Do you remember, four years ago, when the greatest commentary duo in professional surfing’s history were fired for illicit gambling? How could anyone forget. There sat Jake “Snake” Paterson and there sat Damien “Dooma” Fahrenfort in the WSL née ASP booth and there in the water floated now-forgotten Frenchman Marc Lacomare and forgotten-tomorrow Australian Joel Parkinson. It was a relatively uneventful heat, though many thought Marc was robbed seeing as he caught better waves.
Snake and Dooma, anyhow, bet beers on the outcome. Our very own Derek Rielly transcribed for us.
Jake: “I don’t know. I’m going to leave it up to the professionals. That’s what they get paid for…”
Dooma: “Let’s leave t up to the judges. It’s going to be a crazy finish.”
Jake: “(Bet a) Beer on it?”
Dooma: “I don’t know. I have a feeling they’ll give it to Joel.”
Jake: “World title points?”
The judges did give it to Joel, the French got mad and then Snake and Dooma were fired. Then head judge Renato Hickel wrote:
To have Web Announcers betting beers, guessing judges scores in almost every single wave, and telling thousands of web viewers that Joel would receive World Title bonus points, is completely unacceptable! A stain on a great Webcast.
Well, guess what happened yesterday?
Kelly Slater, who had just beaten Jordy Smith out of his last thread of hope, stood in front of the step-and-repeat being interviewed by Kaipo. And here I have the transcript for you.
Kelly: Jordy pay up… uhhh not Jordy… (turns to Kaipo) who did you bet with? Strider?
Kaipo: (Sheepishly) I’m not gonna bet… I didn’t…
Kelly: Yoosh… Strider pay up. You gotta pay him ten bucks (pointing at Kaipo).
Kaipo: (Trying to cut Kelly off) Hey but…
Kelly: (Undaunted) I know Strider bet for Jordy…
Kaipo: (Stuck. Mumbling)
Kelly: Hey that’s ok. I kinda wanted Jordy to win that heat too.
Oh we know that gambling is considered a great sin by the World Surf League née Association of Surfing Professionals, Renato Hickel himself calling it “a stain.” Precedent tells us there is a zero tolerance policy for such actions. Will the wonderful Kaipo Guerrero and Strider Wasilewski be quickly and brutally canned via righteous email?
Will they be punished in some other way?
Pipe: No title for Julian or Jordy; Fanning retires!
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.