Mick Fanning disappears; Filipe soars; judges discover the joys of tough love.
Kelly and I share many traits and life circumstances, including teenaged daughters, bad backs, suspicion of the media and bad insomnia. Laying awake listening to the vast industrial hum of 999 Twin Towns pokies in the wee hours I fretted that calling the mood yesterday soviet and sour was too harsh, just a reflection of my inner state after too many Coronas drunk with the great Mullet.
When Kelly announced his withdrawal I thought: the sport has moved on, you won’t be missed, we’ll get on fine without you. But we didn’t. Not yesterday anyhow. Save Medina and Parkinson, a world without Kelly felt smaller, more constrained and predictable: a QS World with a bush league vibe. The surfing, in waves tailor-made for flaring and high perf, was safety to the max and I am very, very, very, very happy that Pritamo Ahrendt scored it accordingly. A ballsy statement.
Today, was different.
Launching the Fanning Foamy out of Mermaids corner in the dark I got throttled by a squadron of gaping Snapper rocks caverns (do not Google) and smoked down to Rainbow Bay. A close range cyclone swell. I know this fucking music! Every Queensland pointbreak surfer does. Neil Young and Crazy Horse, Ragged Glory. Find the bass line and enjoy the guitar squalls. Shut up and paddle.
The crowd finally engaged with the surfing, but it wasn’t Fanning they cheered. It was Toledo vs Ferreira that raised the crowd from three days of somnolence.
After watching the Fanning Coffin heat, magnificently eulogised by Joe Turpe,l I realised there really is only one path forwards for a man described as an “angel” by Owen Wright. He must become the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Imagine the global one-two punch of Parko as Mayor of Coolangatta and Fanning as Secretary-General of the UN. That would really put pro surfing into audience growth mode.
Italo’s backhand, best on tour, seemed undeniable against Filipe. But the crowd thought otherwise and judges seemed to cripple it by a crucial margin. Incensed, I stormed the media room to demand a judge breakdown. The spread on the best scoring waves differed by a point and a half which would have made all the difference in a heat decided by less than a point but Filipe had the crowd, had the jazz and by close of play the ends justified the means.
Mikey Wright has a schtick but it’s real, at least as far as the old skool warm-up goes: throwing a football around, the jumping jacks and the bush hat and big shaggy dog. Big man up close, well-muscled, 15-17% body fat. Could be a second-rower or a wide receiver. Behind the bogan facade are rock-solid skills and the crucial trait of composure.
“Whats the strategy against Medina?” I asked his coach Troy Brooks.
“Start strong and find the better waves. Mikey will do the bigger turns.”
That is a supremely confident strategy for a Wildcard to take into a heat against a World Champ and event winner.
Verging on arrogance. He will do bigger turns than Medina? OK, lets see it.
Medina was preparing up on the rocks. Strange scene. Very quiet, very holy. A crowd was gathered around. Girls on their haunches, boys with heads bowed. Medina himself was still and silent. Seconds passed like minutes. Sweat flowed like rivers. Then he raised his head and started to move. The silent crowd erupted with cheers and hallelujahs and speaking in tongues. A feeling like electricity passed through the crowd in sizzling ripples. A Brazilian girl fell backwards into me. I put my hand up to say it’s OK.
She said, “No prablem, eets tha life man”.
Mikey put the game plan into action, perfectly. Big strong, raw opening ride with completed powerful turns. Did exactly what he did to John Florence: overpowered him in the opening exchange to the tune of a two-point spread. A two- point spread is hard to overcome if a surfer can maintain composure. It was wonderful to watch Medina try and jam against Ragged Glory and find his own rhythm.
The judges were showing zero tolerance for score manufacturing and faking. Medina got a four for the best backhand blast I’ve ever seen. That turn felt like a kick in the guts from a mule, on the beach, well in the Corona Pavilion. The Australian Mullet put another big, brutal ride on the scoreboard and then let Medina swing away on shittier waves, only losing priority with two minutes to go. Gabby got choked out by the clock. Gone.
“How do you rate that performance?” I asked Troy Brooks.
“On par, for Mikey,” he said.
“Anything to improve upon?”
