Women’s tour analysis: Crowded top of rankings sets Margaret River up to be a thriller!

This could change everything!

The perfect hook of the first turn. That midface dance step. The barrel so deep, it looked like it must surely be a close-out. The exit. The lookback as if to say, well yes, I made it. Of course, I made it. And a quick bang of a close-out move to finish it.

Surely, Steph Gilmore’s final wave was one of the best perfect tens I’ve ever seen. There was no need to second-guess it, to hesitate, to ask, but was it really. It certainly was. Emphatically, Gilmore won Keramas and took over the lead in the world rankings. That final wave made the outcome look inevitable, as though it were preordained, but it was only a month ago that Gilmore made an early exit from Duranbah, defeated by Caroline Marks. A lot can change in a month.

Before we go further, I will go ahead and confess: This story is late. In internet time, it’s several years past due. Blame Yemen. If Chas sent you his book manuscript about Yemen, what would you do? You would drop everything and read it.

So really, this is all the fault of Chas. And Yemen.

Someone was going to have to surf in the crumbling onshore conditions on Friday (local time), if the contest was going to finish on time. Women’s quarterfinals drew the unlucky short straw. I came home from a surf in shitty, cold, wind-fucked conditions, hoping to see dreamy Keramas. It was… not that dreamy, really.

The judges enjoyed Brisa Hennessey’s surfing more than I did. She felt consistently overscored to me. She had speed and variety, but also some dodgy rails and awkward, off balance moments. Yes, the waves had weird wind bump. Sure. But when they threw her an eight for that final wave, where she barely held on for the close-out, it seemed a point or two on the side of generous. It was an 8.37 and won her the heat in the final minute.

Carissa Moore’s top-scoring wave involved — and involved is the correct word here — a beauty frontside reverse, followed by three tidy turns and a fairly standard close-out move. No bobbles, no warbles, and a big turn straight off the start. The judges gave it a 8.6. The spread between Moore’s 8.6 and Hennessey’s 8.37 left me guessing. Moore’s score looked right. Hennessey, well, let’s just say, I wasn’t convinced.

The heat between Courtney Conlogue and Steph Gilmore promised fireworks. With Marks out early, either Conlogue or Gilmore could take over the ratings lead. It started slow before Conlogue threw down a seven, and until the dying minutes, it seemed as though Conlogue had it.

Not so fast.

On her final wave, Gilmore strung together three characteristically stylish turns. Then she slid out on the closeout move. Gilmore has said that she thinks the judges sometimes throw her a little extra for her style and flow. I’m not sure that’s entirely a bad thing, though I suspect Conlogue would not agree. They threw Gilmore a 7.23, weighting the three completed turns more heavily than the failed closeout move. It won her the heat, and I’ll confess I had to watch that final wave a few times before I agreed she deserved the score.

The highlight of the semis for me was Sally Fitzgibbons’s cheeky barrel. Fitzgibbons came out firing in this heat — as with Conlogue and Gilmore, Fitzgibbons also had the top spot in the rankings in sight. She succeeded in keeping Hennessey in check and advanced on the strength of a 6.90 and an 8.70. Between them, they rode 14 waves. Let’s just say, there was a lot going on.

The second semifinal could not have been more different. Gilmore played it safe and did enough to defeat Nikki Van Dijk, who tried valiantly to throw big turns, but consistently misjudged her timing. As perfect waves rolled through the lineup, Gilmore’s conservatism frustrated. Come on, Steph, please? Please take a set? But in truth, why should she, when she had Van Dijk comfortably under control.

Gilmore’s decision to play it chill may also have served — whether intentionally or not — as a bluff directed at Fitzgibbons. Why not allow Fitzgibbons, hot off a high-scoring heat against Hennessey, to believe Gilmore just wasn’t that on? It’s the kind of strategy Slater might pull — and Gilmore isn’t really known for tactics. Without intending to, though, Gilmore may have set up Fitzgibbons to hit the water overconfident.

Whatever the tactics, Fitzgibbons trailed Gilmore from the start. Steph’s first wave was a tidy 6.83 — and turned out to be a keeper. She consistently kept the pressure on Fitzgibbons, who couldn’t muster more than a 5.50. Even without the ten, Gilmore had the heat won.

But the ten is what we’ll remember, long after anything else. It won’t be the onshore slog, or how long it took to get to finals day. It’ll be that ten. The wave gleamed green jewels. Overhead, perfectly clean. Who even saw that barrel coming, I certainly didn’t. In those conditions, when the waves are insanely good, Gilmore’s unstoppable.

