Is the Championship Tour where young dreams go to die?
Getting on the World Championship Tour is the dream of every blue-blooded young professional surfer. He has grown watching his heroes Taj Burrow, Joel Parkinson, John John Florence, maybe even Adriano de Souza, travel the world, surfing iconic waves, winning, laughing, smiling. And he decided to follow in their footsteps, through junior events then low-point Qualifying Tour events before the stars align and he makes the cut. Makes it into the very exclusive club.
Now his jersey will be hanging in a Gold Coast locker and the thrill is just beginning.
Except it is not. Little does the blue-blooded young professional surfer know, but now he must work two full time jobs, toiling on both the Championship Tour and the Qualifying Tour in order to make ends meet. The dream basically turning into a lower-middle class American reality. Morning shifts at the fertilizer plant. Evening shifts driving an Uber.
What a royal bummer and let’s let last year’s budding flower/this year’s wilted weed Patrick Ewing give advice to Griffin Colapinto:
“I’d say just have fun on Tour, but focus on the QS. I wish I would have done that this year but I was too busy focusing on the CT just trying to get heat wins. If I could’ve got a good start on the QS early in the year I wouldn’t be in this position.”
What a giant downer having a “fun” job and a “real” job. Where is the time to kick it with friends at the mall? To go to house parties and whisper about who might be hiding half a beer? It seems a real rip-off, making the Championship Tour and losing everything.
I suppose, at the end, blue-blooded young professional surfers are just like us. Except for those who count Adriano de Souza as their hero. Working two jobs instead of five would feel like a vacation for them.
Australia's most intelligent company strikes again!
Your favorite online Australian surfwear retailer is back in the news with a stunning counter punch. SurfStitch, former parent company of Stab and FCS, was looking very on the ropes just weeks ago. Punch drunk. Getting sued by investors, stock frozen, owners of Stab. It seemed that a knockout was minutes away but suddenly, and without warning, Stab bought itself back for free and then just seconds ago it was revealed that the company purchased the surfwear brand Depactus.
You may recall Depactus from… when… ummm… the brainchild of… wait was it Luke Egan or Luke Munro? And camping gear? Did Depactus make camping gear? I’m sorry. I’m writing the prologue to book right now and not the detailed surf journalist you’ve come to know and love.
In any case, Depactus then was rumored to have folded. Derek Rielly wrote two years ago:
Word on the street is Depactus is done. The MEPs (Men of Extraordinary Pursuits) are actively seeking alternative sponsorships and the reason for its failure? We’re told the brand was marked by three major flaws. -Big salaries right out of the gate. -Branding that was tone deaf to the consumer. Depactus came in high-end and expensive where Salty Crew, who is killing it, came in low, came in blue-collar. Same waterman-fisherman-surfer vibe but more authentic and value oriented. -Bold spending. Big ad agency employed, designers, staff and the most delicious trade show fit-outs seen in a while.
And the world moved on. Except SurfStitch, the company that reeks of value, of good decision-making, saw an opportunity to strike it rich and scooped Depactus up for… I have no idea. Nothing?
How was SurfStitch aware that Depactus had not totally died? Do you think the SurfStitch x Depactus relationship will fare better than the SurfStitch x Stab one? Will Depactus go out and sponsor more Men of Extraordinary Pursuits? If SurfStitch came to your house looking to buy you would you flee or ask, “How much you got?”
“Maybe life is just too good to justify the emotional hunger for a world title. Nothing in his personality requires it, in the same way Taj was happy enough without it, and hence he never really puts himself on the line for it, for long enough to give himself a realistic shot.”
1. Gabriel Medina
Current rating: #2
Straight up analysis: Gabe has a greater tactical range going into Pipe. Three strategies present themselves. First, if it’s bombing First Reef Pipe Gabe can roam the ledge and deep-throat bombs, with cleaner mid-sized waves his speciality. No falls. The so-called Teahupoo strategy. Second, if it’s ratty he can find scores in the air in a way that John can’t, or more likely won’t due to his pedigree and deeply ingrained habits at Pipe.
Third, in overlapping four-man heats he can employ the “rabid dog” strategy he used in Portugese closeouts. Roaming the lineup and savaging anything that moves, not scared to fall, putting scoreboard pressure on opponents too locked into patient strategies ala John Florence.
2. John John Florence
Current rating: #1
Hows’ John sleeping these days? Waking in the middle of night with his own Latin Incubus in the shape of Gabriel Medina spooning him and whispering sweet nothings into his ear.
