Zeke v John John: It was thrilling and almost wincingly painful to watch, like a David Attenborough documentary where the elegant ruminant gets savaged by a lion then has its insides ripped out by a pack of hyaenas. The champ looked so helpless. All that insouciance at the Gold Coast was gone and in its place was a  lonely blond-haired kid being frowned upon by an older man on the stairs who shook his head sadly as the siren sounded. 

Bells Day 5: “Florence’s insides ripped out by hyena!”

Zeke Lay eats John John alive, Parko surfs like new-born giraffe with foetal alcohol syndrome!

Isn’t life the most whimsical, curious and inscrutable of affairs? It’s what I love about Pro Surfing, above all else: this eternal tilting at the windmill of a mainstream audience, its earnest and blackly (unintentionally) comic embrace of total corpo-speak, the smoke and mirrors faking it until you make it pieces in the mainstream business media. Its subtle and none-too-subtle shifts and changes that seem to leave all concerned – especially the surfers, sorry athletes – clueless and gawping like goldfish in a bowl.

I do not jeer. Believe me. Especially after a day like today. 

People say to me all the time: “Why do you fucken write about pro surfing if you fucking hate it so much?” Lovers of the game think I should love and true haters think any attention is legitimacy to the evil commercialisation in surfing.

Jared Diamond in his foreword to Guns, Germs and Steel said in relation to similar objections to writing about Human History : “This objection rests on a common tendency to confuse an explanation of causes with a justification or acceptance of results”, which sums up my response on the matter perfectly. 

You’d go a long way to find a more curious, bizarre in Strider’s words, morning in Pro Surfing history. I tuned in and after wrassling with the WSL webby which persisted in locking into yesterday’s stream and got live action halfway into the Zeke Lau/JJF round three heat. Replays showed Zeke, with a face like an Easter Island statue and physique to match, had monstered John, got all up in his grill and had sent the world champ into a tailspin. Combo’ed, Florence fell, then fell again as the clock ticked down. It was thrilling and almost wincingly painful to watch, like a David Attenborough documentary where the elegant ruminant gets savaged by a lion then has its insides ripped out by a pack of hyaenas. The champ looked so helpless. All that insouciance at the Gold Coast was gone and in its place was a  lonely blond-haired kid being frowned upon by an older man on the stairs who shook his head sadly as the siren sounded. 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BhFnjT_l39T/?hl=en&taken-by=zekelau

John’s presser was abject. He looked terrible. Bags under the eyes like a parkie who’d skulled a flagon of cheap port and spent the night curled up in a bus stop. He called Zeke’s aggression “kinda lame” and said “I might do it in the next event.” Which made me snort my coffee and shout aloud “As if!”

John has no aggro in his game. None. Unlike Fanning, who brings an intensity to any recreational lineup, I have no qualms getting my quota if John showed at my local breaks.

Putting it bluntly, and regretfully, Parko’s surfing in his heat with Fred Morais was farcical, almost risible. It was borderline slapstick. He looked as coordinated and solid as a new-born giraffe with foetal alcohol syndrome stumbling it’s way across New York’s central park on New years Eve. Yes, it was that surreal. Only a faint vestigial image of something graceful and elegant was visible in the bumbling performance he laid on. To be charitable, and in his own words, he had a shocker. 

Strider said it might be something in the water, as even the king of three turns and a solid finish Adriano De Souza struggled with standing on a surfboard. But what? There are drugs that make people smart, like Modafinil and Ritalin and Coffee. What could have made the best in the world stumble about like English accountants on a Friday night? Rohypnol? Ether? Had the earth’s magnetic field been reversed, as has happened before, overnight and suddenly everything was topsy turvy and upside down? Maybe it was just sleep deprivation, the Top 34 seems like Daddy Day Care these days and every Dad knows that wobbly burnt out feeling of being kept up all hours by a screaming kiddy. I don’t know. 

