Vivid impressions of day one, Surf Ranch Pro…
First thoughts: you can’t re-engineer novelty. Peak wavepool novelty was the day before the great surf journalist reveal when the NDA’s expired and we finally got to hear what the proletariat thought of the new industrial wave revolution.
Or maybe the very first time we saw it, the day after De Souza’s World title win had the oxygen mercilessly drained from it.
Then we had Founders’ Cup and the reality dawned that it wasn’t going to be a revolution in pro surfing performance, new equipment etc etc. A thousand safety snaps bloomed, the Orwellian hallucination of a Turpel intoning “He’s super deep” while we saw them the whole way. All that water has already flowed under the bridge.
I came with arms outstretched today ready to love the new format.
Ready to embrace what Mayhem prophesied as a “doubling of performance compared to Founders’ Cup”.
Second thoughts: Two thousand six hundred fans tuned in live on the Facebook feed – Oceania presumably – to watch the redux of the last time we saw the famous chromed dome with the famous broken foot that responds miraculously to the healing waters of Lemoore do his thing.
Did you think: “Ah Kelly, back where he belongs. The King back on his throne. Hallelujah and mad respect” or was it closer to “Look at this mad, mad bastard, who makes King Lear look humble and has turned pro surfing into his personal vanity project”?
Me, mix of both. Like all codependents I love my abuser.
Kelly’s foot, unless he was so zapped full of cortisone that he surfed like a drunk rabbit escaping an electric fence, is fine.
When he gets the injury wildcard for 2019 is that the moment when we can officially say pro surfing has jumped the shark. When Kelly embodied the words of Kendrick Lamar: I remember when you was conflicted, misusing you influence. Abusing my power.
Third thoughts. After five minutes of watching the new format I scrolled through the field. Of a sudden it seemed fucking yuuuugge. Like endless. Getting through the journeymen to a Filipe or a Gabby or Jordy was going to take an age. Four fucking days.
Kelly surfed his first right. Failed to complete. Throttled by the end section. Judges awarded a 5.50. I wrote it down. Seconds later it showed again as a 6.50. Huh? There was no mention of the “correction”. No mention of the injured foot.
His second right was well surfed but not amazing. I wrote 7.3. Judges gave it an 8.5. The best wave ridden all day. From that point I was so mentally destabilised I could make no sense of it. What are they judging I found myself asking continually.
My favourite sentence of all time is James Joyce: I saw the heaventree of stars hung with humid night blue fruit. At Surf Ranch today I saw a weed-infested grotto studded with grub eaten seven-point rides. Picking out the highlights in such an atmosphere was almost an impossibility.
Duru looked strong. Wilkinson spiked the left with squalls of semi-controlled feedback, and then fell on the two rights he surfed. Salty tears seemed to flow down his luxurious beard.
The biggest technical innovation is an adoption of the backside tube stance perfected by Gabe Medina but pioneered by Clay Marzo. The back foot folds away, the knee and lower leg sit flush on the board and parallel to the stringer. The upper body becomes counterweight and anchor. It enables goofys to burrow in. Pupo had it, Connor O’Leary too.
Rides looked astonishingly the same. I could not differentiate. Show me a wave from the last five years and I can give you the metadata. My mind works like that. Today I was cut adrift.
Attention was drifting when the first blank screen hit. Oh I admit I was surfing between tabs, reading reviews of Germaine Greer ‘s book On Rape, investigating a music festival in Sweden when Cisgender men are excluded and thinking, wow, what a wonderful world when the absence of Joey’s drone suddenly impinged.
It was the only true emotional reaction I had all day. A terror attack. Vegan/Eco-terror probably. Striking right at the heart of the ultimate display of western indulgence. Maybe farmers who wanted the quarter million gallons of water back. But no. Just a break. Everyone is OK.
I cut to the WSL tab and there was… nothing. Just an empty pool and silence. Stilled bodies under groves of bedraggled eucalypts. Straight away I thought something really terrible has happened. It was the only true emotional reaction I had all day. A terror attack. Vegan/Eco-terror probably. Striking right at the heart of the ultimate display of western indulgence. Maybe farmers who wanted the quarter million gallons of water back. But no. Just a break. Everyone is OK.
Sport relies on the drama of unscripted novelty when opposing elements intersect in time and space. Take that out and what have you got?
Kelly said he was scared of success. I say he should be more scared of what Nassim Nicolas Taleb referred to in his book Black Swan as “silent evidence”. That’s the world beyond the self-referential hype, the hordes beyond the three thousand watching on Facebook. The kids to whom comprehending pro surfing as sport, let alone spectacle is more opaque than ever when faced with the conformity of the tub.
They need to take napalm to this, then bulldozers, chainsaws, meat cleavers, machetes, scalpels and hack this bloated thing down to about two hours. Max. Then it might be interesting. Everyone gets one run and if they get less than a seven, a stagehook comes down from the sky and yanks them off screen. There was an enjoyable wham-bam quality to the Founders’ Cup that I enjoyed muchly. But the slow dawning horror of being yoked to this for four straight days is a punish equivalent to a comment section full of Ben Marcus anecdotes.
Something will happen here.
Filipe will step up, or Gabe or Italo but for anyone with eyes to see the idea that this is the great leap forwards for Pro Surfing is as denounced as Stalinism.
Men’s Surf Ranch Pro Qualifying Round Leaderboard Top 8:
1 – Kelly Slater (USA) 14.57
2 – Ian Gouveia (BRA) 14.33
3 – Tomas Hermes (BRA) 14.20
4 – Yago Dora (BRA) 13.80
5 – Joan Duru (FRA) 13.73
6 – Patrick Gudauskas (USA) 13.70
7 – Connor O’Leary (AUS) 13.56
8 – Adriano De Souza (BRA) 13.56
Women’s Surf Ranch Pro Qualifying Round Leaderboard Top 4:
1 – Coco Ho (HAW) 14.94
2 – Sage Erickson (USA) 14.07
3 – Courtney Conlogue (USA) 13.54
4 – Paige Hareb (NZL) 13.00