italo Ferreira bells
The Brazilian screwfoot Italo Ferriera wins the Rip Curl Pro against four-times bell shaker Mick Fanning. Three thousand eight hundred fans watch the final on Facebook.

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

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. 

rip curl sold
Whatever Rip Curl founders Brian Singer and Doug Warbrick get for their biz, it's been an almost-fifty-year odyssey. The pair leave Rip Curl in fabulous shape, lean, profitable and with a fine roster of team riders. Here, Mick Fanning and Mason Ho. | Photo: Rip Curl

Rumour: Rip Curl Sold to Sydney Family!

Fanning retires and so, maybe, do Rip Curl founders!

Are you one of the 2,800 Facebook fans currently watching the Rip Curl Pro live from Bells Beach? 

If so, the rumour that Rip Curl has just sold to an as-yet-unnamed Sydney family might be of at least vague interest. Rip Curl, if it needs to be said, is the wetsuit and clothing company created in 1969 by the shaper Doug ‘Claw’ Warbrick, science teacher Brian Singer and another pal Alan Green, who would leave a year later to start Quiksilver thereby giving Brian and Claw an equal split of the biz. 

Earlier this century, Rip Curl would flirt with turning the company public, hiring various, what do yo wanna call ‘em “experts”, but flinched as it watched the catastrophic trajectories of Billabong and Quiksilver. It ain’t no secret that Brian and Claw were open to sell privately for a number just shy shy of half-a-billion dollars. 

Six years ago, Rip Curl hired Bank of America Merrill Lynch to look into a sale of the biz, either a piece or all of it. Nobody bit at that price, a bullish ten times earnings.

And last year, as reported by the Australian Financial Review, the pair of rich-listers “appointed local independent adviser Gresham and US-based boutique RW Baird to run a sale process…While Rip Curl has fared much better than its larger rivals by sticking to its surfing roots, ASIC accounts show Rip Curl has not been completely immune to the choppy conditions that contributed to the near demise of Billabong and Quiksilver.

“Rip Curl’s earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation fell 30 per cent to $35.5 million in 2016, the last year for which accounts are available, despite a 7 per cent rise in sales to $476.5 million. This followed flat earnings in 2015 and a 35 per cent increase in EBITDA in 2014… Nevertheless, Rip Curl is doing better than Billabong, which earned $51 million from continuing operations in 2017 on sales of $1 billion.”

But yesterday… yesterday… according to a BeachGrit source, one of the founders offhandedly mentioned to a member of the public that Rip Curl had just been sold “to a Sydney family.”

As of 2013, Brian and Claw, both well into their seventies, still retained seventy-two percent of the biz, which they leave in great shape. Lean, profitable and with a fine roster of surfers.

More as it comes.


Tech: WSL takes you on a virtual surf trip!

First wave tanks now this!

The World Surf League alongside partner Jeep are pleased to announce the release of a brand new virtual reality project today called Jeep Sessions: A Journey in 360. Skimming quickly through, it appears the participant (player?) once fitted with an immersive VR device, chooses to either join Jordy Smith or Malia Manuel to… wait. I’m sorry. I’m not very good at summarizing press releases.

Here, read some select passages real quick and then we’ll discuss.

Jeep® Sessions: A Surfing Journey in 360° follows WSL Championship Tour surfers Jordy Smith and Malia Manuel as each embarks on a Jeep brand adventure to find the best waves. The project can be viewed in both a 360° video and an interactive VR experience. The VR application enables users to select their journey through “gaze-based interactions,” where the user’s eyes become the controller within the 360° visuals.

“Our project goal was to push the boundaries of VR technology to show what a surf trip feels like from the first-person perspective,” said Steele, Rapid VR co-director. “I’m excited to share this. It’s pretty incredible knowing my mom can now experience riding a 20-foot wave.”

Fans have the option to choose to explore in Smith’s all-new 2018 Jeep Wrangler or Manuel’s Jeep Renegade. Filmed on the island of Oahu, both the Jeep Wrangler and Renegade demonstrated the Jeep brand’s legendary 4×4 capability and stylish design in an off-road adventure through forest terrain and beautiful beaches.

“I love that everyone can go on whichever adventure they want in this VR experience,” said Manuel. “It’s a win-win for the viewer visually whether they go with me in the Jeep Renegade, or Jordy in the Jeep Wrangler, as we go off-roading to explore the beautiful scenery in Hawaii and find these amazing waves to share with the world.”

