What a final day of surfing at the Rip Curl Pro Portugal! Wait, did you not watch?
This is the Age of Conspiracy Theory. Events accelerate away from human understanding, as they did in Portugal, and we seek the surety of an unseen hand in the narrative. Wouldn’t you, if the WSL was a quisling under your command, seek the drama of a mad Pipe showdown and engineer, any way you could, results to favour that outcome? That’s what Kelly thought when Fanning was denied the chance to clinch the Title on Portugese shores by a local wildcard and thus make Pipe a dead rubber.
The wildcard keeps the locals on the beach, grows the sport locally and the showdown moves to Pipe. Here’s another, shocking, giblet of conspiracy theory to chew on as we digest both the Portugese result and the much bigger implications for Pro surfing and world sport.
“My Doctor thinks I’m a parasite.” That’s not some horrific nightmare visited upon me after twelve days of relentless late night nightmare close-outs but an actual newspaper headline. You can read it here. The translation from Portugese super journalist Sara Sanz Pinto concerns none other than Robert Kelly Slater who dropped the bombshell that he may have parasites that are affecting his testosterone production. Doesn’t that explain everything? Really and truly. The weird little flame outs and flat spots. The slow decline down the ratings. Frantic emails to both Sara and King Kelly for clarification on the parasite issue have gone unanswered at time of writing. It does provide some comfort for fans struggling to come to terms with the fact that for the first time, well ever since he came on Tour, Slater is going into Pipe with zero chance of winning the Title. All because of a little fucking bug freeloading off his testosterone. What an ignominious end to the Age of Slater.
Pro surfing abhors a fairytale: normally the house wins, the little man gets his dream crushed. Not this time. I would have bet the house I don’t own on Medina winning both his QF against Ferreira and the whole comp. It looked destined, baked in to the theory. Medina had him comboed after 5 minutes with a pair of sixes. The sound of dogs barking came through the webby, a clear sign. But of what? Italo speared a hollow left in the throat then dissected a right to throw the combo right back at Medina. He finished Medina off with a wild tail high spin into the onshore. Somehow I’d written off Italo based on a dim view of the Aus and American rookie talent. Bad call. Italo personifies the current reality of catastrophic victory for the Brazilian storm. They’ve stormed the citadel and found nothing there except aging stars and a few straggling journeymen; their western peers constructing Instagram careers well out of harms way.
Lets zoom out and widen the frame. Nostalgia is a bitch teat I try not to suckle on too often but five years ago to the week, Nov 2010 was the great turning point in modern professional surfing. It was the last week alive for Andy Irons, the height of Dane, Slater about to ice Title Ten. On the shore of Puerto Rico the sport was delicately poised. It had enlarged it’s conceptions to accommodate Dane; artistic and jock elements had reached an unlikely equilibrium. What we were seeing live was the true state of the art. It could have gone either way. The companies crumbled and ZoSea pounced with a total jock vision; once more the old whore would get a fresh coat of makeup and be wheeled out to middle America to face rejection, yet again. The last best hope for Pro surfing to become a performance art collective, something like seeing the best musicians at their peak live, was lost. When AI died the music died with him.
Doesn’t the current status of JJF prove that point? While we watch him sit and wait, neuteured by format and sub-par surf a trailer was released showing him at full potential. The fact the sport can’t extract and showcase pinnacle performances from Dane and JJF is the ultimate rebuttal to Speakers NFL vision for surfing.
The Final was the direct result of the WSL/Speaker model. They created a sport and seeing a dissipated American response and an aging or overrated Australian hierarchy the latinos simply reached up and picked the low hanging fruit on offer. There was no bipolarity in their thinking, no hesitation in the action. Hence two twenty year old Brazilians fighting it out in the Final in scrappy beachbreak. No conspiracy theory needed.
Did you watch the Final? Or did you boycott because it was two Brazilians? An existential question for the WSL. 7 am Hawaii, 10am LA, 1pm NYC, 4am Sydney. Judging waves is nothing like an objective science, more a voodoo mix of emotion and groupthink and the effect of the unseen hand but you’d be a cold fish in a wet sock if you didn’t give Toledo’s opening wave a Ten. Ferreira lofted high into the golden heavens and was robbed of a ten for the biggest air of the year, or ever. Toldeo kept boosting, Ferreira refused to submit. It was the best Final of the Year, the first time a dominant performance hadn’t seen an opponent buckle. By the time it was ended the high water mark of Dane, of Slater had been washed away. If you missed it, you blew it.
Should Portugal be iced? No. It’s the perfect litmus for where the sport is at. Portugal makes sense, Portugal is the future. The dogs have stopped barking and the caravan rolls onto Pipe, last chance for aging heroes to exit with dignity intact.