est cruel parfois (yes, French! Mais bien-sur!). The way it strikes under your defences, the way it rips the skin from your undersides. The way t gives you a couple of kisses then clean forgets about you.
The general structure of Jeremy Flores’ surfing remains. I believe he has the stomach for Teahupoo, and for Teahupoo when the other children on tour are gasping and squealing, and enough glimmer in his little-wave game for the beachbreak events. Occasional gunshots amid the flutter of little wings.
12. Nat Young
J-Bay Result: 9
WSL rating: 7 (steady)
Key Question: Is he a dumpy little woman or a supermodel?
Often, I’ll look at Nat Young and think, how can someone that obvious in his technique, with those clumsy telegraphed turns, with a smell so bad it wafts through the webcast, make it among giants like John John and Kelly and Filipe and Medina? So formal, so boring.
But then he’ll unload his cargo like ten thousand devils and what are we to think then?
Is he a dumpy little woman with no redeeming features, as I initially thought, or a supermodel or… perhaps likely… a melange of both?
When Nat throws on his lipstick and rouge he makes me die to be spooned with his sugar. Otherwise, I just find it queer as anything and numbing.
13. Italo Ferreira
J-Bay Result: 13
WSL rating: 9 (-1)
Key Question: Is he really Brazilian?
I tend not to set my alarm to watch Italo’s heats in different time zones. But those who know say the kindest things about Italo’s surfing, at least in a partial degree, and this is backed up by his rating in the top 10.
He lacks the dazzling skin of Wiggolly and Filipe and their apparent weightlessness and, therefore, I conclude he is a Brazilian on the Portuguese side of the ledger not the fabulous African side.
Not that it reduces my physical admiration one iota, the cow-like tenderness of his eyes, the captivating shyness.
14. Matt Wilkinson
J-Bay Result: 13
WSL rating: 16 (-2)
Key Question: Why the yellow teeth?
If I was a girl I don’t think I’d kiss Matt Wilkinson. His teeth, that briny snout, a pork-like red of the skin. The hair is striking granted, but there’s not much else to give an uprush to the brain.
The feeling I have for Matt Wilkinson is as an admirer of his ballet. I’m fascinated by it, so fascinated, I’ve grown very fond of watching him surf.
He certainly did go down swinging his little fists at J-Bay, 16-ish points to Gabriel’s 19-and-a-bit. Afterwards, he sobbed miserably, shoulders hunched up, but his friendless was not diminished and nor was the imagination and intuitive nature of his surfing.
Matt was beaten by the 2014 world champ, after all, and in his best heat all year.
15. Josh Kerr
J-Bay Result: 13
WSL rating: 9 (-1)
Key Question: Can he tidy up the style a little, just to make his hammers a little more cut and dried?
I’ve seen Josh Kerr nail the biggest airs I’ve ever seen, he has the gift of flight after all, and, then, look lost while out on the face. Just this morning on the WSL website, I thought the homepage featured a photo of Josh at the US Open. But a closer inspection revealed Billabong stickers – it was Courtney Conlogue!
This is common thing. It is the hardest thing in the world to be a little of everything, and not just one or the other, although this is where John John Florence and Dane Reynolds excel.
This year Josh’s air game looks subjugated to turns and it maddens me. I want the noise of the cannon, the clash of steel! I want my brain inflamed!
Josh Kerr is fearless and skilled but he cannot allow himself to be weakened by the colonialism of what he perceives as “criteria”. I can’t exaggerate the effect this has on his career.
Yeah, be conscious of the danger, it is a tricky and occasionally tiresome game, but don’t lose what you represent.
16. Joel Parkinson
J-Bay Result: 13
WSL rating: 17 (-2)
Key Question: Why?
Just, why? Eight heat wins and the season is halfway done. Examine the 2012 world champion’s heat average and it’s a respectable 13.72, which means he’s average a couple of sevens every time he paddles out, better than surfers rated far above.
But such are the varying fortunes of surfing. The standard of play is high. It is cosy and it’s congenial, a friendly mix of age groups and nationalities. His survival on tour will depend on his pooling his efforts and resources. Teahupoo, result, Trestles, maybe not, France, possibly, Supertubes, possibly, Pipe, yes.
It’s interesting to compare Joel’s career and life to Mick’s. One has three world title, possibly four come December, the other has kids and a life that exists beyond professional surfing.
If he wants to milk the WSL teat for a few more years, Joel needs less crooning and has to become more barbaric, terrifying.
Joel needs to exude electricity instead of, what is now, just a faint buzz.
17. Jordy Smith
J-Bay Result: Last
WSL rating: 22 (-4)
Key Question: How can someone be so singularly repellant and yet at the same time singularly magnetic?
What a number of angles there are to the question of Jordy Smith! However, what interests me is passage of time, how quickly it sweeps by us all. One minute we’re staring at headlights in the distance and in the blink of an eye we’re watching the taillights fade to black.
Jordy is in his 27th year and any idea that he’s going to win a world title, or create a legacy beyond the current epoch, you would think is fast fading. For a surfer who has the liberal gift of body awareness (think: he’s the only surfer on tour who can jam two significant turns within half-a-metre of lip) his lower third rating on tour would seem a grand failure, despite the injury that kept him out of Fiji.
But life isn’t so cut and dried as all this. The only way to express the truth is to, calmly, assess an athlete’s assets and make some kind of summation.
Well, here, he lives an exciting and modern life (with a bikini model who seems to adore his reduced chin and heavy eyebrows) in California and lives off a skilfully negotiated contracted worth many millions.
“Who do you think I am?” he might ask.
“I don’t know,” you’d be compelled to say.