The fix is in says Albee Layer! | Photo: @albeelayer/

Pipe: No title for Julian or Jordy; Fanning retires!

A fix? A champ retired before his time?

At four pm on a North Shore afternoon, with the sun a giant grapefruit, the curtin was drawn on a dreadful day for two of the four title contenders, while a thirty-six-year-old three-time world champ took a final bow.

Within the rules of probability it was unlikely that John John Florence or Gabriel Medina would oblige outliers Jordy Smith and Julian Wilson by losing early or that Jordy, especially, would win.

But the ghosts of history, of Sunny Garcia, Tom Carroll, Damien Hardman and so forth, whisper (in husky voices)… anything is possible.

In 1995, all Sunny Garcia had to do to win the title was to make it into round three.

He surfed against Occy in round two. Lost his board. Occy offered him his. Occy didn’t hassle for sets (“It was a very hard heat to surf,” said Occ after). Caught a couple of insiders just to get a score for appearances sake. Then it was all Machado’s until Slater cooked him alive in their high-five semi-final.

Seven years earlier, Barton Lynch had to finish runner-up or better at 10-foot Pipe to snatch the title off Damien Hardman or Tom Carroll. Barton won the damn thing.

So, today.

If John John got better than a ninth, didn’t matter what Julian did, he was out.

And it happened, despite some last-minute burlesque by Ethan Ewing. John John won by zero-point sevenths of a point, 10.87 to 10.80.

Watch it here and tell me if Ethan won or the fix was in, as Albee Layer suggested on Instagram.

“I don’t like winning heats like that,” said John John afterwards.

In the last heat of the day, Jordy Smith surfed against the partial cripple Kelly Slater, who turns forty-six in eight weeks. Oh the fire’s out but the fowl lives!

“I wanted Jordy to win that heat but sorta not really,” said Kelly, who expressed astonishment that Jordy didn’t push the button on his priority on what would become Kelly’s heat winning wave.

Watch that here.

And Mick Fanning?

The most searched-for surfer on Google and therefore the most famous surfer in the world?

He’s out, at least according to Conner Coffin.

“I don’t think I’ve surfed against [Mick] man-on-on man this year so I was really stoked to have that opportunity today,” said Conner in his post-heat presser. “But he made me feel bad like, ‘Aw, this is the last time I’ll ever surf out here.’ And I was like ‘Don’t make me feel bad about that!’ Because at the same time, if I didn’t make that heat I might not have ever surfed out here again either…”

Mick refused to confirm, or deny, the retirement suggestion afterwards.

I do ask: is thirty-six too young to retire? Or has Mick, who still surfs with a barbarous power, realised his use-by date has arrived? Is he, therefore, an expert in legacy preservation unlike, say, Kelly?

(Oh! Rookie of the year. Conner O’Leary.)

Full results.

Billabong Pipe Masters Round 2 Results:
Heat 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.33 def. Dusty Payne (HAW) 8.50
Heat 2: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 11.54 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 10.77
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 8.56 def. Benji Brand (HAW) 6.87
Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) def. Stuart Kennedy (AUS) INJ
Heat 5: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 11.93 def. Jadson Andre (BRA) 8.33
Heat 6: Kolohe Andino (USA) 17.10 def. Jack Freestone (AUS) 14.96
Heat 7: Ian Gouveia (BRA) 13.40 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 11.30
Heat 8: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 13.17 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 10.00
Heat 9: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 6.10 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 5.13
Heat 10: Mick Fanning (AUS) 8.90 def. Bede Durbidge (AUS) 8.87
Heat 11: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 12.67 def. Frederico Morais (PRT) 6.00
Heat 12: Michel Bourez (PYF) 16.40 def. Joan Duru (FRA) 6.54

Billabong Pipe Masters Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.26 def. Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 8.34
Heat 2: Conner Coffin (USA) 14.03 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 12.60
Heat 3: Ian Gouveia (BRA) 8.60 def. Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 6.83
Heat 4: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 8.50 def. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 5.47
Heat 5: Caio Ibelli (BRA) 10.13 def. Michel Bourez (PYF) 6.57
Heat 6: John John Florence (HAW) 10.87 def. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 10.80
Heat 7: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 6.60 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 2.26
Heat 8: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 10.00 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 9.83
Heat 9: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 10.26 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 4.17
Heat 10: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 15.87 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 6.13
Heat 11: Kanoa Igarashi (USA) 13.34 def. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 9.73
Heat 12: Kelly Slater (USA) 11.87 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 7.87

Billabong Pipe Masters Round 4 Match-Ups:
Heat 1:Julian Wilson (AUS), Conner Coffin (USA), Ian Gouveia (BRA)
Heat 2: Joel Parkinson (AUS), Caio Ibelli (BRA), John John Florence (HAW)
Heat 3: Jeremy Flores (FRA), Gabriel Medina (BRA), Italo Ferreira (BRA)
Heat 4: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA), Kanoa Igarashi (USA), Kelly Slater (USA)

Flying betwixt one and the other. Always sad. But always hopeful.
Flying betwixt one and the other. Always sad. But always hopeful.