“Hi John, it’s me Gabriel, I coming for you. How you like me now?”
And no matter how deep the preternatural calm that emanates from John descends into the psyche, all that “Oh it’s so fun. It’s fun being the leader. I’m really enjoying it. Nah, I’m not thinking of the World Title.” That presence of Gabriel and a whole year of red-hot favoritism, undeniably justified, will have to be quarantined for whole chunks of time moving slow as magma in the most intense pressure situation imaginable. If he falters here then we all stand down from the dream of a John Florence dynasty. That is a heavy burden to carry. At 25 he has to win back-to-back before embarking on a revamped tour in 2019 that appears to be tailor-made for his dominance.
3. Kolohe Andino
Current rating: #8
Preparation is key to any endeavour of excellence and to prepare for these power rankings I made a pilgrimage to visit my friend and mentor Derek Hynd. Hynd commands a compound in the hills behind Byron Bay, part Mad Max, part Blade Runner techno-futurism. Derek was enthused about plans to shake the foundations of Pro Surfing, another story for a different time but had equal froth for Kolohe’s European performances. His make rate and top turns in particular.
In his words: “How refreshing to see custard served up instead of muck”.
Which I took to mean: His surfing was creamy, “tasty” to the eye, and composed of an internal consistency which kept it together but fluid enough to fit the shape of any oceanic container. How did you read it? All the passion, the sporting fervour and chickenwing claims might have served him well in Europe but look like ballast for Pipe. Passion thrills but also kills. Clean mind better.
4. Jordy Smith
Current rating: #3
Not once in my career as a surf-writer have I missed an opportunity to sink the boot into the over-sized date of Jordy Smith of Durban, Republic of South Africa. No ticker, can’t close, choker, safety surfer extraordinaire etc etc.
But something has shifted deep within, maybe that photo where Jordy, walking past the autograph hungry throngs at Peniche with a face twisted in a grimace of self-disgust and disappointment, was the catalyst.
Maybe it was a dream last night. A loud noise, maybe a pawpaw rolling down the roof, or a chicken in it’s death throes as a python extinguished the last flame of life. Sitting bolt upright in thrall to a vision: masked Jordy at the door, wielding a machete. Raising it above his head “the shit talking ceases now bru” before bringing the blade down with the final blow.
Safety surfing infuriates me, does it you Jordy? In your heart of hearts? Come now Mr Smith, we’re not so different, me and you. You, the subject of a high priced bidding war between surf industry titans as a teenager. Me, the subject of a furious bidding war between Stab and BeachGrit.Both trained seals trying to entertain an audience that can turn on you with sudden and unexplained viciousness.
“Heres’ the thing,” said Ross Williams: Jordy Smith is still a mathematical chance for this World Title. You feel that bile rising in the throat when you read this Jords, the involuntary fist clench, the feeling of luxuriousness as the blade comes down on the faceless critics. Start there. Swing that blade. Take that title and shut me the fuck up. I’ll give you a 500 word written apology FOC, written the very next day if you claim the Title at Pipeline.
Not enough? Swing by for a double date with Greg Webber and sink the boot in in person. Character is destiny.
5. Miguel Pupo
Current rating: #23
Miggy, Miggy, miggy. We need a talk. We had you pegged as the missing link, the one who was going to banish style stereotypes of Brazilian surfers forever into the wilderness. The one who could link the past with the future. I pegged you as the Brazilian Gerry Lopez, a trope shamelessly appropriated by Martin Potter. You have a problem with the mind? A lack of confidence that seeps into the bones and makes nerves short circuit at the worst times? You need some help. I know a guy, an underwater guy who is available for coaching. A family man, like yourself. Will work on a no result/no fee basis. Send plane tickets for Pipe Post Restante Lennox Head. Let’s give it the ol college try eh and let the real Miguel Pupo loose on the world. We saw more than glimpses of him in Europe, which makes the spectre of possible relegation a bitter pill to swallow.
6. Julian Wilson
Current rating: #4
What’s he done to deserve a world title, the objective critic cries. Too much inconsistency and apart from the finals against Gabe in Tahiti, not a single barnstorming performance which would justify a world title. But there he is, standing patiently in a queue behind Jordy Smith, or is it in front? These world title calculations always perplex me, waiting for everyone else in front to fall over.