It took four heats before the curtain was drawn on the slapstick and Filipe and Italo took the lineup. If you read any of the Snapper coverage you’ll know Italo is my boy. Using Nick Carroll’s objective analysis method I determined him to be the fastest surfer on Tour and the best goofyfoot and believe, to date, he has been crucially underscored. Like the Gold Coast, it’s a shame he had to meet Filipe so early in the draw. It’ll probably be the best heat of the comp. Toledo made a grey, wobbly lineup and grey sky shine with the light of a thousand suns. He blitzed and shralped and threw high speed edges at every half lip and corner he could find. Alone, he made it seem like a different lineup. But Italo was better. Very, very big high-speed cornering from bottom to top and massive finishes with perfect handling. My heart was in my throat watching Italo’s second ride with six minutes to go and needing a score. when he stuck a huge landing I found myself fist-pumping and saying “Yes!” First heat I’ve watched where Occy Skins ’97 looked dated. Could have gone either way but I think the judges have finally caught on to the fact that Italo is leading this wobbly old peloton. 

An hour’s break and back to Winki with more gurgle to deal with for round four. Maybe something is biding its time, over the horizon and is ready to announce its arrival. Give this year it’s shape and definition; the way John’s performance at Margaret River did last year. 

Michel Bourez was simply sensational and for all the big new meathead journeymen on Tour with hams the size of Sally Fitzgibbon, there is no one even close to him as the premier power surfer on Tour. That reminds of a post Chas Smith wrote about the rise of midget surfers… hold that thought, we’ll come back to it. 

Mick Fanning was several shades off the pace in his round four heat with Wilko and Pat Gudauskas, and I feel like a worm for insinuating yesterday that Pat had nothing to offer except a few miserable sixes and sevens. He just looks… a little too hyped up for my taste. At least he didn’t get his coffee spiked with rohypnol this morning. Mick made a mistake, gave Wilko a scoring wave, looked resigned to losing and having his last heat, was over-scored on a ride which got him back into it and then loosed the old instincts to win the heat. Pressure now for a fairytale finish will be acute and severe.

Zeke Lau, Fred Morais, Italo and Gabe are through from round four. 

Am I seeing this correct?

I often lie awake in the wee hours, unable to sleep, listening to the whine of a mosquito, wondering. what if I’m dead wrong? I don’t do Facebook much but I saw an update from the surf journalist Nick Carroll who stated, “There’s a potentially great and very challenging round three draw in the Bells men’s event. A lot of good surf coming, and some of the heats could go very big. I don’t normally hype the CT, it gets enough of that, but whoa. Take a look if you can.” 

That is a totally different perspective to mine. I have to cleave to the view of commenter Wiggoly’s Paddling Style, who with his great flair for the scatalogical, sent me an email today saying, “This Bells is about as exciting as a half-sucked cock at a wedding.”

What are you seeing? Where does the truth lie?

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Remaining Round 3 Results:
Heat 7: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 13.07 def. John John Florence (HAW) 9.76
Heat 8: Frederico Morais (PRT) 11.60 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 9.07
Heat 9: Conner Coffin (USA) 9.83 def. Adriano De Souza (BRA) 9.63
Heat 10: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 16.60 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 15.40
Heat 11: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.86 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 11.73
Heat 12: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.16 def. Willian Cardoso (BRA) 13.30

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Round 4 Results:
Heat 1: Michel Bourez (PYF) 15.77, Owen Wright (AUS) 12.00, Wade Carmichael (AUS) 10.60
Heat 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 14.33, Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 14.00, Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 13.17
Heat 3: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 12.57, Frederico Morais (PRT) 11.16, Conner Coffin (USA) 11.10
Heat 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.33, Italo Ferreira (BRA) 12.17, Jeremy Flores (FRA) 11.00

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Quarterfinal Matchups:
QF 1: Michel Bourez (PYF) vs. Patrick Gudauskas (USA)
QF 2: Mick Fanning (AUS) vs. Owen Wright (AUS)
QF 3: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) vs. Italo Ferreira (BRA)
QF 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Frederico Morais (PRT)

 


How smart is Pat Tenore? He got the biz, he got the cash, he got the girl. Want life advice? Direct questions directly to Mr Pat Tenore.

