Comment Live: Day Two of the Freshwater Pro presented by OuterKnown!

It's peak World Surf League!

My favorite part of yesterday was when, following a Tomas Herdy ride, Ron Blakey said, “And the crowd is really starting to fill in here…” while the camera panned up, out, over the vast emptiness of Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch on a day when the paying public was not allowed to enter. An amazing peek behind the Wall of Positive Noise. A rare and beautiful look just like those contraband pictures that get smuggled out of North Korea.

The day, itself, was so wildly odd and, if you didn’t catch, you must try today. I think when all this eventually collapses we’ll look back at these moments as peak World Surf League.

Franz Kafka could not have written it better and I’m dead serious.

Watch here!


Jen See: “I dreamed of a surf contest in the tules, the heat of a dying planet, a press conference with no questions!”

Our woman on the ground!

I am lying on a leather couch staring at a length of canvas that’s been stretched from the roofline to create shade where there is none. It’s mid-day in Lemoore, California. The air hangs weighted with dust, heat, the detritus of industrial agriculture, and the ghost humidity of ancient lakes, now drained. Kelly Slater fakes a phone call in the food line.

I had arrived in the morning for a WSL-sponsored media day. A press conference, interviews, and women’s round table comprised the schedule. I got coffee at the Tachi and looked longingly at the pool. What if I just went to the pool? What if I drove to Lemoore and went to the pool at the Tachi and then drove home? I give myself a stern lecture in responsibility and head to the Surf Ranch.

We assemble for the press conference. I have jotted some questions, because I never can think of them on the fly. There is a blessing from the Tachi natives, on whose ancestral lands the Surf Ranch now sits. Then Dave Prodan, sitting in for Joe Turpel, opens the press conference. Each of the six surfers at the table receives a question, which they answer. Then just like that, it’s over.

I sit in my white plastic seat, genuinely surprised. I have never been to a press conference where media do not ask questions. Generally, asking questions is the point of the exercise. I figure this must be some kind of special surf media ritual that I can’t possibly understand.

Because in truth, what do I know? I’m an imposter after all. I wandered into this house, sauntered to the kitchen, and made myself a sandwich. I laid down on the couch and made myself comfortable. Maybe eventually Chas and Derek will come home to discover that I’ve eaten all the food in the house and fallen asleep on their couch and what the hell is this weirdo even doing here. Until then, I guess I live here now.

I see Dave Prodan, so I ask him why there were no questions at the press conference. It turns out that in fact, this is a strange surf media ritual. During the early years of the present century, media would turn up for press conferences and ask Kelly Slater two hours of questions, while ignoring the rest of the athletes at the table. Everyone involved got tired of this pattern — Slater, the event sponsors, the other surfers — and this is why we can’t have nice things.

(As a side note, this is bad press conferencing, do not press conference like this. Scribble down the question you really want to ask, but also, several generics you can throw to anyone on the panel. If one person at the table has been asked ten questions, throw something to one of the others. Your stories will absolutely be better for it.)

I interview four of the women. More on that in a future dispatch, because I can not live transcribe like Derek, which is a source of great sadness to me. Carissa Moore is happy to have stayed under the radar in the world title race. Sally Fitzgibbons has enough energy to light up a small city. Courtney Conlogue, wearing rainbow tie dye from Lauren, tells me that “she doesn’t fit in anyone’s box,” which comes as no surprise to me at all. Steph Gilmore is her usual poised self and doesn’t give much away.

The women convene for the round table, which includes Sophie Goldschmidt and the five women who have won CT events this year. Jessi Miley Dyer leads the discussion, which focuses on equal prize money and the ways the women feel it has changed the sport. There isn’t much new here, but it’ll make a nice video package. My foot cramps and in deference to the rolling tape, I stifle a scream.

