Jen See: “The women’s title race remains wildly dynamic!”

"All bets are off!"

Back in 2017, Sally Fitzgibbons needed only a good performance at Honolua to win the world title. She looked to have it within her grasp. Then the waves went flat. Not a bump on the horizon. For what felt like an eternity, she could only sit and watch as the clock ticked down. It started to rain. Which, go ahead and fire the writers on this film. The rain was going way too far. Tyler Wright went on to win the title that day, while Fitzgibbons was forced to settle for third in the final rankings.

Now Fitzgibbons is leading the title race, after beating Carissa Moore in the finals at the Oi Rio Pro. During her first three years on Tour, Fitzgibbons finished second twice behind Gilmore and once behind Moore. This could be the year she finally wins one — but if the first five events of this season are anything to go by, there’s a long way to go before this thing is over. Predicting the women’s world title race this year is a fool’s game.

I am not a morning person, so the vast majority of the Oi Rio Pro took place while I was hugging my pillow. I’ll confess to taking an impressionistic approach to watching heats. Basically, I watched the ones I wanted to watch. This seemed like a perfectly journalistically responsible approach to take. I considered picking one surfer at random and only watching her heats. Maybe I’ll do it that way for France. Waking up to watch sports in France while living in California is not rad, in my experience.

Women’s round three unfolded in the kind of fucked up beach break most of us would watch from the beach. I like mixed up beach break about as much as I like going left. Let’s just say, these are not my favorite conditions. After she won her round 3 heat, Strider asked Moore how she managed to find scoring waves. Moore laughed and said, I don’t know, you tell me. That was largely the story of Oi Rio: the search for scoring waves.

Moore was among the more successful at this game during round 3 and won her heat against local wildcard Taina Hinckel with a five and a six. Hinckel met Moore after winning her elimination round heat against Fitzgibbons and Nikki Van Dijk. Shoutout to the local wildcard girl! Hinckel couldn’t make much headway against Moore. Despite her self-deprecating interview, Moore seemed relatively comfortable in the wild conditions.

With so many lefts on offer, I was looking forward to seeing Caroline Marks surf frontside. I swear to you, every time I saw her on a wave, she was going right. It does make a certain amount of sense — if you know you can get the scores going backside, well, you’re going to do that in a heat. Marks went out in round 3 to Keely Andrew. It was a low-scoring heat and both women struggled to find rideable waves.

Together with Moore, Fitzgibbons and Peterson proved the standouts in round 3. With a combination of luck and skill, they managed to find scoring waves amidst the chaos. Peterson’s athleticism gave her an edge in the bumpy conditions. Her turns looked solid and she ably dispatched Macy Callaghan in lopsided heat. Defay took an early lead against Fitzgibbons, but it didn’t last long. Fitzgibbons found a tidy left that was good for a seven and change. The judges seemed inclined to reward anything resembling a legit turn out there — which given the conditions, was not wrong, necessarily.

For finals day, the contest moved down the beach. The conditions cleaned up, sure, but remained shifty. Long lulls, plenty of closeouts, plenty of backwash. The crowd on the beach really didn’t seem to care. Sun, beer — a good day out for all involved, if not the most scintillating event to watch on the internet.

After her performance in round 3, Peterson’s quarterfinal was frankly a shocker. She struggled to find anything to ride and went down to Fitzgibbons with a heat total of 1.20. A couple years back, Peterson broke her foot in the backwash at Oxnard. I couldn’t help but wonder if that injury got in her head a bit as she faced the backwash bumps and closeouts at Barrinha. She looked unusually tentative. Fitzgibbons waltzed away with an eight and a six to make the semis.

My favorite heats in women’s surfing happen between Moore and Steph Gilmore. Almost without fail, they bring out the best in each other. Their semi at Barrinha got off to a slow start. Moore took an early lead with a couple of three’s, but it would have been a surprise if those numbers had held. And sure enough they did not.

The heat got serious when Moore pulled into a nifty barrel on a set wave and managed to shimmy out of it for a 7.5. Gilmore, who’d been struggling a bit in the closeouts, needed something special. Of course, being Steph, she found it: A long barrel with a clean snap to finish it. The judges liked it. Like, really, really liked it. Gilmore grabbed a nine and took over the lead.