Maybe life is just too good to Julian to justify the emotional hunger for a world title. Nothing in his personality requires it, in the same way Taj was happy enough without it, and hence he never really puts himself on the line for it, for long enough to give himself a realistic shot.
He says he wants it, but observed carefully over a year, his actions betray his words.
I woke this morning to troubling news. Zach Weisberg and his merry band of “thinking surfers” at your other favorite Venice-adjacent surf website is attempting a coup. Attempting to co-opt surf history in an effort to re-write the narrative, I’d imagine. Matt Warshaw’s epic Encyclopedia of Surfing and History of Surfing are in deep financial straits, you see, and need of a few more subscribers to stay solvent. Zach, in a coldly calculating move, saw his chance to strike.
In an open letter, he wrote:
As someone who understands how challenging managing the vagaries of business for a digital-based editorial outlet in the surf and outdoor space can be, I refuse to allow the Encyclopedia of Surfing to exit Google’s fiber optics without a fight. And I’m optimistic that with a call to arms of this magnitude – with this much on the line for folks truly passionate about the history of the most fun thing to do on earth – surfers will unite, pony up a few bucks, and let Matt Warshaw (and the work he’s done on our behalf) know that it is appreciated and will live to see another day.
We cannot let this bald cynicism stand. If “thinking surfers” save both the Encyclopedia and History of surfing then they will effectively have the ability to transform our shared past into a “woke” version of themselves. Troubling episodes, like the very first production surfboards being called “swastikas” and Michel Bourez being described as “a eunuch fainting on a daybed” will be disappeared, replaced by “good vibes.”
Triggering words or phrases like “cunt” and “BeachGrit” will be forgotten forever.
It will be a Stalinist erasing and the ocean will soon fill with happy people on all manner of SUP and longboard attempting to “share the stoke” and “live aloha everyday.”
The only thing standing between that reality and our current racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, angry one is you.
Earlier today, after much hustling, the writer Longtom aka Steve Shearer aka the man who drives the bus from Ballina airport to Byron Bay (I think), emailed his pre-Pipe Power Rankings.
It is a vital analysis of the top 13. Why thirteen?
“I honestly think 13 is all I’ve got, unlucky for some,” he said. ” (Although) there’s meat on the bone.”
“Soft target for dickhead critics like me who see him as the inevitable result of a broken down Qualifying system that too often rewards mediocrity and produces surfers ill prepared for real surfing at real locations.”
“He’s a passive-aggressor not scared to have his throat throttled. A rare quality.”
“Don’t worry it’s an open secret. Don’t be shy. Come on in and make yourself known. Don’t treat us like Speaker did, like a piece of shit on your shoe.”
“He was the victim of the fickle fashion of the judging panel and roll with Lester Bangs call on that: fashion is fascism.”
Here’s the first seven; the top six will drop tomoz!
7. Mick Fanning
Current WCT rating: 12
Hard to see, when Team Fanning rolls the videotape on 2017, where it went wrong. Performance-wise, he surfed better than ever. Sharper, harder, more precise, if that is even possible. At Snapper, at Bells, J-Bay, Trestles and Europe. Coupla soft patches here and there and that rock -solid mind-game just seemed a little more porous and susceptible to outside influences seeping in.
More than anything he just seemed a touch on the nose with the judging panel, god knows why, it’s not like there was any performance revolution happening other than the one John Florence was laying down. I say he was the victim of the fickle fashion of the judging panel and roll with Lester Bangs call on that: fashion is fascism.
8. Kanoa Igarashi
Current WCT rating: 20
Soft target for dickhead critics like me who see him as the inevitable result of a broken down qualifying system that too often rewards mediocrity and produces surfers ill-prepared for real surfing at real locations.
Pro surfing is a kind of language and to succeed surfers must develop and be able to communicate a dialect understandable to a judging panel first, and to the surfing fan base as a secondary priority. Kanoa has developed just this type of dialect, based not on surfing performance but a weird type of toughness.
Example: the biffs with Stu Kennedy. There are other examples. He’s a passive-aggressor not scared to have his throat throttled. A rare quality. While the danger for the pro surfer is the language they speak stops making sense, the danger for the critic is the internet never forgets and sooner or later they’ll be hoist on their own petard, swinging in the breeze, a witness to their own digital execution. That’ll be me if Kanoa goes one better at Pipeline this year. Kanoa takes toughness, a late-drop-to-drainer at Supertubos and last year’s runner-up finish into Pipeline as a below the radar stalking horse.