Biz: RVCA founder’s $37 mill payday!

Why Pat Tenore is the smartest cat in the surf game… 

How much do you know about the RVCA story? It’s as odd as it is mysterious.

Two twenty-somethings start an underground surf label in 2001. One is the pro surfer, Conan Hayes, the other is a designer, Pat Tenore.

“Our relationship has always been ‘One foot in a limo, the other in the gutter,’ meaning we’ve always been fortunate enough to view and see many things that aren’t normally accessible for a pro surfer and a designer,” Tenore said at the time. Their debut range was called the “Recession Collection.”

Almost a decade later, Conan had sold his share for $7.5 mill, apparently to Tenore, but the newly minted multi-millionaire would later be charged with fraud after allegedly short-selling his house.

What’s a short sale? In the US, if you’re doing it tough, a bank agrees to the sale of a home for less than the amount owed on the loan. In Conan’s case, the bank claims he fraudulently told ’em he was unemployed and broke hence the sale. The bank says it lost $586,245 on the short sale.

The prosector in the case was so zealous in hunting Conan she illegally obtain his tax records. Conan’s bail was set at exactly the amount the bank says it lost.

It gets weirder.

Pat Tenore Snr, an Orange County realtor and daddy to Conan’s former partner, facilitated the short sale. (No wrongdoing is alleged on his behalf although the prosecution is attempting to limit contact between Pat Snr and Conan.)

And, then there’s the sale of RVCA to Billabong shortly after Conan apparently sold his piece to Tenore.

What’s mysterious about the sale are the words “undisclosed amount” given for the price of the sale. And while I was digging around financial statements in the post-Quik buyout the words “RVCA Compensation” kept popping up.

So how much did Billabong pay for RVCA, a company the Wall Street Journal estimated to be worth US$50 million in mid-2013 and what was the “RVCA compensation”?

As with any good deal there was a cash amount, some targets to hit (for more cash) and a share-option grant.

But what strikes me as odd in this deal is that there appears to be no cash laid out up-front for RVCA.

All the cash (or at least the majority) was deferred till after July 1, 2015 (five years after the sale date). Those targets aren’t available for public scrutiny. I’m assuming Tenore, who is forty four, had a pretty salary, so the prospect of waiting five years for the big pay day wasn’t too tough.

On Feb 6, 2014, Tenore signed a four-year contract to remain at RVCA till 2018. With this came a slight restructure to his ‘earn out’ from the acquisition contract he signed in 2010. Pat pocketed $20 million cash, had a $7.5 million loan forgotten about (Was that the money that paid-out Conan? It ain’t clear.) and was granted 1.2 million share options in Billabong (worth about $720,000).

Over four years, the total “earn out” package, as they like to call it, looks like it was worth $37 million in guaranteed cash. A further $45 million would be earned if performance targets were hit before 2018. However, as at 31 December 2017 Billabong reported that the targets are unlikely to be met.

In 2017 Billabong wrote down the goodwill on RVCA from $78.1 million to zero.

Weird? Odd? Mysterious? Confusing?

That’s surf biz!


Jordy Smith at his freesurfing best, Reunion Island, 2009, for Modern Collective. | Photo: Kai Neville

J’Accuse: “The tour castrated Julian and Jordy!”

Two great surfers forced to suppress their native brilliance… 

Is there a sadder tale than the one of Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith? Two men whose brilliance was beaten out of ’em? Two men for whom the world title beckons but remains out of reach? Yesterday, Jordy was beaten by Wade Carmichael and Julian by Pat Gudauskas, “those torrid journeymen viciously hurling sixes and sevens.”

How? Why?

Jordy and Julian, both of whom will turn thirty this year, began their tour lives at a time when progression and risk wasn’t adequately rewarded. In other words, the progressive surfing that they were known for before joining the tour had to be dramatically suppressed.