But Moore wasn’t done. She found another seven and with clock ticking down, Gilmore needed a six and change. A small insider at the buzzer was all Gilmore could find — and it wasn’t enough. Last year at Huntington, Moore lost after Gilmore got the score on her final wave. This time, the decision went Moore’s way. It was a characteristic heat for both of them, in some ways. Moore, rock solid, consistent. Gilmore, flairing with a big score, one of the highest of the day for the women.

Anytime Gilmore and Moore compete, it feels like a final. By comparison the semi between Fitzgibbons and Andrew felt anticlimactic. A low-scoring affair, Fitzgibbons advanced with a 7.63 — lower than Moore’s single-wave score.

I had Moore to win the final and for much of the heat, it looked like she had it. While Moore had a seven and a five in hand, Fitzgibbons unrolled a series of low-scoring waves on the inside. There was, as it turned out, a method to the madness. Fitzgibbons sold the judges on a couple of cheeky little coverups. Not quite barrels, but close enough to catch their jaded eyes. A 5.97 felt overscored, but it’s hard to argue with Fitzgibbons’s animated style. She knows how to sell it.

The heat turned on a barrel to closeout smack combination from Fitzgibbons. The barrel was neither as deep or as clean as Gilmore’s nine. It was the flying closeout banger that earned Fitzgibbons the score — and fairly, I think, though I had to watch it a couple times to decide. Thanks to an eight on that thing, Fitzgibbons won Oi Rio — and took over the lead in the world rankings. I’ll confess, I did not see that coming.

The women’s title race remains wildly dynamic. With five events completed, no one has won more than one event. Marks, Gilmore, Conlogue, Peterson, and Fitzgibbons: Each has won an event. With the exception of Gilmore, each has also gone out early at least once, if not twice in the early rounds. Marks and Peterson have two ninths; Fitzgibbons has one.

Though she hasn’t yet won an event, Moore remains the most consistent. Neither Moore nor Gilmore have finished below the quarters this year. Over on Instagram, Rabbit Bartholomew commented to Moore that she’d set herself up perfectly for a late-year run at the title. And he might just be right. If this year has shown us anything so far, though, the women’s title race is anything but predictable. Five events down, five to go.

With J-Bay up next, we head straight into Gilmore’s territory. It’s all but impossible to bet against the seven-time champ in good conditions at J-Bay. (Want a reminder? I got you.) If Gilmore wants to hold off a run up the rankings from Moore, she’ll need to win at J-Bay. The wave pool, France, and Honolua all suit Moore. And of course, there’s Fitzgibbons, sitting up there leading the whole damn thing.

All bets are off.


Overdue: Surfing finally gets super cute thanks to Japanese mixed media project WAVE!!

Kawaii!

I don’t know about you, but I generally don’t consider male surfers “cute.” Oh sure we’ve had Baby John John, tween Julian and tiny tot Jack Robinson but they have all grown into grizzled men, beaten unrecognizable by an unrelenting sun, soaking in unforgiving brine, flying around the world again and again and again and you know how bad flying is for your skin. You see yourself in those airplane bathroom mirrors, bags under eyes etc.

No, male surfers aren’t cute but the idea of surfing can’t get cuter and therefore it thrills me that Japan, host of the 2022 Olympiad, has stepped in.

You are well aware of Japan’s kawaii culture and I don’t have to explain that while the word looks like Hawaii and sounds like Kauai it could not be more different than both. Hawaii and Kauai are filled with cultural problems and methamphetamine pock marks. Japan’s kawaii means “cute” as in “childlike, charming, shy and innocent” and, finally, a very famous Japanese artist has turned surfers into kawaii manga characters.

And shall we learn Wave!!? Well, we have to.

If you haven’t heard of WAVE!!… well, you have now. And the surfing-centric mixed media project is set to party hard for its fan base this August.

WAVE!! is a product of LOVE&ART (B-Project) featuring character designs Yomi Sarachi (WIXOSS). The story is, basically, eight cute anime boys love surfing. From there, plans are afoot for anime, manga, games, CDs, and much more.

This new key visual came along with news of of their first live event. Dubbed WAVE!! 1st Event ~Wonderful Party~, all eight of the project’s lead voice actors are scheduled to appear. Filling out the voice ranks, and thus the stage, will be notable personalities such as Tomoaki Maeno (White Blood Cell, Cells at Work!), Yoshiki Nakajima (Nitta, Hinamatsuri), and Nobuhiko Okamoto (Rin, Blue Exorcist).

