"On the WSL's master list of embarrassments, though, it's not even in the top 10."
Last night, after a pleasing vegan pizza (red lentil ragu, oven-roasted kale, tahini etc), I came home to, a, an apartment whose supply of Japanese whisky had been exhausted, and, b, a squall of social media activity.
It was enough to trigger some sort of sad feeling, if I was open to these sorts of things.
The social circuit buzzed because of a story, two days ago, where I wondered aloud if a world title granted after one event, with ten competitors, and where the winner didn’t make a takeoff, was a little overcooked.
I did forget what year I’m in and that any sort of critique is hate and so on, particularly if the person is female or gay. To question someone who is both, even if the issue has nothing to do with gender or sexing, is suicidal.
Keala Kennelly issued an invitation on Instagram for readers to pile on, which they did with gusto.
(Click here, it’s pretty long. Some very good points are raised. The Inertia’s Zach Weisberg and Blue Crush lead Kate Bosworth make cameos.)
Made me wonder.
Should criticism of one-event world titles be quarantined, should I have known this, and therefore did I deserve the scorn?
Who else y’gonna ask? Matt Warshaw, king of surf history, one-man operator of the Encylopedia of Surfing, the most valuable property in the game.
BeachGrit: I got pitch-forked by mobs last night after questioning the validity of one-event world titles, with reference to Keala Kennelly’s big-wave crown and Cori Schumacher’s longboard titles. KK’s is an interesting subject to discuss. Didn’t make a wave in the final and there were only ten other competitors in the event although, yes, the waves were very dangerous and she’s a brave gay woman etc. Does it take, as the WSL suggests although it clearly vacillates on the issue as evidenced by the BWT award, a tour to make a title? In your opinion etc.
Warshaw: A one-event world title lowers the odds that the champ is legit. A tour is the way to go, but all that does is bump the odds that the champ is deserving. We’ve been flaying our pro tour champs as long as there’s been a pro tour. Not all, but some.
The obvious question, where do you place KK’s big-wave world title?
It’s an embarrassment. Not for Keala, but the WSL. On the WSL’s master list of embarrassments, though, it’s not even in the top 10.
Those pre-tour single-event world champions, like Midget, Felipe Pomar, Nat, Hemmings, Rolf Aurness, Jimmy Blears . . . how do you rate ‘em?
Midget deserved his title, just the way Damien Hardman deserved his. Smart, clean, beautiful surfing. Neither one ever set you on fire, but give ‘em the crown and congratulations. Felipe Pomar as world champ is a head-scratcher. Nat Young surfed circles around him. But you gotta go back and figure out what the criteria was that afternoon in Peru, probably it was a biggest-longest wave deal, and that makes it harder to gainsay.
Nat in ’66 was a hands-down winner. But here’s a twist. That was a three-round contest, and David Nuuhiwa won the opener, so if that event been like every other world title of the era, David is your world champ. Nat didn’t even make the final that first round. But he won the next two rounds, didn’t even break a sweat, there’s your champ, fair and square. Hemmings in ’68 rode the biggest waves the furthest distance, but Midget very much looked like the winner to me. Midget had a win and two runner-up finishes between ’64 and ‘70, so he’d be your champ for the decade. Rolf was totally legit in 1970. Blears in ‘72—the whole event was black comedy, the surf was shit in the finals. Bob Hawke could’ve won if he got the right waves. The women champs were on the level, start to finish: Phyllis, Joyce Hoffman, Margo, and the criminally unknown Sharron Weber were all deserving.
If there is a validity to single-event world titles, does that make whomever win the Olympics next year a world champion, even if it’s at one-foot Chiba and some donkey gets lucky? And might there, very soon, with big wave titles, ISA titles, junior titles, Olympics etc, be a glut of meaningless world champions, as in boxing?
“Olympic champ” is its own category, adjacent to but separate from “world champ.” Which sounds like hair-splitting, and yeah I think we’re already into a glut situation. In the Warshaw Manual of Style, Usage and Elucidation, “world champ” by itself refers to either the single-event gang we discussed above, or the world tour winners. Anything else gets prefaced: “1988 juniors division amateur champ,” or “1996 longboard world champ.” How boring is this? Is this more or less boring than the Round One heats Longtom was frothing on day before yesterday?
I can’t even express the thrills this gives me. Do you count Layne Beachley’s masters’ title among her world titles, making it eight not seven and still one tiara beyond Gilmore?
And Gary Elkerton, what did he win, four masters titles? Is he a four-time world champ? Same as MR?
Those four masters wins are worth more than the participation trophies my kid got for soccer, but they’re not world titles. Gary got tag-teamed out of a for-real world title that one year, though.
Let’s veer left slightly and recap that Pipe tag-team with Kong.
1993 world title showdown at Pipe, second semifinal, four-man heat, Gary, Derek, Larry Rios, and I can’t remember the fourth guy. Gary was in second and heading for the final, along with Derek, but Larry just needed a small score to knock Gary back to third. Seconds before the horn, the wave comes. Derek paddles on the inside and forces Gary to back out, then Derek pulls up and gives it to Larry, who gets the score. Derek went on to win the contest and the title. God’s honest truth, I was on the beach that afternoon at Pipe and didn’t notice that double-team thing. I don’t think there were any rules broken, in any event. But there are things you can do in a four-man heat, obviously, that you can’t do man-on-man. If Derek and Larry worked something out beforehand, and it wasn’t against the rules, then fair play to them. Hate the game, not the players.
Gimme your thoughts about CJ’s 2001 abbreviated tour world title after our Islamic brothers took their birds down on New York City and DC. It demonstrates, I think, CJ’s ability to see the world clearly that he doesn’t go around calling himself a world champ. Or maybe he does. Does he?
I think the point we’re making here is that the whole thing is maybe at best half serious. Suicidal jihadists gave us a world champ, and I think it’s surfy to laugh at that, and laugh harder at PT winning the first pro title without taking out a single event that year, while also acknowledging that CJ and PT are both world-class surfers. Then of course we wait for a new Kai Lenny edit, and I’ll take that very seriously indeed.