Gilmore is world number one again — but the title race is far from over. Six women crowd the top of the rankings: Gilmore, Marks, Conlogue, Moore, Fitzgibbons, and Malia Manuel. A win from any one of them at Margaret River could change everything.

Opinion: To Know Kanoa Igarashi is, necessarily, to love him!

A spirited defence of the world number two…

In 2010 Kanoa Igarashi went to France for the first time. He was 12 then, just about to turn 13 and the waves pumped every day of his trip.

I was there filming and chaperoning for Quiksilver and I’ve never seen the banks as good as they were that year. Kanoa was small for his age, but maybe up for it with incredible technique in small waves.

He put on a full mini-shred tube and air show on a small dreamy day in offshore beachbreak. When it was six foot, though, he looked out of sorts. Leo Fioravanti and Mikey Wright found a spot they liked one morning and sprinted through the thick, grainy sand to get after it.

They were pulling into stand-0up barrels within a minute of paddling out. Kanoa, on the other hand, sat on the beach and looked scared. He was a nice, friendly kid and I didn’t want to give him a hard time. I said, “Look you’re definitely more than good enough to surf waves like that, but if you don’t want to today it’s ok. But if you do go out and get a barrel then Leo and Mikey won’t be able to give you any shit.”

Eventually, he paddled out, took off on the shoulder of a couple waves and came back in. Leo and Mikey of course teased him mercilessly afterwards as kids do, but I gave him credit for at least giving it a go.

Kanoa is 21 now and I give him huge props him his first win in Bali. It’s honestly hard now though for me to see the amount of shit he’s still copping, maybe not from his peers, but from random people online. In some ways I get it, the bleached hair, gold chains, odd social media posts, the claims, surfing for Japan, the awkward celebrations, they aren’t things that tend to inspire core American or Australian surfers.

If people think Kanoa’s a typical spoiled So-Cal rich kid, as some comments have stated, they’re flat-out wrong. Kanoa’s parents are Japanese immigrants who came to the USA with nothing because they wanted to raise Kanoa to be a professional surfer.

I don’t really know him that well anymore, but I think he’s just trying to figure out who he is and is trying out some things along the way. Who out there had a rock solid sense of their identity at 21? I sure didn’t.

I also didn’t grow up the way he did. If people think he’s a typical spoiled So-Cal rich kid, as some comments have stated, they’re flat-out wrong. Kanoa’s parents are Japanese immigrants who came to the USA with nothing because they wanted to raise Kanoa to be a professional surfer.

And not just any professional surfer, a world champion professional surfer. They spoke little to no English and worked low-paying jobs to survive. They moved from LA, which has a large Japanese community to Huntington Beach, which doesn’t really have one at all, so Kanoa could learn to surf in an area with decent waves and a strong surf culture.

Having the pressure of your parents dreams for you put squarely your small shoulders isn’t easy for anyone, but it was especially challenging for a Nisei (second generation) kid like Kanoa. English was his second language but from the time he could speak a lick of our native tongue he was his parents’ link to the outside American world.

Imagine trying to explain things like sponsorships and contracts to your parents in another language when you’re 10. Think about how bewildering it was for his parents too. I went to Japan last year and never felt as lost as a did when I got outside of Tokyo. I became functionally illiterate. The street signs and restaurant menus were unintelligible to me. Even the prices were written in characters and not in numerals. Anyone coming from Japan to the West experiences the same disorientation in reverse.

Kanoa qualified for the world tour at 18 on the strength of his beachbreak QS game. With the precision of a Japanese technician, he figured out a way to frame his turns so they threw maximum spray and compensated for how small and light he still was. If you watch his round three heat in the 2017 event at J-Bay against Mick Fanning you’ll see a boy trying hard to compete against a man.

Despite the inherent physical disadvantage he had in every event, he managed to avoid going down in the losers round for the entire year. He then showed his potential in hollow waves by taking second at the Pipe Masters in small Backdoor runners.

A growth spurt and three years of heavy training have now gotten him to a point where he’s ready for anyone. He’s always surfed fast and with a clean, smooth style, but I feel like he’s been holding back in heats.

If he’d spent the last three years filming a signature film the way Dane and Julian did when they were his age, rather than taking his lumps on tour, we’d probably have a totally different perception of him.

He never puts out edits and we’ve seen anything close to his full potential on a webcast.