Etc.

Now, it is very important for us to look at the picture above and the one below and choose which character best embodies your own spirit. The cute blonde boy throwing an upside-down shaka? The moody tall drink of water with long red hair? The one in ripped jeans and a “Shorebreak” t-shirt? The raven hair’d boy with a Hayden Shape’d board on his shoulders?

Which character best embodies the ’89 World Champion Martin Potter’s?


Longtom: “New documentary is the greatest film about surfing ever made!”

In its treatment of the emotional and physical extremes of big-wave surfing and the reality of death this movie transcends its subject matter.

Since humans came out of the trees, or out of the swamps if you believe the aquatic ape theory, as I do, the earliest stories we have told ourselves have been of monsters of the deep.

The first literature we know of: Beowulf, The Epic of Gilgamesh features heroes battling watery monsters. No wonder big-wave surfing, a modern day trope of the ancient theme, where surfers seek a “chilling ecstasy” in waves that can kill, exerts such an arresting influence on filmmakers and audiences alike.

Films about big-wave surfing almost all suffer by succumbing to the irresistible temptation to over play the hand. Waving around fully erect for 90 minutes in a state of over engorged high drama makes for great trailers but terrible films. Heavy Water is a different film altogether.

The latest incarnation Heavy Water, by Sea of Darkness director Mike Oblowitz, examines the nexus of death and big-wave surfing through the deadpan delivery and life arc of Nathan Fletcher.

Films about big-wave surfing almost all suffer by succumbing to the irresistible temptation to over play the hand. Waving around fully erect for 90 minutes in a state of over engorged high drama makes for great trailers but terrible films.

Heavy Water is a different film altogether. Eschewing the constant drama it spends most of it’s time building and maintaining an atmosphere of claustrophobic dread.

In its treatment of the emotional and physical extremes of big-wave surfing and the reality of death it transcends its subject matter.

The greatest film about surfing ever made, I think. Please allow me to persuade.

Leathered ancient Woody Brown sets the emotional tone of the film in the opening montage.

“I loved to challenge death,” he claims, with the resulting thrill giving his life a frisson the unjazzed could never comprehend.

Nathan is introduced. We are all familiar with the broad narrative arc: son of Herbie Fletcher, brother of Christian, grandson to big-wave pioneers Flippy Hoffman etc. In a sense, it was a risk to hear Nathan speak. In doing so the danger was the mystique that surrounds him would be gone and gone for good.

A man of few words might be concealing anything, or nothing at all.

Thankfully, in Nate Fletchers case it’s a whole heap of the former.

Despite the advantages of the groomed industry upbringing Fletcher found his own path pretty quickly and it was radical. Falling into the orbit of surf/skate/punk icon Jay Adams shit got very loose, very quickly. The opening stanza of the film explores the influences of a radical California skate/punk culture that no longer exists. Its tentacles extended outwards across the Indo-Pacific.

Like every other cat my first OS trip was Bali.

Lacking a budget we crashed in the Ulu’s warungs, which you could do for free if you could handle rats, monkeys and lying on bamboo mats. I met Jay Adams and Owl Chapman and that’s what I thought surfing was: mushroom milkshakes, airs at low-tide Racetrack and Team Pain tattooed on a neck.

Jay had scary, don’t-give-a-fuck eyes and an unbelievable intensity which flies out of the screen in a scene where Nathan interviews him on home video. The film mostly skirts the darkness of Jay Adams. The next time I saw him was in the tenements of Sunset Vistas on Sunset Point. Jay busted through the door one night, as naked as the day he was born, hid in the bathroom for hours while men with baseball bats roamed the neighborhood, then slid into the surf and swam to safety somewhere. A dangerous friend.

His wasn’t the only radical friendship cultivated by Fletcher. He got cosy with the Irons Brothers at Pipeline. A mutual admiration developed. A kinship with Bruce had parallels with overbearing and aggressive older brothers, Andy gave Bruce hell and although it’s never explicitly stated in the film the presence of Christian in Nathan’s life has a hard edge to it that no editing can hide.