9. Owen Wright
Current WCT rating: 5
It has been a topsy-turvy year with a group of title contenders clumped at the top and differing event winners. But if we can just talk honestly among friends for a brief moment, this is nothing more than a visual trick of the light. A “sliding doors” artefact produced by some key judging calls at certain junctures.
Owen was the beneficiary, then on the rough end of the pineapple of some of these calls. 2018, as currently structured, looks a write-off for O. 2019, with a start at Pipe and a finish in Indo, looks a much smarter bet.
10. Matt Wilkinson
Current WCT rating: 6
Pretending something is something, when it’s not something – eg surfing is a counter-cultural act or a mainstream sport – is something that surfing does better than anyone. It’s something surfing, pro surfing especially, can truly be proud of.
To maintain a fiction for a prolonged period of time, when all facts point in the opposite direction, takes the unified efforts of a lot of talented people. That should be the Mission Statement of the WSL. You think I am fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. What does this have to do with Matt Wilkinson? Hang on a sec, I am trying to figure it out. Something, something World Title contender. Kind of, but not really. Close enough?
11. Kelly Slater
Current WCT rating: 29
For my sins God made me a surf writer, but , Inshallah, gave me the mephistophelian figure of Kelly Slater to write about. God is great. I was on the beach at Pipe when he won his first title, tripping balls on some very high grade LSD that my gal and her mainland boyfriend had brought over from the Sunset district.
Do you remember the day? It was glorious and now here is little Kelly from Florida, Jimmy Slade, almost forty-six years old and maybe about to surf in his last Pipe Masters, maybe surf his last heats, ready to revolutionise the surf game with his power hungry tubs full of very expensive, very exclusive perfect waves.
Be honest now. Are you with him or agin him? This late career tilt at the uber-rich, the one percenters, is a high stakes play, is it not? Oh, the rewards, I mean the money, is there if you can make the cut but if you lose the love of the people, then what?
We remember Ali for what he stood for and Mayweather just seems like a vicious greed head despite the better record. I want to love but the mention of the name Kelly Slater is now as likely to draw a snarl as a smile. Chances at Pipe? Looking into the forecast, I see a weak blocking pattern with a pinched jetstream cutting off storm development for Pipe.
Ergo, small weak Backdoor. For Kelly, not good.
12. Filipe Toledo
Current WCT rating: 9
No Cloudbreak, wavepool at the crunch end of the season. If 2018 can’t see Jesus’s favourite water walker reigning supreme then 2019 with the tour starting at Pipe looks increasingly unlikely to. La Nina Hawaii means small Backdoor likely so an Holy Toledo Pipe Master is on the cards.
13. Sophie Goldschmidt
Current WCT rating: CEO
Big fan, massive fan, so far in these early, early days. Something needed to be done, something radical. Couldn’t keep trundling out the same old sow with a different lipstick year after year. And whether or not she is the architect of the changes (Dave Prodan could not confirm by email), she is overseeing it. It’s on her watch.
It’s a tour structure (2019) that fits, by design or coincidence, the talent, skill set and aspiration of a John Florence dynasty, in the same way that the current tour schedule was tailor-made for Slater dominance. The Pipe opening, then the Australian leg, finishing in Indonesia. Couldn’t design it any better. For that reason alone, I support it.
Hi Soph, I see you! Sneaking a little peek at the Grit to see what the plebs are muttering about? Don’t worry it’s an open secret. Prodan is on here all the time. Don’t be shy. Come on in and make yourself known. Don’t treat us like Speaker did, like a piece of shit on your shoe. Don’t talk over us, try and go behind our backs, circumvent us.
As for politics, as for Pro Sports: You lose your base, you lose everything. A basic fact pro surfing has never understood. You don’t get our buy in, as the jargon goes and you’ll be looking over your shoulder, very, very quickly.
After reading your press call I now know, we all know, and we know you know we know that you don’t know what the fuck you are talking about. But that’s fine. We’ll all muddle along on Dirk’s scratch for a while longer. Just get Cloudbreak back on tour for 2019.
By the way, you seem to have…um… mislaid my welcome email. The one that Carroll got and Chas. It’s nice to be friendly to people on the way up, even to dirtbags like me. We have long memories. As long as geological time. Pro Surfing CEO’s pass like lightning in a summer sky to us, flashes in the phenomenal world, as the Buddha says.
We outlast you and we write your epitaphs. If you want to make right, you know where to send it. I’ll take it handwritten thanks.