Sebastian Zietz
Two weeks into the lemony sunshine of a south-west autumn, and the injury replacement surfer Sebastian Zietz presents as the Margaret River Pro winner! A man who is beautiful, happy, friendly and with both feet on the ground! | Photo: WSL/Ed Sloane

Analysis: Seabass wins Margaret River!

But didn't the Ausralian leg have a weird, slightly sad vibe about it?

Perspective is everything. Standing amongst sweating crowds watching Stu Kennedy run a wrecking ball through a complacent top order at Snapper seemed like green shoots and Rory Parker’s Dead Ball Era call was a vicious oversight, just an anomalous year or two in between Dane leaving and JJF ascending.

Now that the Australian leg has (mercifully) wrapped it seems more prophetic than ever.

A question for pro surfing: Did we really need to sit through weeks of heats featuring a pair of sevens or less to get to man-on-man finals in overhead surf?

Did we really see the best of the best surfing at their best?

When the format and the locations are baking in majority mediocrity with rare moments of brilliance you might think higher minds would take a fresh look at reshaping what is essentially still a toddler of a sport.

But they won’t because the Faustian truth is that the taxpayer underwrites the Australian leg and for that money they want bums on seats, big top surfing that runs for days and weeks and keep the petit-bourgoisie: the butcher, baker, candlestick maker – the local Mayor who gets rock star status from visiting pros – supplied with tourist dollar.

There’s no business case for making pro surfing what it could be and should be: a showcase of the best of the best for work-a-daddy surfers to drool over without trampling on the rights of local recreational surfers. So we lumber on, merrily kicking a comatose horse that shows an occassional sign of life.

Truthfully, pro surfing really only started in the early 2000’s with the webcast, lets say 1998 when Rabbit took over. Prior to that it was nothing more than a cheap carnival sideshow, run by carpetbaggers and populated by alcoholic trained seals whose careers lived and died on hometown decisions and outright chicanery.

Slater’s early era scarcely existed by any modern sporting standards. We found out about it months later from scribes of dubious veracity and conflicted interests. Derek Hynd called it as he saw it before OP engineered his sacking but as for the rest… Sarge? Sam George?

Lets start from the final and work backwards.

I bingewatched the Australian leg and thought SeaBass had the best turn game in town. Turpel called it “dirty” and that was right on. It was like seeing a fully fledged Kyuss for the first time in their prime. Judges fell hard for it and started overcooking scores, based on emotional memory, more than reality.

He scored 17.4 in the Final for essentially two turns, the first of which was dirty as hell but flawed. The motivation was understandable. Subjected to weeks of low risk surfing, nice, easy rhythm in the code language of Turpel, anything off axis and near the edge of the envelope would have offered tremendous relief. The temptation to throw big numbers at it, just as a means of encouragement, was overwhelming.

Julian? Another underwhelming final. Judges overcooked the first score, then undercooked the second, which had the sharpest, most viscious turn of the final as the opening strike. Seems a lifetime ago when Kelly Slater threw down one of the biggest, most progressive airs in pro surfing history against Mick Fanning in the Final at…Bells Beach. A ten-point ride that had the potential to smash into oblivion thirty years of pro surfing conservatism.

Four, maybe five years ago by my hazy recollection. Four years and we’re back to two carves and a safety bonk on the whitewater.

Tempting to think evolution always runs in the forwards direction. But it doesn’t. It has its backwaters and cul de sacs, its blind alleys and failed experiments. Homo Erectus in the cradle of life in the Tanzanian rift valley had a larger brain than Homo Sapiens yet they were swiftly exterminated by tool using brutes.

We read BeachGrit for its anti-depressive properties but didn’t the Ausralian leg have a weird, slightly sad vibe about it? Trying to think of an appropriate sad movie and I keep coming up with Born Free, where the lion dies.

Who knows what creativity was kindled by that large brain? What humanity could have become. Just like Kelly’s Bells air it’s become an evolutionary foot note, not a sign of new direction.

Barack Obama, in defending his foreign policy, said the arc of history bends towards justice. But does it? That might be mere wishful thinking, like the WSL’s constant exhortation of  pro surfing excellence. The arc of pro surfing is bending towards stasis, conservatism and turning talent into robots who value consistency over creativity. Tool using brutes.

Whoa, too pretentious Berkowitz. Settle down.

I love the anti-pretension movement happening at the Grit, but you can’t actually help what comes out when you sit at the keys, right Chas? It just comes from god knows where. I bet any commenter on here, pushed for a thousand words, sounds more like a Downs Syndrome Ludwig Wittgenstein than the Chas Bukowski they imagine themselves to be.