Things came to head on a pre-millennial trip to the Mentawais which coincided with Andy’s 21st Birthday. Andy tried to drink with Matt Archbold, a very unwise move according to Christian. He stopped breathing, poisoned. It was Nathan who found him and brought him back to life.

Life-and-death friendships and a calm intensity in heavy water dominate the second half the film as a sense of inevitability settles on the film. People seemed marked for death, or greatness, or both in the case of AI.

A delicious irony propels the narrative. Despite the Laird/Kalama team bathing in the glory of the tow-in revolution it was Nathan’s father Herbie who pioneered the use of power in the surf zone with jetskis at Pipeline. And it was Nathan who swung the pendulum back to paddle surfing in giant surf on the outer reefs of the North Shore. Phantoms, Himalayas, Outside Alligators, all tamed by Fletcher and pals on dedicated sleds built to get in early in thirty-foot-plus surf.

I fell head over heels for the film at this point.

Hollywood would have ran straight ahead to the tragedy of Sion Milosky’s death at Mavericks and Nathan’s redemption waves at Cloudbreak and Teahupoo but Oblowitz detours left, into surfboard design. We meet a barrel-chested, long-haired barefoot shaper, Leroy Dennis, and the story of eleven and twelve-foot surfboards.

History and lineage flow through into the present. The Buzzy Trent outline, the Brewer rail profile. Combined with Nathans re-introduction of the four fin it illuminated a feature of his big wave paddle-ins. He gets in earlier, cleaner and cuts a deeper, purer line from a more forwards stance than any other big waver. It’s something never mentioned but it becomes obvious in the film.

From outer reefs to Mavericks, to the left at Jaws, Nate gets in better than anyone.

How do people survive giant surf? The answer is, they don’t always.

The death toll slowly ticks over. Year on year. Mavericks surfer Grant Washburn reminds us that you are pushing up against human limits and it’s not a case of mind over matter. Shit goes wrong, people die. Fletcher’s strategy for survival is one of limited exposure. It’s the same one used by American author Jim Harrison as outlined in his obit in the NY times.

In this case, it applies to eating but it makes more sense when considering giant surf.

“The idea,” Mr. Harrison wrote, “is to eat well and not die from it — for the simple reason that that would be the end of your eating.”

We all know Sion Milosky drowned at Mavericks. The details make for some of the most powerful and moving cinema ever made about surfing. Nathan had done the business and got out, limited exposure, Sion was on a roll and wanted to charge on.

Fletcher heads back to the harbour to drop off Danny Fuller and comes back out with a new board. In late afternoon fall light, and to Fletcher ‘s incredulity, Sion is gone. A panicked search ensues. Milosky is found face down still attached to his board floating around the inside rocks.

Cold and dead.

A victim of the limits of human experience being violated one too many times and what Fletcher described chillingly as a failure by skis in the line-up to account for “inventory.”

I’d always wondered about the timeline of that year. Fate brought me into contact with Nathan at the high point of his big-wave journey. We crossed paths on the small bridge at Teahupoo on the morning of the Code Red swell in Tahiti before he entered the water.

A few hours later, I witnessed first hand and close-up the infamous Teahupoo monster he rode and that could have easily claimed him, like Mavs did Sion.

Sion died March 16, 2011. July 12 Nathan paddled an extra perfect massive wave at Cloudbreak on a pink ten-footer. August 27 he got the Code Red Teahupoo wave.

That’s a gnarly few months in any estimation.

What is obvious from Heavy Water is that Nathan Fletcher is a man whose inner and outer worlds exist in a strange kind of asynchrony. When I met him on the bridge at Teahupoo he seemed almost preternaturally calm and composed. He describes the mission as being disorganised and his internal state as a nervous wreck. Chaos was the dominant theme that day at Teahupoo.

It seemed inevitable human beings would be crushed under the weight of mountains of deformed bacterial-green ocean.

Gendarmes prevented boats leaving the harbour. It was after midday when I finally snuck aboard a vessel after a whole lot of hustle. The lagoon was heaving with current like a tsunami. The first wave I saw was a Bruce Irons beast that ripped his shorts off.

Within minutes, Nathan was being whipped in.

Memories are unreliable, I recall something so dark as to be subterranean, the footage shows a wan sunlight illuminating the wave. I remember screaming, horrified screaming, but that might have been my internal monologue. Even today, I have no words to describe it, except for deeply terrifying. My stomach felt full of ice cold gravel.