Over the years, Jordy and Julian adapted their surfing and fully embraced a castrated approach to surfing heats. As a fan, it was devastating to watch. The difference between their freesurfing and their contest surfing was so wildly exaggerated it allowed movies like Modern Collective to have the impact they did.

Surfing safe, smooth and consistent is what racked up the scores and led to world titles. Cue: Mick Fanning and Adriano de Souza.

Over the years, Jordy and Julian adapted their surfing and fully embraced a castrated approach to surfing heats. As a fan, it was devastating to watch. The difference between their freesurfing and their contest surfing was so wildly exaggerated it allowed movies like Modern Collective to have the impact they did.

The tour was for boring, athletic surfing and Kai Neville’s movies were for exciting, risky surfing.

Jordy and Julian obliged and continued to live their double lives.

Then, out of nowhere, came John John and the Brazilian Storm and the floor fell out from under them completely. Within a season, the paradigm completely shifted and the best surfing in the world, by a long shot, was happening on tour.

Jordy and Julian spent the first half of their careers reigning in the progressive aspects of their surfing only to be blindsided by the highest level of in-jersey progressive surfing ever seen by John John, Gabriel Medina and Filipe Toledo. 

The saddest thing of all is that they never truly did their best surfing in a jersey. 

Fanning, Parko, Slater and Andy did their best surfing during contests. Look at any of their movie parts and the level is the same while Slater pulled shit in a jersey that you would never have seen from him in a movie. The same can be said for John John, Medina and Toledo. Their heats are the ones to watch and are at least as exciting/progressive as their freesurfing clips. 

Jordy and Julian have been left to wallow in the void left between Fanning/Slater and John John/Medina/Toledo. As hard as they tried, they were never able to beat Fanning at his game and sure as hell aren’t going to beat the progressive young-bloods of today, at least over the course of a season. 


NY locals plagued by “Instagram moments!”

The once inhospitable now friendly!

If you were paying attention to global weather patterns this past winter then you certainly watched with interest as New York City got pounded with “bomb cyclone” after “bomb cyclone.” Weatherpeople are uniquely talented at word play. It feels as if they are able to re-brand phenomena with the greatest names thus breathing life into an otherwise staid field.

“Bomb cyclone.”

I mean, have you read or heard anything quite so… cool sounding this year? I haven’t and not even close. In case you were not paying attention, a bomb cyclone is the rapid deepening of an extratropical cyclonic low-pressure area resulting in cold, snow and waves. New York surfers rejoiced but not all was as perfect as the barreling chill pounding their shore.

Technology, you see, has destroyed their way of life. It used to be too cold to surf and so only the hardened few would have the guts to paddle out. Wetsuit technology has improved to the point of freezing cold comfort though and now the lineups are choked.

The New York Times reports:

Joe Falcone looked past the snow-covered sand to the surf and saw a fleet of humans bobbing up and down on boards. Dozens of them. His blood pumped hot with frustration.

“There were at least 50 guys just in my eyesight,” Mr. Falcone said, describing the scene as “mayhem.” He believes that surfing should be like a meditation. “But it’s hard when you’re sitting shoulder to shoulder with someone you don’t know. Out goes the intimacy between man and Mother Nature.”

Surfing Rockaway Beach in the bitter cold used to be a solitary affair, only for locals and the hard-core. But because of a boom in popularity of the sport, the gentrification of the neighborhood and advancements in wet-suit technology (a $600, five-millimeter- thick suit can keep you warm for two hours), the frigid city surf has gotten crowded, locals say.

“The newcomers are not respecting the natives,” said Mr. Falcone, a sort-of local surf icon who builds surfboards in a garage, blocks from the beach. There’s a lot of posing in Rockaway, he said. “People think of it as an Instagram moment.”

The story goes on to record the injuries sustained by the horde etc. and I very much felt Mr. Falcone and the other locals’ pain. I too grew up surfing freezing cold water. Not only were the crowds non-existent but I felt like an old-fashioned tough guy as I bobbed and froze in my two rotten 3/2s. Like Burt Lancaster. Self-delusion would not have been possible in a crowd and it makes me sad for the New York locals.