Watch his Round of 32 heat again in Bali for a glimpse of the rail/air combo game he’s holding. Now that he’s second in the world and ahead of freaks like Filipe, Italo and Gabriel, I’m hoping now is the time when he shows his full deck of cards.


Good job, kid.

The Divine Miss K: Kanoa Igarashi ushers professional surfing into a fabulous new era!

Ostentatious, exaggerated, gloriously theatrical!

Camp had long vanished from surfing’s proud history and I don’t mean “camp” as in “tent.” I mean “camp” as in “ostentatious, exaggerated, theatrical.” As in RuPaul’s Drag Race.

Now, you may be scratching your head, wondering when surfing’s proud history was ever like RuPaul Drag Race and I will point to Malibu circa mid to late 1950s when men pranced around the beach wearing names like Tubesteak and Da Cat and silly goose outfits but those times passed and most surf journalists thought they would never return.

Until Kanoa Igarashi won in Bali and we were feted with the most wonderful, over-the-top, ferocious display of feminine sexual aggression since Bette Middler’s The Divine Miss M.

Oh it had everything! Uncontrolled screams. Face bashing. Ululation. Open-mouthed hysteria. Passion and real passion, not the sort of manufactured business commonly seen on the Instagram account @drunkgirlsdoingthings.

It was an absolute treat to witness a diva coming out of his shell and feel that it must be putting his fellow competitors on notice. Now that we’ve tasted the marvelous can we ever go back to false-humility, awww shucks, I just got lucky out there today?

Will Kelly Slater try to outdo when he wins Marg River?

Much to discuss.

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Corona Bali Protected: “Japan steals California’s first CT event win in ten years!”

And Pip Toledo and Kelly Slater quarter-final exceeds the insane hype!

Japan steals California’s first CT event victory in ten years at Keramas when 21-year-old Igarashi Kanoa from Huntington Beach wins the Bali Protected pro in perfect four-to-six-foot surf.

Steph Gilmore wins her 30th (!) event in a totally dominant display that would have won the men’s final.

Kelly Slater makes the whole world forget about climate change and the extinction crisis by defeating Filipe Toledo in a quarter-final that, for the first time in the history of pro surfing, totally eclipsed the hype.

It took a while to warm up.

Seemed during an uneventful last women’s QF and the first two men’s QF’s that the WSL had again, like they did at D-Bah, tried to squeeze too much into the event window. Two entire CT events, a mens and a womens and an airshow as well.

Just like he did at Bells, though, KP managed to find a golden pot at the end of a very long rainbow. It came to fruition in the Kelly-Filipe super heat. Pip was flippant in the pre-heat interview. In mock horror he said about Kelly “Oohh, he’s scary” and that it was good to see him “back on the fire”.

It’s almost insane. Who remembers a single thing from the first two rounds? Nobody!

Just like he did at Bells, though, KP managed to find a golden pot at the end of a very long rainbow. It came to fruition in the Kelly-Filipe super heat. Pip was flippant in the pre-heat interview. In mock horror he said about Kelly “Oohh, he’s scary” and that it was good to see him “back on the fire”.

Too flippant, as it turned out.

Kelly sold him the first wave. A scoreless close-out.

Kelly needed to win the opening exchange, and he did. The roundhouse-cutback-to-foam-rebound would be practically extinct at the elite level if not for Kelly. After the first scoring waves he opened a two-point spread on FT.

Two near makes from Kelly would have been ten-point rides apiece.

Messy, slabby, insanely technical tube rides with styled out roundhouses, Kelly playing matador with angry knuckles of foam, saw him in the lead with 10 to go.

Filipe was looking wobbly.

Pottz accused him of getting sucked into Kelly’s game, trying to out-tube him in a tube-riding duel.

But what choice did he have? What was he going to do, dodge the tube? And walk straight into Kelly’s verbal trap of being the best small-wave surfer ever? Kelly pricked his pride and Filipe’s pride fucked him over.

The sunshine and slabby tubes, the drained-out end section made Keramas look like Soup Bowls, one of Kelly’s favoured haunts.

Pip went over the falls selling Kelly on a lemon. Kelly gave it back to Toledo and he pin-dropped out of the lip of a close-out. With clock pressure and scoreboard pressure mounting there was a failure to communicate from Dickie on the beach to Filipe in the water.

He whistled him off an open face that could have been the score. Toledo looked fragile and confused. The clock ticked down and on the buzzer Filipe caught a wave.