We read BeachGrit for its anti-depressive properties but didn’t the Ausralian leg have a weird, slightly sad vibe about it? Trying to think of an appropriate sad movie and I keep coming up with Born Free, where the lion dies.

Kelly getting whipped into last place by wildcards, kids and lawnmower men. Mick taking a personal year, Owen with his brain injury, Bede hobbling on crutches, Taj kicking out, a forlorn and philosphical Adriano appraising another early loss by raising the spectre of failing to qualify. Old tender lions, injured lions, champion lions ruefully wondering if they could ever pull down a full grown wildebeest on the savannah.

Do you have a defining image of the Australian leg? I can’t get the image out of mind of Wilko’s alpha- primate-at-the -waterhole mid-wave claim at Bells. It was past, present and future. A jackboot on the face of surfing as dance, if it ever was, but at the least it had too look good.

Where to from here? There’s renewal of personnel, obviously, but the sport is mired in a format that blunts potential. First principle of my revamped format which rewards progression and risk: man on man is a reward for getting to the pointy end of the contest. An Eddie style leaderboard with rotating four-man heats for day one. The best surfers, with the highest aggregate go through to day two. No one is going to get past day one with sevens.

Day two held in the best surf gets man on man. Two day event.

The bigger problem is not conceiving of a better format than the one we’ve got, it’s how to disentangle the current arrangements, in short how to rip professional surfing off the tit of the Australian taxpayer (and others) and stop whoring itself out to the tourist industry beloved of state governments.

I’m not much of a money man. If I keep my car on the road, slide a new sled under the house and keep the electricity on I put a gold star next to the year but there’s plenty of smart people out there with access to dough.

There might even be a Floridian billionaire with some loose change to throw at a vanity project. What? Already been tapped. Okay, looks like we’re back to defibrillating the comatose horse.

The ratings are a mess after three comps, hard to see a contender amongst them.

Wake me for Fiji, Rio’s timezone is despicable. I leave you with the quote of the century from Tom Carroll spruiking Margaret River.

“Lets take the excellence a little bit further”.

Tyler Wright
What's the secret to Tyler's magic rhythm? | Photo: WSL

Parker: “Tyler Wright is Pure Surf Porn!”

Those turns! How can a man not fall in love?

Margs is almost over! Just a couple more days, a few more heats, and we can move on to the magic! Rio! Who will win? Who will lose? Who will contract Hep C? Only time will tell.

Pretty damn stoked the Tyler Wright took the women’s win. Gotta be my favorite female surfer. Finally surpassed Coco, though it’s a close thing. So much power behind those turns. Little bit of a crush going on. I have a thing for athletic women. The finely tuned female form does wonders for me. Way better than the waif deal.

It’s about time someone drops another all ladies surf vid. And I mean pure surf porn. Can the cutesy bikini poses, cut the soulful stares into the distance. Just surf. That’s it.

Or drop the best on a boat trip somewhere, do some unvarnished coverage. Get an all female crew, lady filmers, leave the guys on shore. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my thirty five years on earth, when it’s a same sex trip girls are just as foul and funny as boys.

I am a man, so I could be wrong, but there’s gotta be a demand. So many little girls learning these days, finally moving towards equality in the lineup. Not too long ago women weren’t supposed to surf. A stupidly sexist attitude that shouldn’t have existed in my lifetime, but did. Definitely part of the reason their performance angle suffered as long as it did. Shallow talent pool, less to draw from.

The lack of females in background roles is a problem too. So many stories I’d love to write but can’t. No matter how hard I try the male angle creeps in. Not really fair to tackle issues I don’t understand on any real level. Couldn’t, no matter how hard I try. The dick and chest hair and socialization run too strong.

Cori Schumacher’s a voice I miss. Outspoken, intelligent, amazing writer. Killer surfer too. But she’s moved on to bigger and better. Can’t blame her. In the larger scheme surf is totally unimportant.

But it’d be great if she passed the torch, or someone just picked it up. I’d kill to see stories written by women that didn’t include health or yoga or beauty tips.

Am I missing someone? Could be, it’s a big world, I don’t know everything in it.

Watch Tyler Wright win Margaret River here.

Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Women’s Final Results:

1 – Tyler Wright (AUS) 18.67
2 – Courtney Conlogue (USA) 14.70

Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Women’s Semifinal Results:
SF 1: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 17.44 def. Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) 12.17
SF 2: Tyler Wright (AUS) 15.07 def. Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.07

Drug Aware Margaret River Pro Women’s Quarterfinal Results:
QF 1: Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) 15.00 def. Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) 7.20
QF 2: Courtney Conlogue (USA) 17.33 def. Laura Enever (AUS) 6.67
QF 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) 14.57 def. Bianca Buitendag (ZAF) 6.40
QF 4: Tyler Wright (AUS) 16.53 def. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 8.74

2016 Samsung Galaxy WSL Top 5 (After Drug Aware Margaret River Pro):
1. Courtney Conlogue (USA) 26,000 pts
2. Tyler Wright (AUS) 25,200 pts
3. Carissa Moore (HAW) 19,500 pts
4. Tatiana Weston-Webb (HAW) 18,200 pts
5. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 15,600

WA: While you were sleeping!

Jimmy Wilson snags a gorgeous "what if...?"

There has been enough talk about how Margaret River’s Main Break is a tired, sluggish affair. A wall. A few carves. A rock landing. But, let us be honest here, it does look kind of fun, no? It looks like a suitable canvas. It looks like a proper dance floor. Until, apparently, one looks away. Surfing magazine’s phenomenal Jimmy Wilson posted the above image on his Instagram this morning with the caption:

Hard to concentrate on shooting a contest at Main Break when people are doing shit like this out at The Box.


And look at that. Beautiful composition, great color, a good narrative but mostly wow. I don’t know who the surfer is but what if this was being judged instead of, you know, that?

Oasis: “Surfers are idiots!”

Liam Gallagher from 90s BritPop band Oasis tees off!

This video has been making the rounds and it is very funny, I think. The witty Surf Europe writes:

You’re familiar with Noel, no doubt. From britpop giants Oasis? Not the licensed buffoon with mediocre voice and inflated ego who once rang room service at his hotel and tried to order a trampoline, claiming simply, “I like to bounce”; but the wittier, slightly less buffoonish one with mediocre voice and inflated ego who used to be good at writing stirring albeit crudely derivative pop songs, and is now just good at giving amusingly provocative interviews. Yeah, him!

But, all punditry aside, listen to what Liam says. It is hard to disagree, no?

Taj Burrow
The recently retired Taj Burrow needed little convincing to compete in the qualifying event at Keramas, Bali, last year. Good times? Good waves? A little pocket money? How could you say no? | Photo: WSL

Is the WQS the new dream tour?

Does a tour with Martinique, the Mentawais, Bali and Hawaii thrill you?

Trying to squeeze money out of pro surfing is an erratic business as the various owners of the IPS, ASP and, now, the WSL can attest.

Do you chase eyeballs on the beach with contests at mostly city beaches or do you sell the dream and broadcast from glamorous tropical reefs? Do you run contests wherever and for whomever can stump up the cash? Or does the quality of the game matter?

In the eighties and nineties, you got the former. Then came along the ’78 world champion Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew who headed the ASP in 1998 and created what became known as the Dream Tour.

In a revealing interview with Sean Doherty for Surfer magazine in 2011, Rabbit described the transition.

“It was a revolving door at the ASP in 1998, because as I walked in Kelly Slater was walking out in disgust. There was a lot of unrest and here was the six-time World Champion and the most decorated surfer ever, saying, ‘I’m over it.’ There was a lot of unrest amongst surfers because the thinking of the Tour at the time was still very much ‘the endless summer,’ bums on bleachers, and surf quality was not an issue.”

Read more about it here.

As the Champion Tour got better, the Qualifying Series was correctly regarded as a terrific grind, spitting good surfers into the wilderness as they burnt ’emselves out chasing contests for little prizemoney in one-foot waves.

Recently, however, the table has been upturned.

While the best surfers on tour have been dumped at a couple of crummy old-school reefs in Victoria and WA, and soon Rio, surfers on the Qualifying Series are reaping a cornucopia of riches.

The Martinique Surf Pro starts this weekend with events to follow at Lance’s Right in the Mentawais, Keramas in Bali, Ala Moana in Hawaii, Cloud 9 in the Philippines, Santa Cruz in California, and all wrapping up with three events on the North Shore.

Yeah, sure, there’s still the usual despair in between (Fistral, Virginia Beach, New Jersey etc) but if you’re smart, you could have the year-long holiday of a lifetime and, if you nailed a contest or two, you might even qualify.

Think: while Jordy Smith, John John Florence, Wilko, Joel and the rest are in Rio, what we’ve come to regard as the bottom-feeders of pro surfing will have just wrapped up a contest at Keramas, Bali, draining champagne bottles and god knows what else in one gulp.