Damn Instagram moments.


Journeyman viciously throwing sixes and sevens! Hello pro surfing 2018. San Clemente's Pat Gudauskas sinks tour leader Julian Wilson. | Photo: WSL

Bells, Day 4: “Torrid journeymen throwing sixes!”

Pro surfing in the post-Kelly, post-Mick era in limbo as Aussie leg fails to fire… 

Doom and gloom? Not me boss. I’m a cheerful pessimist, by nature.

When this planet goes up in smoke the chosen ones will board a silver spaceship and fly mother nature’s seed to a new home in the sun.  It’s just that in the post-Kelly, post-Mick, pre-wavepool era, pro surfing is in limbo. This Aussie leg is failing to fire and we, we being all of us Australian surf fans who are the bedrock of the tour who can support 3 CT’s with a population of just over 20 mill, are wondering if the ground we are standing on is solid.

Or not.

Soph is not reassuring us.

We are bewildered by pro surfing 2018, not depressed.

Do you recall those wonderful scenes from the concluding stages of the best surf film ever made, Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now? Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz and Martin Sheen’s Captain Willard are facing off finally after a long tortuous journey. In a tense and extended tete-a-tete, Kurtz delivers his Philosophy of War to Willard, detailing the story of how Viet Cong soldiers went into a village and hacked off the arms of little children who had been vaccinated for polio by the west.

“My God, these men who had love in their hearts,” Kurtz said, “had the strength… the strength to do that… if I had ten divisions of those men, then our troubles here would be over very quickly.”

Correct if wrong, but could not Sophie G solve her audience growth problems, very, very quickly if she had ten divisions of the Australian surf fan at her disposal to import across the world at will?

The American surf fan, with all due respect, is useless.

Utterly, utterly useless.

Can’t support a single CT on either Pacific or Atlantic shores. The hopped-up Okie they appointed to Ambassador of Leisure and Stoke, the great representative of middle America, disappeared without trace down god knows what Hawaiian rabbit hole. Middle America cared more, paid more attention to pro surfing in the mid-sixties when CBS network covered live the Duke Kahanomoku classic. Fact.

Kelly was the most bankable and reliable magic maker in world sport. And for a little while it seemed like John John Florence might repeat the dose, might bestride the pro surfing landscape like Genghis Khan did the Eurasian steppe, as Kelly once did. Conquering all. Vanquishing all. On our behalf. So we could be entertained and transcend our miserable little existences and forget all our flaws and deficiencies.

Being a pro surfing fan, even a reluctant one, was an easy game to play for twenty years. Lock in behind Kelly, then Andy, then Dane, or whatever member of the Coolie crew got you hard, get your mind blown, then hit it and quit while you were ahead. Ignore the back-markers unless they went deep into the draw.

Kelly was the most bankable and reliable magic maker in world sport. And for a little while it seemed like John John Florence might repeat the dose, might bestride the pro surfing landscape like Genghis Khan did the Eurasian steppe, as Kelly once did. Conquering all. Vanquishing all. On our behalf. So we could be entertained and transcend our miserable little existences and forget all our flaws and deficiencies.

But no, now we have to wade through acres and acres of over-coached torrid journeymen viciously hurling sixes and sevens at each other. At least, so far anyhow. John is no Kelly. He won’t dominate generations the way Kelly did, or maybe even Andy did. Ronnie Blakey said the new judging scale was a boon for spectators, that it made it more exciting. Ronnie, as someone who has mingled their sweat down in cattle class with the great unwashed, I know, and you know, that ain’t so.

It seemed as if judges had completely screwed the spread on the opening exchange with Wade Carmichael, handing it to Wade instead of Jordy. A second look showed Wade clearly out-powered him, and did so again to take the heat. Jordy raged against the judging scale but the brutal truth is he safety surfed, knowing safety surfing was to be penalised.”