“I saw him take off and thought, what’s he going to do,” said Kelly. Then I heard the board snap.”

Done. Kelly in the semi.

I went to see Momentum Generation last month. Went in a hater and came out all loved-up on Kelly. Meant to ask him something abrasive and ended up thanking him for 27 years of entertainment, joy and inspiration.

God, he brought it today.

We will note at this juncture that judges had held the scoring scale steady and maintained the low ball, and we will note that headroom in surf that was becoming groomed by incoming tide and slack winds was justified.

Kanoa overcame Kolohe with the turn he had perfected all event, the vertical lip punch with a tail drift.
Steph looked silky but very restrained in overcoming a Nikki Van Dyke whose skill set and experience did not look up to the challenge.

Earlier in the event Jez Flores had given the clue to his ultimate motivation.

“Everywhere is so crowded, ” he said. “To get the chance to surf these waves with one other guy is the reason I’m still doing it”.

He began to feast on Balinese tubes like a fat man at a breakfast buffet. Gorging himself until it was almost insulting to M-Rod. Judges had paid the tube all event. They paid it for Jezza. The anger drained out him, visibly.

The trash talking before Kanoa and Kelly’s semi-final had become a little cartoonish, devoid of the genuine psychological barbs Kelly had aimed at Filipe.

I mean, how could you trash talk Kanoa?

What an extraordinary time it all of a sudden seemed. Like Krymov the tank commander felt during the Battle for Stalingrad in Vasily Grossman’s Life and Fate it was as if history had left the pages of books and come to life. Kelly caught the opening wave on the hooter and sought and found shade in a clean cabana. Kanoa fell and fell and fell.

One more clean cut and Kelly could have put him in a deep combo. He did not. A very long deep technical tube ended when the cavern collapsed on him.

It was halfway through before Kanoa put a wave on the scoreboard. It was the most critical piece of judging of the contest. All through the contest judges had recalibrated scoring between men and women.

Highballing tail-based fin turns by women if they were well-timed and in the pocket. Chief beneficiary being Brisa Hennesy.

In a flash, they bought the same recalibration to bear on Kanoa’s wave. The turns were weak and fin based but awarded a 7.67.

Kelly flubbed a turn between a double tube for a 7.17 and unable to back down the panel went big again for Kanoa’s second scoring ride.

Winners are grinners.

Kanoa thanked the “People who talked trash about him” in the seconds after he won the comp. There will be no need to go back and analyse turns that, based on the scale so far this year, would have been judged fair.

Jordy Smith, in a righteous universe, would be entitled to drop kick a rabid dog in an alleyway.

The contrast between men’s and women’s surfing which had so far looked acute and almost embarrassing to the detriment of the ladies was suddenly reversed. Steph Gilmore’s opening turns had flow and elegant power and unlike the punch and release of Igarashi were arced all the way back against the grain. She was in cruise control mode, by her own admission, before coming to a conclusion that she wanted an excellent number.

The wave she rode next was adjudged perfect. Go look at it on heat analyzer if you missed it. You won’t get the impact of watching it live. Appreciate the hard tube stall snap and the immense pressure of the final hit which buckled her knee flat to the deck. Best wave of the comp.

A little air wind had puffed up for the final.

You could imagine the damage Filipe would have done to the lineup had he been there. Locked into the new scoring paradigm judges gave a floater and three regulation turns by Kanoa one of the highest scores of the event. I hate that “you can script this” conspiracy thinking but it did seem like objectivity was being torched and sent into the atmosphere.

Jeremy tore into a set wave. It was the best wave of the final.

You could imagine the damage Filipe would have done to the lineup had he been there. Locked into the new scoring paradigm judges gave a floater and three regulation turns by Kanoa one of the highest scores of the event. I hate that “you can script this” conspiracy thinking but it did seem like objectivity was being torched and sent into the atmosphere.

I saw it. Pottz saw it.

Even one judge saw it and gave it a 9.5. A lowball from another meant it sat lower than Kanoa’s 9.1.

When Jeremy went straight on a closeout with 11 minutes to go and handed priority back to Kanoa it was all over.

Twenty one years old. Wow. It feels like Kanoa has been on Tour for ever.

Second in the World. Kelly in the Top Ten. One spot ahead of Gabe Medina. Totally mad.

Kelly is making this year a real pleasure. I feel ashamed for casting aspersions on the credibility of the injury wildcard they gave him.