“He made a tactical error two minutes to go handing over priority but had such a mental advantage from the opening spread he got away with it.”
The Colapinto/Parkinson heat had mad drama. Gaping holes spitting from deep behind the rocks (no Google) were waiting to be stuffed by J-Parko. But it was Griff who proved to be the rarest of all phenomena: a fully formed rookie. He had the strategy elasticity to lash the wider sections with an abundance of repertoire and then out Parko Parko when he bomb-dropped into a bulbous keg and slithered out a tiny foamy hole at the top. If Team Parko review the tape honestly they might revise retirement plans. There is a world of pain ahead in those match-ups for Parko. For real.
My notes go squiffy here, sometime after noon. Coronas were making me see double, the Queensland sun cooked my brain but I think I had fully flip-flopped on the Slater position by then. The sport is fine without him. It’s just the dead wood of round two that distorted perspective.
Fanning’s last heat was odd, to the max. Like Medina, a small crowd gathered around him as he prepared. The mood amongst the crowd was tense and expectant. Fanning rocked off, people pushed closer to the sea. The webcast gave almost zero indication of the crazy energy focussing on Snapper Rocks.
But it wasn’t Mick who harnessed it. The big O grabbed the heat by the neck like a pitbull and just savaged it. From a close vantage point it looked very committed and big surfing.Mick struggled, got a legrope tangled around his feet, stumbled, couldn’t find a deep tube and in the end went out with a whimper. Fanning. Out!
The crowd gathered, waiting to pay their respects. But Mick went around the back of the main WSL structure and never re-appeared. A strange feeling came over the crowd. Was that it? It ends like this?
Filipe’s first ride passed in this strange, respectful silence. The great Mick Fanning had just surfed his last heat at Snapper, something should be happening. Some ceremony to commemorate the occasion. Not just business as usual.
But nothing did and on Filipe’s second wave, about which my notes read: Say fucking what?! wrt some piece of outrageous showmanship, maybe the tweaked club sandwich, the crowd erupted and Mick was……..was forgotten. Terrible to say, but true. Finally judges saw what they wanted to see and Toledo started strafing the scoreboard with 8’s and 9’s.
By chance, I saw a line of people stretched down the street down near McDonalds Greenmount. Families clutching posters mostly and there, wearing dark shades, Michael Fanning, an angel to all was discharging his duties as a World Champion surfer, apparently, as far as I could see, with great distinction.
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.50 def. Willian Cardoso (BRA) 9.04
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 11.67 def. Conner Coffin (USA) 7.37
Heat 3: Tomas Hermes (BRA) 12.40 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 9.60.
Heat 4: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.60 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 13.70
Heat 5: Adrian Buchan (AUS) 13.36 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.10
Heat 6: Mikey Wright (AUS) 16.07 def. Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.90
Heat 7: Julian Wilson (AUS) 7.30 def. Michael February (ZAF) 7.10
Heat 8: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 15.26 def. Frederico Morais (PRT) 11.10
Heat 9: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 13.50 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 12.94
Heat 10: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 15.07 def. Wade Carmichael (AUS) 13.60
Heat 11: Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.50 def. Connor O’Leary (AUS) 6.43
Heat 12: Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 15.00 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 14.40
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Round 4 Results:
Heat 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 17.00, Tomas Hermes (BRA) 11.20, Mick Fanning (AUS) 10.43
Heat 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 15.70, Adrian Buchan (AUS) 14.60, Mikey Wright (AUS) 11.20
Heat 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.97, Griffin Colapinto (USA) 13.83, Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 11.67
Heat 4: Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.97, Michael Rodrigues (BRA) 13.83, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 13.53
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Quarterfinal Matchups:
QF 1: Owen Wright (AUS) vs. Adrian Buchan (AUS)
QF 2: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Tomas Hermes (BRA)
QF 3: Julian Wilson (AUS) vs. Michael Rodrigues (BRA)
QF 4: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Griffin Colapinto (USA)
Roxy Pro Gold Coast Semifinal Matchups:
Heat 1: Lakey Peterson (USA) vs. Malia Manuel (HAW)
Heat 2: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS) vs. Keely Andrew (AUS)