Gabe Medina has opened up a new front and punched a huge hole into future dominance over John John Florence. It was hard to see John making the top eight at the pool, let alone coming anywhere near the tracks Medina laid down. | Photo: WSL

Freshwater Pro, Finals Day: “A transcendent Gabriel Media makes mockery of opponents, of the format, of the optics, of the context itself!”

The new world number one has opened up a new front and punched a huge hole into future dominance over John John Florence.

Has there ever been a contest victory more predictable, more pre-ordained than Gabe Medina’s win today in the 2019 Freshwater Pro at Lemoore?

From the start to the end, he made a mockery of his opponents, of the format, even of the optics and context itself; with the event following on from the greatness of Teahupoo. From start to finish Gabe transcended.

He found a line on the slopey, crumbly left that eluded others, continued to refine the backside power game and parallel back leg laid flat tube-riding stance going the same way that has proven unbeatable in comp after comp there.

He destroyed the Coté doctrine of a universal tepid positivity by elevating the dynamic range of an event that had seemed mired in a vanilla blancmange. Without the negative counter-balancing there would have been no way of understanding the extent to which he dominated, rescuing the tub from terminal mediocrity.

Most surfers got thirty seconds in the post heat presser, Kelly Slater, following his elimination got minutes, including an entire ride from Willian Cardoso explaining mostly how the event had elevated performance levels from last year.

Jordy Smith had the temerity to lay a passive-aggressive goldmine in front of his remaining peers claiming they were “not pushing too hard, merely placing their turns and getting the scores”.

As far as Jordy Smith chokes go, it wasn’t top five, but it was up there.

Medina was the sole plank underpinning that argument.

Most went soft. Predictability and safety ruled.

None moreso than Jordy Smith. After a completed rodeo in his bonus run his finals runs were a letdown. Bad reads, incomplete, too easily paced. He then had the temerity to lay a passive-aggressive goldmine in front of his remaining peers claiming they were “not pushing too hard, merely placing their turns and getting the scores”.

As far as Jordy Smith chokes go, it wasn’t top five, but it was up there.

The argument for progression was on much more solid ground for the women’s draw. Backside tube-riding prowess, or lack of it, drew the ire of Pirate Commentator, David Lee Scales, who posited a biological impediment, an argument swiftly demolished by Derek Rielly as antiquated phrenology.

Guys could barely ride backside in the tube as recently as Grajagan in the mid-nineties he claimed – rightly – and the women were advancing rapidly, despite varying levels of skill set. Johanne Defay stood out with a classic stance, Lakey’s was solid, Caroline Marks had a tube stance that looked more awkward but still got the job done.

The scoring seemed to fall apart for the women during the finals. Historian Matt Warshaw was running through a detailed history of the original wavepool event in Allenstown PA as the top women flared out. It was a radical enough juxtaposition of history overlaid on the present to highlight how far women’s surfing has come.

Carissa Moore surfed a right perfectly and with no commentary I scribbled down 9.1. It was awarded a 7.73. Lakey P smashed her bonus runs to finish ahead of Defay and then thanked God and dedicated the win to the climate strikers claiming the “Earth really needs our help right now.”

Even allowing the most generous interpretation for the water hungry, power hungry tubs it’s hard to see how the Earth would be helped by more of them. Unless we abandon ourselves completely to hedonism and they are made free for every man, women and child in the first, second and third worlds.

Who buys the do what I say but not what I do enviro-messaging of the WSL?

Honest question. The kids don’t. Thats for sure.

Warshaw flagged the possibility that our collective read on the tub maybe minorly, or majorly off base. That what we see as failure might be success, perhaps in the medium term, perhaps even right now. Tuning back to the pirate YouTube feed Chas had a full kitten head wobble going, on the FB feeds 2.2 thousand were watching the English feed, 6.2k on the Portuguese. Granted, there can be a stunning disconnect between online and the real world but I’d walked the streets and stalked the local line-ups speaking to guys and gals who I know live and breathe surf comp watching.

I could not find a positive spin, nor even a committed watcher. The promised stadium surfing vibe was AWOL, at least judging from the broadcast. Judgement had been made.

But the Finals Day was sick. Incentive to go big was finally present. Julian Wilson dodged the toob, who would have ever anticipated that tube-dodging would look as liberating as the French Resistance? –  to launch a backside big spin, or varial, greased perfectly.

Colapinto looked both mechanical and as loose as Travolta in Saturday Night fever in his opening left. The 7.5 drew queries from the booth, as an underscore. It seemed more of an indictment on Colapinto for failing to bring an aerial attack than legit reckoning of the wave ridden.

Twelve of the 32 rides (pre-bonus) of the final were fallen on. The outside section of the left being a notable graveyard for pro surfer ambition. Only Griffin and Yago Dora were able to improve on the opening runs.

Filipe made it look the most fun.

Nursing a back injury that flared up after his best wave in the final he gave us an old school layback on the end section toob on the left and a pair of cheater five toobs on the right, when he seemed in cruise control. In toying with it so he redeemed the wave from what had been identified by Warshaw and commentators as what I call the “scarcity paradox”.