I head for the exits as Julian Wilson shows up for his practice wave. He carries a new board under his arm. Everything about this feels like an exercise in surrealism. He looks like an alien whose spaceship dropped him off at the wrong destination. Expensive-looking sunglasses hide his eyes (Smith, I believe), but can’t conceal the lost look on his face. How did I end up here?

Then I’m on the road, dreaming of that first fresh breath of ocean-infused air. I imagine marine layer and onshores, anything to blow away the heat-spun cobwebs in my head. I don’t bother to hope for surf, that would be far too much to ask for now. Just proximity. If I can just see the ocean, I can survive.

I’m halfway to Kettleman City, when the traffic grinds to a halt. There’s a paving project in progress. One-way traffic only. So there we all sit, a long snaking line. The sun bores down. I live here now. I live here in this shitty rental Nissan Sentra on the highway that should be carrying me as far as fast as possible from Lemoore, but isn’t. We’re stuck here. The No Exit jokes write themselves.

I never thought I’d be happy to see Kettleman City, which is a two-block road stop of a town. There’s gas stations on every corner, a Starbucks, several fast food outlets, and that’s about all. I strip off my Lemoore clothes (lululemon to hide the sweat) in the gas station parking lot and mix an electrolyte bottle. Chas sends me a text, but I’m too busy eating ice cream to reply.

Ice cream understands. Ice cream understands being stuck in a never-ending line of cars on the road out of Lemoore. Ice cream understands having to go to Lemoore in the first place. Ice cream understands your existential dilemmas and doesn’t give a fuck.

I half expect to wake up at home, the cat pawing at my face, to realize that none of this has actually happened. In the heat of a fever, I dreamed of a surf contest in the tules, the heat of a dying planet, a press conference with no questions, a line of immobile traffic on a long, straight road to an invisible horizon.

But no, this is real. I’m still there, standing on the cracked pavement at the Chevron in Kettleman City. I pilot the Sentra west through the blanched yellow hills. Ice cream drips down my fingers and rolls into my lap. I suck down my electrolyte mix, which pairs badly with ice cream. It’s all of a piece, all out of joint.

I tell myself this is the last time and then I laugh. I realize I said this very same thing while driving the same stretch of road a year ago. Someday maybe I will learn from my own mistakes, but not yet, not today.


As a platform for Gabe Medina, it is superfluous but still impressive. Gabe rode four waves, as did everyone else. Any two of his rides combined would have put him at the top of the leaderboard. He made the rest of the field look by turns squirrely, hesitant, incompetent, disinterested, anxious, overwhelmed, weak, unfit, one dimensional etc. | Photo: WSL

Freshwater Pro, Day one: “Medina makes rest of field look hesitant, incompetent, disinterested, anxious, overwhelmed, weak!”

Defending killer Gabriel Medina owns the pool, opening day, Lemoore…

I came with love in my heart, as God be my witness. That little Lemoore article, the one that made a compelling case for it to remain on tour, got me pumped, even Chas correlating Surf Ranch with the seventh circle of hell added intrigue.

Knowing how easily the tub gluts the digestive system I scrupulously avoided all the pre-match pu-pu’s. Didn’t touch a single one of the sugary little video treats the WSL offered up. Came in clean and hungry.

And, of course, Chris Cote laid down a heavy pre-emptive guilt trip on the media, admonishing us (me included, presumably) for the negative tone we were adopting. All’s I can say to that is the tone of the coverage will always depend on what side of the velvet rope you stand on.

So the positives.

As a platform for Gabe Medina, it is superfluous but still impressive. Gabe rode four waves, as did everyone else. Any two of his rides combined would have put him at the top of the leaderboard. He made the rest of the field look by turns squirrely, hesitant, incompetent, disinterested, anxious, overwhelmed, weak, unfit, one dimensional etc.

There is no luck at Surf Ranch, it delivers the most reliable and ruthless winnowing of the wheat from the chaff on tour. Wildcards do not have a puncher’s chance, not even a Hail Mary air will save them. A ride must be constructed and executed in it’s entirety; apples to apples comparisons are valid, unlike the ocean where the multiplicity of variables can always be relied upon as an excuse.