Confession: I will never be happy!

My heart forever torn between two great loves.

American surfers often gaze at Australia like Narcissus gazed at his own reflection upon the waters. They stare, tenderly, into the vibrant, high-spirited nationalism staring back and think, “Having convict forbearers is much cuter, and equates to a much better time, than having Puritan ones.” They smile at the tanned, beer drinking, easy living, carefree, surf obsessed doppelganger and sigh, “Australia is perfect. Australia is us only better.”

I felt this same way when I was a young boy. My father taught school, for two years, in Papua New Guinea and many of my classmates were Australian. I envied them. I found myself calling friends “mate” and saying, “G’day” to passers by. I told my teachers that I was from Australia too and claimed the Southern Cross as my own. Australians were just so dynamic and captivating and it was only through some rude cosmic hoax that I had not been born “down under.”

Three years ago, I moved to Sydney in order to fulfill my childhood destiny. Everything seemed exactly perfect as I stepped off my Qantas flight and breathed the Eucalyptus tinged air. I was now “Australian” and things were the way they always should have been. I looked around at my new countryfolk and saw that the entire population lived within twenty minutes of fantastic surf and that living well was prized above all. Wild nights cascaded, effortlessly, into barrel-filled days cascaded back into wild nights. Men wore v-neck t-shirts so low that their tanned midsections were visible to the blonde and easy sheilas prowling for a “go.” I gazed deeply into the waters and was thrilled by the lateral inversion beaming back. Cars drove on the left instead of the right. Steering wheels were on the right instead of the left. Winter was summer and summer was winter.

Fannies were on the front of women and not the back. It was just different enough to be very very cute. And better. Everything around me was better. I believed that those first convicts, shipped across the Pacific, had created a heaven on earth for surfers. They had been seen as undesirable in their home Britain and so the crown, in its wisdom, sent them away. Left to their own devices, they cast off cultural stratification and the very idea of noblesse oblige. They were all one, dirty, fun-loving lot.

They were all one and the same. They were fathers of a nation nonpareil. And I strove to be the best Australian I could be, wearing very very low v-necks myself, cheering the footy, eating meat pies for breakfast, drinking Tooheys by the glass and pronouncing it “Choo-ees” and calling the glass a “schooner.” I surfed Bondi, Byron, Snapper and Bells. I added –ies to the end of every word I said, as in, “Mate, let’s go for a surfies at Snappies.” But I soon realized something profound. “Striving” is quintessentially un-Australian. I found that a condition called Tall Poppy Syndrome inflicts the entire continent. In Australia, to achieve anything at all is an affront to the nation. They mock excellence. They despise upward mobility. To become someone, or something, is not valued. Tall poppies are meant to be cut down to size. It was a grimy cockney pickpocket accent sneering, “What? Yous think yous betta than me, govnah’?” at the well-bred and well-fed. It was making sure everyone stayed down together.

I looked around without rose-coloured lenses. Australia has no good architecture, save the Sydney Opera House, no good university, no seriously lauded scientist or thinker or author save Derek Rielly who just released the greatest political book of all time. It has plenty of pretty actors and actresses and models and surfers but, let’s be honest, none of them strive for more. Each is happy in his or her lot. I fell into a deep existential funk. The reflection of my dream, of our dream, was no more than a fraudulent trick of light upon the waters.

I flew back to Los Angeles, one year after moving to Sydney, and wandered the streets, looking at art-deco buildings and upwardly mobile execs driving Porsches. I watched people judge other people and envy what other people had and I realized that judgment and envy makes for great art. I thanked God that he made my forbearers Puritan and not convict. But then I remembered the good times. The lack of pressure. The easy smiles.

The surf, surf, surf and surf. I missed my Australia and realized I was forever twisted. I would never be happy in either place. I would forever need both Australia’s easy going and America’s upward toil. Well, so be it. God save the queen and God bless America.

(This piece first appeared in Surf Europe)

Not true!
Not true! | Photo: WSL/Kelly Cestari

Revealed: Photos are the worst liars!

