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Beach Grit

Bells: “Italo maroons Fanning in front of adoring fans!”

Longtom

by Longtom

The fairytale ends. Justice served.

Hasn’t the little petri dish of pro surf fandom been absolutely fizzing with outrage over the Zeke/John John paddle battle? What a kerfuffle! I think we should discuss (briefly), before we run a rope through the eyes of a compelling finals day and string it up the flagpole. Seeing as it is likely to be the only thing we remember from Bells 2018 once the St Mick hype slowly dies down. 

Rolling the videotape it was John John who made the move to paddle to the inside of Zeke, and Zeke who blocked. John then let a set wave go through unridden before Zeke took the next. It was a display of aggressive intent but it hardly impeded Florence from riding a wave. What it clearly did was rattle John John to such an extent that he fell on every wave.

It revealed a curious fragility, did it not?

Even though John has created this perfect little fairy tale world with World Titles and yachts cruising the outer islands and supportive golden-skinned friends and fresh veggies grown in the backyard and a friendly father figure of a coach, even given all that there is a tremendous brittleness in the face of unbridled aggression.

Sometime during the heat my wife came in and asked, “Why are you blue?”

I looked up and realised I’d stopped breathing and was in fact being asphyxiated by the plumes of mawkish sentimentality which had filled up the room. It was like trying to breath through Black Francis’ “ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey”. And now Fanning was against Pat Gudauskas in the semi’s at Bells! He’d barely surfed a decent wave at more than half throttle!

It rings a bell. We remember how Kelly crumbled in the face of aggression from Andy Irons. What a beautiful psychological conundrum to observe in the Champ as he rolls into Margarets. Where to go? Fight fire with fire ? But he doesn’t have any of the psy-ops warfare that Kelly had and has. Question: What does a coach actually do?

QuarterFinal one between Gudang and Michel Bourez kicked off in clean four-to-six-foot Bells Bowl under a funereal gloom. Even though Joe Turpel called it “already a classic” it was obvious it was another one of those days where there was something in the water. Bourez was awful and Pat G, the Hurdy Gurdy man, all limbs flailing and hyped up energy spaz pumping wildly across the Bells Bowl was only marginally better. What happened to understated California style? It made my eyes hurt to watch it. Pat made the semis with a six and five but he did remind me I still had a Gudang Guram left over in the shed so I went and smoked it and got set for the avalanche of sentiment to come for the Owen/Fanning QF. 

Fanning was Fanning Lite and Owen was bad. Bafflingly, unbelievably bad. I couldn’t imagine anything surfing worse than a new born Giraffe with Foetal Alcohol Syndrome…  thought that would safely be the nadir of the contest as far as needing a metaphor for bad surfing went. Maybe Owen was channeling the three-legged twin brother of the crippled giraffe? He was tepid and hesitant and uncoordinated and incredibly unsavvy. Four minutes to go and he gifted Mick a lovely inside runner that Mick dutifully turned into a score. If it wasn’t for Owen’s impeccable integrity an objective observer would be inclined to be asking some very, very awkward questions about Owen Wright’s performance. 

Sometime during the heat my wife came in and asked, “Why are you blue?” 

I looked up and realised I’d stopped breathing and was in fact being asphyxiated by the plumes of mawkish sentimentality which had filled up the room. It was like trying to breath through Black Francis’ “ten million pounds of sludge from New York and New Jersey”. And now Fanning was against Pat Gudauskas in the semi’s at Bells! He’d barely surfed a decent wave at more than half throttle!

Italo dropped the hammer on Zeke Lau, rendering tactics irrelevant and in demonstrating what pro surfing could be and should be in 2018 effectively passed  brutal judgement on his peers and the CT so far this year. His damning indictment left the charge of mediocrity stamped on the foreheads of a majority of the Top 34. There’s been a continuing error parroted by surfers and commentators alike that the “criteria has changed” this year. The criteria is exactly the same. Judges have decreed that the levels of performance with respect to the criteria have to be much, much higher to get a good score. Effectively they have changed the answer to the question: “What is good surfing?” It is no longer the conservative muck dished up for far too much of the last 5 years.

In the Biological sciences a predator is known to identify it’s prey via a mental representation known as a search image. To determine the answer to the question, what is good surfing, judges had to develop their own search image; their own template made flesh. That template has now been given a name (as it was for Kelly Slater, and Dane Reynolds and Mick Fanning)  and it is Italo Ferreira and that makes me so hap. So so hap.

Medina waited a lifetime to kick off in the final QF against Fred Morais. Just when it looked like he too had quaffed the negative Kool-Aid that was starting to get a bad whiff about it he unleashed a monster combo of perfect backside turns and then backed it up. My god, I thought, Medina now has the best and most perfect flow on Tour. His high volume boards require exactly zero spaz pumping and intra-turn corrections. Can you Medina haters come to terms with the truth of that?

The semis went as expected. Fanning easily accounted for Gudang with his best surfing of the event. It was close to vintage, classic Fanning. The torque, the wraps, the quasimodo pose claims after banging shut the end section. It was all there. The fairytale ending was looming.

Italo was just too good for Medina, and did you know Medina has never bested him man on man? Me neither. 

Before we hit the Final I received an email detailing a new Sophie G collab with Air Asia (terrific airline, very cute hostesses and stewards) whereby Air Asia was going to deliver a prize for the biggest air every comp on the Australian leg. Bet you can’t guess who won at Snapper. Ready? Sally Fitzgibbon. True! Any ideas who won at Bells? I cannot recall a single made air. Maybe that tail-free huck from Griff. 

The Final was very good viewing live. I thought that. Millions of Victorians and other Australians also packed the beach and thought so too. Can we assume the 3600 watching on Facebook Live also enjoyed? I say yes.

Italo looked wobbly as the onshore wind put gurgle through the lineup but carried a slender lead into the mid way point of the heat. Fanning caught the second wave of a set and turned on the torque, delivering emotional candy to a crowd hungry for the fairytale finish. He followed up with another scoring ride and took the lead. The final seven minutes were tense, my heart was thudding, 100 beats per minute as Italo stroked into a set. He went big, then bigger and bigger before falling as the high tide back wash intersected his closing move. It was enough for a lead change. 

Italo struck again with the best wave of the Final and two minutes to go found Fanning, St Mick, marooned in front of an ocean of adoring fans staring at an unyielding southern Ocean needing a mid-range seven. 

A minute and change to go and a set approached, which drove the crowd into a screaming, whistling frenzy. The chimera of a wave dissolved into nothingness as Fanning paddled into it and the hopes and dreams of all save a few traitorous surf journalists went with it. 

The fairytale had ended, justice had been served. Italo gave Fanning a long, long embrace. He hugged him and didn’t let go and for the first time this event I found myself with a lump in the throat.