As the moment of impact became inescapable Nathan submitted to fate, “Oh well I’ve had a great life, humans just don’t handle this”.

But he did. He came back.

The film could have ended there. But as a coda to a life of extreme wave chasing Nathan planned a stunt to acid drop a white crested boomer from a chopper.

“This has to be lame,” I thought. A lame, Hollywood gimmick.

It is not lame.

It is so fucking good.

I loved this sequence so much.

It is so well shot, so masterfully edited with so much flow with a soundtrack that paws along underneath like a caged beast pacing in a cage.

When Darrick Doerner made a cameo as safety officer in blue camo I was in ecstasy. No spoilers. Some will see it as a stunt.

I say, appreciate it on it’s merits, as a masterpiece of filmmaking.

I watched Oblowitz’s Sea of Darkness anchored up off Sipora. The dream of “60 feet on the waterline” affected everyone who viewed.

This film, which explores why we do what we do, who we are and how the granite strata of fate traps us all, is better.

The best surf film ever made. I urge you to see it, in the strongest possible terms.

Heavy Water opens in 150 cinemas across Australia tomorrow (June 26); UK Tour Dates here. 

USA cinema release to come.


"Hello. Do you know a place I can keep my boat?"

Wanted: A slip or mooring somewhere in LA or Orange county!

Also juicy surf secrets!

I sometimes use our BeachGrit like a personal soapbox, screeching about this or that, jabbing my finger into the air because I have caught a wild hair and think whatever non-sober passion smashing through my brain is sensible, valuable and makes great sense. I’m sorry but what I love most about this space is that it feels like a conversation. Like a real, honest, funny conversation and in our day and age of bots and purchased “likes” “shares” etc. that feels important even when I’m just screeching.

Which brings me to my point. As you know, I have recently fallen in love with sailing. Not the sort of sailing that Travis Rice and recently injured John John Florence do all masculine and tough but sailing nonetheless (and involving Yemen, Djibouti, Eritrea, Sudan and Egypt) and I need your help. My best friend with a wonderful 70 foot downwind sled is losing his mooring in Newport Beach. I had no idea but moorings and slips, like houses in Southern California, have unhinged value attached. The man who owns his bought it a few years ago and sold it for double at the beginning of the month.

He needs a new one and, ergo, I need a new one. Do you know anyone renting a mooring or slip anywhere in Los Angeles or Orange Counties (and I’m gonna throw San Diego County in here too even though he’ll be mad)? For a 70 footer? Oh I’d be the most grateful ever if you did and emailed [email protected] You could come sailing all you wanted and also I’d tell you all the surf secrets I know that I can’t print.

There’s some juicy ones.

And the sailing is too much fun.

Email [email protected]?

Thank you!


Find Pip!

Question: How absolutely green with jealousy was Gabriel Medina yesterday?

"More men die of jealousy than cancer."

Do you suffer from jealousies? Seeing people get either what you could have had or want very much? I don’t think I do but probably burn as much as the next man unless that next man is Brazilian champion Gabriel Medina and imagine the internal combustion in his heart yesterday on the sands of the Oi Rio Pro.

For there thousands upon thousands of his countrymen were swept into an absolute frenzy by one of their one, Filipe Toledo. Medina had surfed the event earlier in the day, bowing out in the quarterfinals to American as apple pie Kolohe Andino. And there he sat, bowed out, watching the crowd swell, build and roar as Filipe dispatched South African as boerewors Jordy Smith.

And how sad must he have been? Sad or sizzling with envy. He had been the one befriending Brazilian soccer star Neymar Jr. He had been the one broadcast into Brazilian homes nightly, shaving his supple skin. And now those Brazilians who loved him so could barely even shake their hips as a greeting. There was no room for anyone but Filipe Toledo.

It must have stung and stung badly but how will this covetousness alter the rest of the year? Will we witness rabid Brazilian on Brazilian violence or will Gabriel cram those feelings so deeply into his heart that they’ll only manifest themselves in some weird sexual way when he is 65 years old?

Much to discuss.

Also, how do you grade the commentators over the event? The box was all mixed up, Barton with Brad, Pottz with Kaipo, Pete instead of Rosy.

Better, worse or same as the traditional crew?