A Protected Pro discussion.
On Sunday I went surfing. The marine layer hung heavy and the waves drowned in their own mediocrity. A dad had brought a crew of groms into the lineup to surf a mock heat. They jockeyed for position and he gave them scores. Since he was sitting out the back and they were mostly surfing through the inside, he couldn’t actually see their waves. The scores he gave them were entirely made up.
All the same, the groms took the whole thing deadly seriously. They had a world title to win right there! Dad kept barking instructions and scores. The kids battled for position and bickered over who had the better wave. After every wave, they replayed each turn in joyfully exaggerated terms. As you can imagine, this setup was not ideal for a mellow, mediocre Sunday surf. Every wave I considered had at least two groms battling for it — if not, three. There I sat, as they surfed circles around me.
I was reminded of this dynamic this morning when I sat down to watch the women’s round 1 at Keramas. During heat 2 that included Carissa Moore, Brisa Hennessey, and Keely Andrew, Hennessey and Andrew surfed circles around Moore. It’s a pretty great tactic for beating surfers like Moore and Steph Gilmore. Just keep surfing waves. Make it hard for your opponent to find space to do anything at all. Similar to her heat at Bells against Conlogue, Moore got off to a slow start with a string of low scores. By the time she found her rhythm, it was too late.
When I interviewed her last year, Moore said she surfs best when there’s lots of waves, and ideally, good waves. She’s right, I think. Much the same could be said of Steph Gilmore. They’re both at their best when they don’t have to think about the actual business of heat surfing and can just catch some waves and ride them. Unfortunately, it very often doesn’t go that way in contest surfing. Hennessey who won the heat, followed by Andrew. Together, they sent Moore to the elimination round.
As with both the Gold Coast and Bells, Gilmore surfed an uneven heat. She showed flashes of her characteristic grace and had one legit solid turn on her first wave of the heat. But she also nearly fell on her second turn. She put it together well enough to advance with a 5.17 and a 4.60, but it wasn’t an especially emphatic performance. Nikki Van Dijk slid into second with a pair of three’s, while Kailani Johnson heads to the elimination round.
There were two air attempts during women’s round 1 and both came during heat 4 with Lakey Peterson, Sally Fitzgibbons, and Paige Hareb. I expected Peterson to scorch this heat. She did win Keramas last year, but Fitzgibbons had other ideas. The Australian took an early lead with a 7.83 on her second wave of the heat, and that was mostly it.
Peterson tried to get back into it, with an air 360, or whatever the correct degrees are there. In any case, she fell on the landing. Fitzgibbons answered back with a tiny, air-not-quite-reverse. It was a barely there kind of affair, with not much daylight between her board and the white water. You had to squint a little to see it. She finished the rotation after the landing, but managed to stay upright. It wasn’t sexy, but I’ll give her credit for getting it done. The judges weren’t overly excited — rightly — and gave her a 6.30. Fitzgibbons won ahead of Peterson and Hareb.
I don’t know the answer to the “why don’t women do airs” question. I can tell you that it isn’t physiological. I can put a surfboard into the air and I am not a professional athlete. I can not, however, make it come back down in any predictable way. I can’t make it do anything interesting while it’s up there either. I suspect the answer is some combination of incentive and opportunity — and that before too long, the upcoming generation of women surfers will put this question to rest for good.
Johanne Defay mostly ran away with heat five. Malia Manuel, so impressive at Bells, couldn’t find the waves to do much at all in Keramas — so far. She held on to second behind Defay with an 8.53 heat total, which is lower than several of her wave scores at Bells. I’d love to see her — and really, all of the women — in better waves for the next rounds. Come on, ocean, do the thing!
At least Manuel didn’t get sent to the elimination round like her Bells finals opponent Courtney Conlogue. I thought Conlogue — Now, with correct spelling, I think! — had this heat won, but she was overtaken by both Tatiana Weston-Webb and Bronte Macaulay. Conlogue had some spicy turns, including a cute 360, but she couldn’t match the two goofy-footers. Weston-Webb looked especially strong this time around.
And still the queen of the goofy-foots, Caroline Marks, looks solid. The Duranbah arms have mellowed out a bit and she looked more smooth than she did in the opening contest. That’s got to have some of her competitors worried. Marks surfing better than when she won the opening event of the year is not going to be great for anyone else’s world title hopes. Marks beat out Coco Ho and Silvana Lima to advance.
I definitely did not have the highest heat score during my Sunday session. The groms beat me soundly, though I’m not sure who among them won. I just know that I didn’t. Finally, they went in. I sat in the grey, watching the horizon, hoping for just one more. I suppose that’s one part of contest surfing that’s entirely relatable. If I could just get one more — we’ve all had that nagging, insatiable feeling.