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.


Derek Hynd, surfing's great intellectual and, may god strike me down for using the word, influencer. | Photo: Jon Frank/Beyond Litmus

Surfing’s greatest influencer loses house, iconic surfboards, and dog, in fire!

Creator of The Search, friction-free surfing and the fish craze loses everything. Want to help him out?

A couple of nights ago, iconic surf writer, former pro surfer, creator of Rip Curl’s The Search campaign and fins-free pioneer, Derek Hynd, lost his house, and most of his, his son’s and a pal’s stuff, in a fire.

Now, when you’re Derek Hynd, a former world twelve, whose writing and ideas influenced everyone from Tom Curren to Andrew Kidman to Ellis Ericson, it ain’t just junk that goes up in flames.

DH’s house on Tyagarah Road, Myocum, NSW, during and after. Photos: nbnnews

Hynd, who is sixty-two and whose “friction-free” surfing and reflections on his throat cancer form the nucleus of Beyond Litmus, this year’s sequel to the seminal 1996 film Litmus, saw a forty-year collection of writing, memorabilia and his surfboards, including the little five-eight Skip Frye fish from Litmus, disappear in the flames.

(Note: Andrew Kidman photographed the iconic board before it combusted.)

And, so, a Facebook page has been set up to raise twenty-gees for DH who, despite his influence never really saw much cash, to get back on his feet.

He lives simply and is reflecting on how little he really needs despite this devastating loss to family and the general archives of international surfing. He is completely off grid and does not like asking for anything but right now needs basic help from friends and community.

Urgently required is a water tank, an old cleaned computer and the gaming equipment that many sons are locked into. He also needs a decent lightweight wheelchair for a mate who also lost the lot on Monday night. Thereafter, simple resources to demolish, remove, restructure, rebuild. It was a recent dwelling thus no asbestos.

That’s about it. Bit of a bummer. Help pretty well welcome.

Derek’s email is [email protected]

So far, a little under $A1500 has been raised.

Help a brother out, yeah?


Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms WSL
Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms WSL

Live from Lemoore: “And Kelly Slater cast them into a furnace where there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

The horror. The horror.

I swore on my ex-mother-in-law’s Avenal double-wide that I would never ever ever return to the California’s central valley but yesterday found me there underneath a relentless sun, standing in Lemoore’s dry dirt thinking, “What on earth has Kelly Slater wrought?” It would be impossible for even the most poetically apocalyptic mind to dream up a more torturous scene. A tableau filled with more… hopelessness.

John of Patmos, Dante Alighieri, Stephan King all prostrate themselves at the eleven-time World Champion’s surgically repaired foot.

And I wish I could tell you that I was there for some great joke, a follow-up to last year’s billboard but alas. We kicked around a few ideas. A giant image of smiling John John with the words “Do you miss me yet?” underneath. This one of the World Surf League’s President of Content, Media, Studios and 1/2 lbs. Big Mouth Burgers Erik “ELo’ Logan and me with some glib line but nothing stuck and our window closed.

No, I was in Lemoore for something far more prosaic though beautiful, a project you will enjoy soon, but did have the occasion to speak with many professional surfers. To peer into their eyes and sense the deep ache in their souls.

Did you know each professional surfer gets two waves a day leading up to the event? Not two hours but two waves? One left. One right. Their two waves are slotted throughout the day. They get their practice schedule, head for the pool, surf down, surf back and are finished until the next day.

Roughly one minute of surfing coupled with one four minute wait.

Imagine that.

Imagine you a professional surfer and your two wave slot is 8:30 in the morning. You wake up, eat breakfast, spend your five minutes in the tank then stare down the barrel of twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes in Lemoore.

I spoke with Ryan Callinan from Australia’s Newcastle. He fell on his first turn, busting his fin out but he didn’t know until the next wave when he slid around strangely and that was it. No more. See you again in twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes. Then again in twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes. Then again in twenty-three hours and fifty-five minutes.

I asked how he planned on spending his time. He said he was thinking about driving to Yosemite. I told him it was a 3.5 hour drive. San Francisco? A 3.5 hour drive. Los Angeles? A 3.5 hour drive. The nearest beach? A lousy one and a 3.5 hour drive.

Kelly Slater conjured a place that traps fit, tan, healthy, physically gifted specimens 3.5 hours from anything resembling life breathing cow stink and second-hand Marlborough Red and jet exhaust from Lemoore’s naval air base. He feeds them their choice of hot dog, hamburger, hard-shell taco, encourages them to play rigged Indian casino slot machines, the only form of entertainment within the 3.5 hour bubble, and teases their minds with two waves. One right. One left.

Imagine that.

David Lynch’s most experimental bio horror is a romantic comedy in comparison. Dutch filmmaker Tom Six’s work is no more disturbing than an episode of Friends when juxtaposed with Kelly Slater’s Surf Ranch.

I spoke with current world number 6 Italo Ferreira and asked how he was spending his time. He smiled and said, “I go to my room, put on music and dance.”

Italo for the win, I suppose.