Poor Crosby Colapinto suffered most terribly coming in hot after Gabe Medina and the recency of the mental comparison probably shaved an extra half-point off his scores.

As a platform for Gabe Medina, it is superfluous but still impressive. Gabe rode four waves, as did everyone else. Any two of his rides combined would have put him at the top of the leaderboard. He made the rest of the field look by turns squirrely, hesitant, incompetent, disinterested, anxious, overwhelmed, weak, unfit, one dimensional etc.

There was zero incentive for Gabe, under the current format, to better his opening two rides, but he did it anyway each ride an intoxicating display of power and competence. That was the highlight of the day.

My daughter, a lifelong surfer, sat with me for a few rides. Scribble down scores I said to her. She could not distinguish one ride from another, unless they fell early. She was in fine company. That incomprehensibility barrier also tripped up Kelly Slater who declared,  “I can’t figure out the scoring today”.

Prepped for the global climate strike she took a few looks at the environmental greenwashing ads, compared it to the jetski, the power hungry train and said, “What is this bullshit, Dad?”

The greatest pleasure to be gained watching pro surfing in the basin was the knowledge that we were watching history, in the present. After poor ticket sales last year a decision was made to run the first day without the public present. Security guards scuffing their feet desultorily under she-oaks seemed witness to an embarrassing anti-atmosphere, commentary echoed around vacant spaces.

Was this really the lesser of the two embarrassments?

Between a half empty stadium, even if free admission was allowed and no public at all?

Is there a sporting analogue anywhere to match it?

The best of last year’s event, apart from Medina’s dominance, was the format.

The purity of a leaderboard where, for the first time, the top 34 surfed against the whole top 34. It did offer the closest thing to an objective assessment pro surfing has had to date. Obviously, not too flattering for many. This year they carved it up into meaningless six-man heats.

Which made the leaderboard itself a nonsense. How could you follow it when there was, in effect, two separate leaderboards happening at once.

The wall of positivity, so lovingly erected by a bevy of highly paid non-surfing management types head-hunted from the mainstream world never seemed so fragile and paper thin as it did today. Jeremy Flores openly mocked it declaring it a circus he could “not take seriously.”

Dora flipped the judges after an egregious under-score.

The surfing sunk to the lowest common denominator; Julian Wilson, in a veiled swipe at Kelly Slater who somehow managed to inhabit a higher rung on the leaderboard despite a non-progressive repertoire said archly, “You have to be able to do an air to get a decent score, otherwise it’s super repetitive”.

Remember that argument? That the tub would offer a platform for an incredible advancement in (aerial) surfing skills. Faced with the overwhelming lack of airs a forlorn Strider was forced to execute it in cold blood, in public. Airs were harder, he said. Safety surfing ruled.

The arguments pro pool were lined up and pushed off a cliff on the opening day at Lemoore.

Advancements in board design? It was left to Kelly Slater to be the sole surfer to ride different equipment. His little 5’5” twin-plus-nub looked insanely fast and different on a left, a luge ride with tight transitions. Otherwise, the hegemony of the thruster reigned supreme.

The slopey, fast left was mostly ridden in a series of foam climbs that were state of the art when Sarge was in his prime. A million safety snaps bloomed in the shimmering Central Californian heat waves. You can forget repetitive turns said Ronnie Blakey, we got repetitive turns, to the max.

Advancements in performance?

The slopey, fast left was mostly ridden in a series of foam climbs that were state of the art when Sarge was in his prime. A million safety snaps bloomed in the shimmering Central Californian heat waves. You can forget repetitive turns said Ronnie Blakey, we got repetitive turns, to the max.