Six heats played Lumpelstiltskin in raggedy Bells Bowl this morning beginning with Jordy and Wade Carmichael. After Jordy’s definition of flow went public I was ready to deduct a .25 for every spaz-pump he laid down between turns, but he conducted the first wave with perfect flow, throwing golden showers heavenwards on each turn.

It seemed as if judges had completely screwed the spread on the opening exchange with Wade Carmichael, handing it to Wade instead of Jordy. But in retrospect a second look showed Wade clearly out-powered him, and did so again to take the heat. Jordy raged against the judging scale but the brutal truth is he safety surfed, knowing safety surfing was to be penalised and suffered the consequences.

Bourez and Owen Wright were too good for Kolohe and Jesse Mendes. Both could be finalists or winners on current form but you’d be crazy brave to make that call based on the year to date.

I was curious to see how Fanning would be scored now that the judging panel has decreed the Fanning era over. And the answer was, as expected, low. Seabass opened up a two-point spread on the opening exchange and that really should have been a heat winning lead, based on current scoring. The crux of the heat turned on a very, very shonky used car Fanning wheeled to the front of the lot, put the keys in and convinced Zietz to drive away in, “Just give it a test drive maaaayte, great runner, comes with a free case of Balter beer and a softboard for the kids!”

Seabass bought the pup, scored a three and Fanning had nothing much more to do except ride a set wave, protect the lead with priority and enjoy the love of the victorian surf fan.

By the by, how refreshing, how relaxing to just have six heats for the morning then call the thing off? If the Wave Pool comp does nothing else than make suits reconsider format it will have been worth it. Eight hours straight of pro surfing would drive the Dalai Lama to pharmaceuticals. As it turned out, three hours, six heats, felt sublime.

Griff had plenty to say in the booth yesterday. He identified the opening turn as the one being paid most heavily by judges. Incorrectly. At Bells it’s the opening and closing turns. The primacy, recency effect. It’s the first and last things in a sequence that have the strongest effect. The things we remember, judges included.

That is no slur on Griff’s surfing despite a growing mountain of hype. He has the best closing turn on tour. As seen at Haliewa, as seen at Bells this morning. That whole-body huck will win many heats but you need something at the start to make it conclusive. Wilko put two huge turns with air drops as punctuation on a heat winning wave to put the heat away. Griff’s buzzer air-reverse was not enough but did it at least show he knew what could win.

Is Bells going to mean anything by years end? Is Snapper? The deck seems to be completely reshuffled and no one is standing on solid ground. Julian won Snapper then put on a tepid performance for the final heat of the day against Pat Gudauskas. So often he follows up something brilliant with something lame, can’t seem to produce what is needed, despite an army of cliches at his disposal for the post-heat presser and the best all round technique on tour. Is that a problem of will, of destiny or maybe some deficit that can be overcome in time?

Time that is running out. For him, for you, for the human race.

Kidding. Take a joke you misery guts!

Silver spaceships will save us all! And the Australian surf fan will be first picked to colonise space.

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Round 3 Results:
Heat 1: Wade Carmichael (AUS) 13.30 def. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.17
Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 12.84 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 9.66
Heat 3: Owen Wright (AUS) 15.14 def. Jesse Mendes (BRA) 10.33
Heat 4: Matt Wilkinson (AUS) 13.77 def. Griffin Colapinto (USA) 12.33
Heat 5: Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.56 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 9.10
Heat 6: Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 10.73 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 9.37

Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach Remaining Round 3 Matchups:
Heat 7: John John Florence (HAW) vs. Ezekiel Lau (HAW)
Heat 8: Joel Parkinson (AUS) vs. Frederico Morais (PRT)
Heat 9: Adriano de Souza (BRA) vs. Conner Coffin (USA)
Heat 10: Filipe Toledo (BRA) vs. Italo Ferreira (BRA)
Heat 11: Adrian Buchan (AUS) vs. Jeremy Flores (FRA)
Heat 12: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. Willian Cardoso (BRA)