Within the app experience, viewers also have several points of choice presented by Sunny Garcia, Hawaiian surfing royalty who has scoured every inch of the island, which affect the narrative and result in different endings, including an option where all the featured surfers share waves together.

Mmmm. I have a few questions.

What if you stare at Jordy Smith’s nipples the entire time vis a vis the “gaze-based interaction?” Is this allowed?

Would you like for your mom to experience riding a 20-foot wave?

Exploring the island of Oahu with Jordy in his Jeep Wrangler can you go anywhere? Like, Ewa Beach? Can you try to buy ice? Do locals chase you?

Did Malia Manuel really say, It’s a win-win for the viewer visually whether they go with me in the Jeep Renegade, or Jordy in the Jeep Wrangler, as we go off-roading to explore the beautiful scenery in Hawaii and find these amazing waves to share with the world.” Or was that written in the press office afterwards?

The journey is narrated by Joe Turpel and you can/should watch while thinking about my questions and coming up with some of your own.

Kelly Slater surf ranch
The drawback about working at Surf Ranch is you don't actually get to ride the wave so much. But, maybe one of these a day? Enough to quench thirst? Better than a hundred dirty closeouts at your local beach?

Hiring: Work at Surf Ranch!

Are you action oriented? Do you like watching rich people fall on waves?

Last November, the World Surf League gifted me and Charlie, along with several others, a showpiece day at Surf Ranch in Lemoore, a city in Kings County, California.

The WSL’s hospitality was excellent, as was the company, which included the noted commentator and troubadour Selema “Sal” Masekela. I‘ve dined on the story of my trip almost every day in the five months since.

What was notable, apart from the size of the joint, the tasteful furnishings, pavilion-style buildings and Sal’s consumption of protein bars, was the general glow among the workers – the lifeguards, the administrative staff and so forth; the sort of ambience that only comes when the culture you work within is kind and fair.

The one drawback, of course, is the staff don’t actually get to ride the wavepool so much, which must make them want to tug chunks of hair out.

Recently, the WSL posted a job advertisement for an Administration Manager at Surf Ranch. If I had access to a work-in-America visa, I’d be tripping over my nightdress to apply.

I have all the required skills apart from “a thorough understanding of office management practices including Accounting and Human Resources. Daily duties will include assisting with administrative business tasks such as onboarding, timecard management, payroll, work rule enforcement, account coding, financial reporting, purchase order management, and budgeting.”

Of the “personal attributes” required, “Integrity and honesty, exceptional attention to detail, masterful organizational skills, an enthusiasm for coaching, teaching, and the development of people and action-oriented — enjoys working hard and looks for challenges” I like to think of myself as “action-oriented.”

If I was asked in the interview what I don’t do well, a question designed to test your honesty, I would say, “I’d go glassy-eyed and catatonic watching kooks blow wave after wave.”

Do you have what it takes? Would you set up a home in cotton-farming Lemoore so you could work at Surf Ranch?

The salary is undisclosed although I imagine around 100 thousand dollars per year would be a rough approximation.

Apply here. 

dino Adrian cyclone marcus
Dino Adrian has his forehead lovingly kissed by Cyclone Marcus bomb.

Watch: “Fucking Unsurfable for Civilians!”

A revealing three-minute short from hyped Cyclone Marcus swell… 

Just over two weeks ago, a cyclone birthed the rarest of birds, a north swell in Western Australia. These sorts of swells happen every five, sometimes ten, years and are tracked with excitement. Even Perth, a waveless joint more famous for its insane urban sprawl and just as insane summer onshores put on a reasonable impersonation of Hossegor. 

Seven years ago, and three hours further south, Taj Burrow, Jay Davies and Dino Adrian were gifted impossibly perfect, and often impossibly hard to get into sandbottom tubes. That was Cyclone Bianca, when clean two-foot runners turned into eight-foot bombs by the afternoon.

This year it was Cyclone Marcus, although the swell direction had a little west in it which meant the most photogenic of waves was “fucking unsurfable for civilians,” according to the former Margaret River pro surfer turned real estate agent Mitch Thorson.

In this three-minute short, shot by Scott Hammond and Tom Jennings, we see Jay Davies, Dino Adrian and pals being spat into out of tubes, and sometimes into the sandy spittoon, all via tow rather than paddle, which was the preserve of bodyboarders.