A picture is worth the thousand words it takes to clean it up.

I knew it. I just plain new it for all these years but it remained a gut feeling. An instinct that I couldn’t shake. My whole professional career, you see, I’ve had beef with photos. Damned photos. That’s what everyone wants. That’s what everyone craves. No one ever bought a surfing magazine to read the articles. And so the surf photographers got fat paychecks and fat heads. The old adage “a picture is worth a thousand words” emblazoned across their smug expressions.

But I knew it all along. I knew their photos were liars. That the surf photographer, with all his skill, could capture anyone in the most marvelous light. That what he shows us ain’t necessarily so. I knew it but had no proof.

Until today.

Oh yes I watched the first three heats of the Gums Masters and I watched the Italian Ferrari try the best he could by pitching some pretty… you know… air things. They looked alright, I suppose, but nothing… you know… epic.

But look above. How epic does that look? I’ll tell you, it looks almost iconic making it a total lie. Can we now start saying “a picture is worth the thousand words it takes to clean it up” as our adage?

Thank you.

Gerry Lopez tickling the crest while the green room opens behind him.
Gerry Lopez tickling the crest while the green room opens behind him.

Is Surf Ranch better than Pipeline?

Help me get on the right side of history!

There are four more days in the waiting period for the Pipeline Masters, many heats left to surf and an extremely poor forecast. Blame global warming, blame Kieren Perrow, blame God, blame Kane, Ku, Lono and Kanaloa, blame whomever you wish but thems the facts and the 2017 World Champ will be crowned in a whimper not a bang.

And it was with this reality looming that Derek Rielly texted me last evening. “Story for tomoz: Is surf Ranch better than Pipe? (Considering how crummy it is going to be for the title thing…)”

Oh how my heart revolted inside me as I pitched my phone aside, thrusting one finger into the air and shouting, “Never!”

Pipeline is our Jerusalem, Mecca and Rome. It is the greatest wave in the entire world and some piddly man-made thing in the middle of California’s stinky guts should not even be breathed in the same breath.

Pipeline is natural, it is glorious. The Surf Ranch some modern new-fangled contraption. Some electric…

But then I put my one finger down and thought, “Am I in the crowd at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965? Is Bob Dylan on stage? Did he just plug in his electric guitar? Am I booing Bob Dylan and progress?”

You are, of course, culturally astute and know the story. Dylan was one of the most popular figures in music, having ridden a gentle sound to the very top of the charts. He released an album that year that featured an electric track which was received with mixed feelings by the folk community. Later, at the Newport Festival, the promotors had denied another band that tried to go electric. Bob Dylan allegedly said, “Well, fuck them if they think they can keep electricity out of here, I’ll do it.” in response and half of the crowd booed him lustily for selling out.

Those boo birds were basically retarded because without electric Dylan we would never have had Mötley Crüe or Blink 182. Can you imagine that world? I can’t either and don’t want to be on the wrong side of history here so tell me.

Is Surf Ranch better than Pipeline?

Very bad time to be a black gal in America, says leader of Brown Girls Surf, Natasha Brown.

Quiz: Would the world be better if everyone surfed?

Do you imagine a world where love of surf unites the world?

Earlier today, a tear plopped onto my keyboard. I was moved by the simple beauty of a friend’s post on Facebook. He had shared a movie called Women of Color As a Powerful Form of Resistance.

The three-minute short revealed an organisation called Brown Girl Surf  “that teaches girls of color to surf.”

It is an important film because it shows “other women of color that surf is not a white man’s playground” and “that the water is a safe space for women of color because the water is honest.”

The group’s leader says it’s “definitely not a good time to be a woman of color in America” which I presume to be a fork in the eye of America’s 45th president.

Anyway, the friend, a polite and nice little kid who lives in San Francisco, had wrapped the shared post with the message, “The world would be a better place if everyone surfed.”

Which is a fine thing to say.

When I was a child I, too, imagined a world where world leaders wore golden locks from all their surfing, where the Russian president would horse around with his American counterpart, joined together by their love of the ocean.

Of course, I soon became aware that surf did shit for a person’s emotional IQ, that altruism didn’t blossom on the ocean’s seabeds, feeding osmosis-like, into anyone sitting on a surfboard.

But I have a lousy personality. I’m the kind of guy who won’t talk to anybody unless I want something off you.

Therefore, I ask: would the world be a better place if everyone surfed? If the seas were filled with joyous wave dancers? Where colour, religion and so forth were left on the shoreline like your pretty new Leus towel?

An earthy paradise or living hell?

(Watch the colourful girl’s movie here.)