Your writer gripped from start to finish on final's day!
Sometimes it feels like being in a minority of one to admit to loving and being gripped from start to finish by small Teahupoo. But that’s the fucking truth, your Honour.
The heat-turning drama, the capriciousness of thousands of miles of empty South Pacific ocean, unforseen and unforseeable until seconds before impact. The sheer beauty. And it does, in the age of the rise of the machines, need defending.
The Tahitian program, as Filipe described it. If you haven’t experienced it, it’s the kindest program on Earth.
Toledo, with his semi-final finish, maintains a 6000-point margin to event winner Gabriel Medina, who leapfrogs a struggling Julian Wilson. Filipe’s razor-sharp whips on a quad that looked to be the best board in the competition was more than enough to account for for February in quarter one, despite judges engineering phoney drama by stripping Toledo of priority with three minutes to go by inspecting a wide set wave.
Owen Wright’s jedi tube skills came to the fore in quarter two with a deeply threaded foamball ride under Wade Carmichael’s nose. Positioning at Teahupoo, from three-foot to ten-foot is a question of inches. The most frightening sight I’ve ever seen in surfing is looking over my shoulder into the gaping techni-coloured maw of a Teahupoo ten-footer with Owen Wright throwing himself over the ledge.
Did you know Italo had a four-blot winning record against Medina?
Italo plays the opening stanza submissive, pacifying Medina. A pacified Medina is a confused Medina. He defines himself in conflict. Italo opens with a confused west bowl ride, flubbing the tube and turning a six into a three. From there, Medina is perfect. There is a premium attached to mastery of Teahupoo, even when small and judges have to pay attention. The ocean goes quiet and remedial action is denied to Ferreira.
Grumpiness, indignation even outrage are fashionable. I count myself one of the worst offenders.
Allowing for that an honest accounting of what is on display is appropriate, even necessary. The broadcast is stunning: camera angles, replays, even Barton’s commentary. Seamless, as miraculous as modern dentistry, minus the price tag. I’ve always counted myself one who would never pay but watching Medina I found myself recanting. I think I would pay… for a stripped down Tour in Grand Slam locations.
The alternative: the great dumbing down in search of a mass audience is too easy a dead horse to lay the boot into.
J-Flo simply waits and surfs perfectly the few set waves that come in his QF against Kolohe. Easy win.
Owen has a long elbow pinned to the face of Filipe with twenty minutes to go in their semi-final. At the eighteen-minute mark Filipe tries to break free with a brace of rides. In five minutes he rides four waves, a clutch of fours, then a five. The heat drips down and despite Toledo’s valiant chipping away he can’t bridge the divide. A semi-final finish at small Chopes won’t silence the critics but it will be critical in World Title calculations.
Medina’s perfection continues against Flores in semi-final two. This time under priority, which had, up till now, been reliable bodyguard for winning leads. Two waves, two clean air makes and a repertoire of sizzling turns ridden into the board width crack in dry reef. On an oily calm morning in Tahiti the sound of hoots and the whirring clicks of camera motor drives drives Flores into distraction. The veneer of patience is shattered. His best wave is underscored by a point and a younger Flores would have shown a more vigorous displeasure with the injustice. Maybe he has learnt that judges hold grudges too. In the end it mattered not. Medina was through.
The Tahitian program. I stay with Ginette and Papa. Ginette has kindly eyes, so does Papa. He’s a mariner, an engineer of sorts responsible for the channel markers and navigation buoys. In the afternoon, I buy the Hinano tallies from the supermarche. Papa sits on the concrete floor and grates the coconut flesh and squeezes the fresh milk for the poisson cru. He speaks no English. I speak little French, a smattering of pidgin Tahitian. We communicate with silence, smiling eyes. Hand gestures.
Ginette is disapproving of me because I have become willing hostage to the day drunks down by the boat harbour. We share warm beer from a canvas sack in the morning sun. Smoke joints. In the afternoon there is the long paddle out to No Pass in front of Ginette and Papa’s house. Their teenaged daughter is there when I come home to get my board.
“I come,” she says.
I point to the board, then out to sea. She nods.
It’s a very long paddle. Miles. It’s late afternoon when we get out there. Soon, it is apparent the teenage girl can’t surf. She sits in the channel. I ride waves.
The last boat leaves and I am gesturing to her to paddle in. She sits, immobile. The tide is running out, the tradewind blowing with it. It takes all my effort to drag her back against wind and tide through the pass.
The sun sets and it grows dark. She cannot, will not, paddle. I tow her in. There is no panic from her. Just silence and immobility. It’s taking too long. The shore stubbornly refuses to come closer. Like Gabe Medina prays to God for a set wave I am praying that I can get Ginette and Papa’s daughter back to shore.
Is anyone looking for us?
Then a small boat with a torch shining crazily across the lagoon. I yell and the boat comes closer. They drag her into the boat. And speed off. I paddle the rest of the way in the dark and sneak home.
When I get back the poisson cru is on the table and the Tahitian soap operas are on the television. Not a word is said. Then or ever.
And Ginette still messages me every year: “Steve, are you coming to Teahupoo?”
Owen out-muscles Medina for the opening wave of the Final. A well ridden fluffy tube. The wind is puffing up. Which paradoxically makes the judges decide to penalise Medina’s air game they had so richly rewarded in the semis. His 6.17 seems ridiculously underscored to my eyes. Past the half-way mark and Owen staggers his way through a messy tube ride like a drunk walking home from a Surfers paradise night club. The score puts him ahead.
Now Medina is rattled. Attempts to manufacture the score fail. And fail again. The Final seems done and dusted.
Owen takes a mid-sized set apart which looks like the victory lap. Behind it the wave of the Final appears like an apparition. Charlie Medina goes apeshit in the channel as Gabe stands in the shade of the only perfect tube of the Final. It is enough.
Tahiti is always enough.
But will it be enough to withstand the gaze of non surfing suits looking at “commercial considerations”.
Tahiti Pro Final Results:
1 – Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.50
2 – Owen Wright (AUS) 12.07
Tahiti Pro Semifinal Results:
SF 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 12.60 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 10.03
SF 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.17 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 6.10
Tahiti Pro Quarterfinal Results:
QF 1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 11.43 def. Michael February (ZAF) 8.60
QF 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.00 def. Wade Carmichael (AUS) 9.57
QF 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 13.57. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 7.57
QF 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.34 def. Kolohe Andino (USA) 5.74
WSL Men’s CT Jeep Leaderboard (After Tahiti Pro):
1 – Filipe Toledo (BRA) 41,985 pts
2 – Gabriel Medina (BRA) 35,685 pts
3 – Julian Wilson (AUS) 32,380 pts
4 – Italo Ferreira (BRA) 30,160 pts
5 – Wade Carmichael (AUS) 25,550 pts