Surely, the broadcast could at least be seamless, the scheduling tight as a fish’s bum. It would be easy to watch, easy to understand. WSL managed to come up with a website and broadcast as impenetrable as the Dead Sea Scrolls. Hours I put in yesterday trying to find a simple run sheet or heat draw. At points the coverage simply stopped, sans warning, while we watched Kelly in jeans ride a Teahupoo tube.

Was that the great turning? When Kelly inked a three-year deal with OK to sponsor Fiji only to silently renege on the deal after one year and turn to the tub instead?

This has to be the end of the line for the wavepool dream. Surely.

Sophie has to go. The gambit has failed. She needs to move along and the pool needs to be put into its proper perspective: a novelty, a VAL dream, a plaything for billionaires. It can’t go on like this, Soph. Give us a sign that shows you understand. Anything.

If you missed it and want to catch up just watch Medina’s four rides.

Everything else was a very distant second place.

Men’s Freshwater Pro pres. by Outerknown Leaderboard Top 8
Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.77
Griffin Colapinto (USA) 15.50
Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.97
Conner Coffin (USA) 14.07
Kelly Slater (USA) 13.87
Yago Dora (BRA) 13.63
Jesse Mendes (BRA) 13.30
Owen Wright (AUS) 13.26

 


Comment Live: Day One of the Freshwater Pro presented by OuterKnown!

Come to California's Central Valley!

I seriously had no idea this was being broadcast. I would like to put the heats up but don’t really know how because there are no heats yet, I don’t think. I would like to fill this place above the important bit, the “comment live” section with something worthwhile but I can’t.

Let me leave you with some inspiration instead.

For the only stop on tour take comfort in knowing each and every pro would trade places with you right now, wherever you are!

Watch with the lucky ones here!


Brave: Steph Gilmore defects over WSL’s “Wall of Positive Noise” and offers critical opinion of tour!

Cut it all down!

When I was a young boy, those brave souls who challenged the authority of East Germany’s State Security Service, or Stasi, fascinated me. There they were, walled into a metastasized communist garden, spies on their left, listening devices on their right, boldly defying the odds. Penalties for getting caught with forbidden literature or stating a contrary opinion were wildly stiff. Penalties for helping people escape over that wall included the very real possibility of death. Oh how scary, but thrilling, it must have been to be a rebel.

Today, I feel much the same about those who defy the authoritarian World Surf League and dare sail over the “Wall of Positive Noise” with anything resembling criticism. As you know, the WSL refuses any opposition, stuffing ears with Joe Turpel’s syrupy nothings and cotton candy. There was a press conference at Surf Ranch, yesterday, ahead of the Freshwater Pro and questions were not allowed.

No questions at all.

Surf journalists who speak out are forbidden to appear in any of the World Surf League’s new productions including, but not limited to, Surf Ranch Sessions and Transformed. I can’t even imagine the penalty for professional surfer dissent. These brave souls are even more rare than those 1980s East Germans and, therefore, more inspiring.

And let us turn our gaze on seven-time World Champion Steph Gilmore who recently let fly an amazing refutation of Santa Monica’s business model. She was being interviewed by Pablo Zanocchi of the wonderful Spanish-language dukesurf.com and, to the question, “Speaking of surfing equity, have you asked the authorities to have 32 women as there are 32 men?” answered:

I think we can get there one day, I don’t know if now that … To be honest, I think there should be fewer men. I think we spent so many days at the events waiting for swells that if we had fewer men, maybe 18 and 18 we could finish the events much faster, in a good swell, instead of waiting for two.

Whoa.

And I hope beyond hope that Ms. Gilmore is too high profile for the League to disappear. I hope beyond hope that she is not relegated to the WSL’s own gulag but I fear it might already be too late for that.

I saw her in line for the Tachi Palace’s Coyote Grille restaurant, two days ago, with Jake Patterson. She turned around, before being shown her table in the windowless space where the fluorescent lighting is turned down low to create “mood” and offered a very gracious hello. I looked deep into her eyes and saw life vanishing.