Despite the machine pumping out perfect waves all day long there never seems to be enough. Enough to feel the joy and the abundance of the ocean. This scarcity produces a grim, grasping feeling, both in the surfer (who all expressed this desire for more, more, more) and the watcher.

Pulling individual rides out of the three-day melange of rides is almost impossible bar the handful that Gabe rode and the ones Pip toyed with.

It’ll take ten years to parse the history of this event. Whether we see it as an anomaly like jetski tow-ins in big surf or if this really does represent some new step forwards. After today, my earlier unshakeable convictions that we were witnessing the live snuff movie of the wavepool experiment feel more brittle.

And if they do go forwards with it Gabe Medina has opened up a new front and punched a huge hole into future dominance over John John Florence. It was hard to see John making the top eight at the pool, let alone coming anywhere near the tracks Medina laid down.

He laid the Medina line on for his opening left in the finals. The fin-drifts at speed, gaining speed as the fins are loosed over the coping that seemed super-glue for others, the repertoire and the Kerrupt flip at the end. It was perfect. A ten that was short-changed seventh hundredths of a point to satisfy, what? Some future that may never be realised presumably.

The final was over following Gabe’s next wave, a righthander that turned the torrid sky above into a cascade of slowly diminishing rainbows as spray plumes hung in the air.

What to think. Three days does not work. A

one day, a half-day novelty event for big money? UFC man on man match-ups on different equipment?

Gabe did not need his bonus runs but we wanted to see them.

We did not. Dead air followed by a half a left then nothing.

It ended as it began: a debacle where the only person covered in glory was Gabe Medina.


The mysterious Owen Wright, in a thimble-sized tub tube. | Photo: WSL

Comment live: Finals Day, Freshwater Pro Presented by Outerknown feat. Pirate Commentary!

Come join the narrative as the WSL crowns a new king of Lemoore…

If you’re reading this, it’s one am in Australia and the hot coconut oil has cooled on my body and left a pleasing sheen, although I’m four-and-a-half hours from opening my eyes.

You, I imagine, live in America or Europe and the sun is a fantastic citrus in the sky.

Over the course of two days of surfing, we’ve seen, on day one, “MEDINA MAKES REST OF FIELD LOOK HESITANT, INCOMPETENT, DISINTERESTED, ANXIOUS, OVERWHELMED, WEAK!”, the theme obvious, and, yesterday, “A HALF-DANGLING, HALF-SUCKED COCK AT A WEDDING!”, a reference to the “feelings of despair and frustration from the (diminishing) legion of hard-core surf fans who have stuck with the broadcast from the basin.”

Today?

Join the narrative below?

And I’ll see y’all a little later.


The Champ, with buckle.

Question: Do you want a Wavepool tour and chlorine world champion?

The missing link, yes?

A little while ago, a lesbian big-wave surfer whom I’d previously thought lovely and reasonable, got steamed up when I suggested, in passing, that two failed take-offs did not a big-wave world title make.

The surfer issued an invitation on Instagram for readers to pile on, which they did with gusto. Some very good points were raised with The Inertia’s Zach Weisberg and Blue Crush lead Kate Bosworth making fine cameos.

Read that here. And here. 

I’m not sure why, I certainly didn’t complain, but the Instagram post was deleted.

Anyway, the world titles-being-handed-out-at-single-events thing demonstrated that there was nothing stopping BeachGrit from anointing our own world champion.

Given there isn’t a wavepool tour or world champion, and given the innumerable world titles already birthed, big-wave, small-wave, amateur, Olympic, junior and so on, the matter seemed obvious.

I thought Stab High was a very good idea, although the number of competitors too many.

So.

I would contact each of the major pools: Waco, the new builds of the Cove in Melbourne, Bristol and so on, ask for ’em for use of the pools, get a blanket sponsor, sign up a dozen non-WSL surfers (WSL surfers are embargoed from competing in non-company events) and, at the end  of the little tour, give out a trophy and crown our own world champion.

My comrades at BeachGrit thought the idea dumb and it progressed no further.

With Kelly’s pool being the centre of attention and without permission from the BeachGrit politburo, I’ll ask:

Would you drop a ravenous mouth on the nipple of a wavepool tour and the subsequent crowning of a Chlorine Champ?

The world title trophy would be a belt buckle fashioned to look like a surfer on a wave at a cost of several hundred dollars, including luxury presentation case.

The women’s champion would receive the same belt buckle.


Filipe Toledo did not safety surf, proving that the changes to the wave from CT two to three, or the reverse were no impediment to high-risk, hi-fi surfing.

Freshwater Pro, Day Two: “Like a half-dangling, half-sucked cock at a wedding!”

Despair and frustration from the (diminishing) legion of hard-core surf fans who have stuck with the broadcast from the basin…

Part of the feelings of despair and frustration from the (diminishing) legion of hard-core surf fans who have stuck with the broadcast from the basin has been the slow dawning reality that things have gone backwards from last year.

It was impossible to complete a statistical analysis comparing this year from last because instead of a “cut” day we got a half-dangling, half-sucked cock at a wedding (as my friend would say) day which left only half the surfers having finished their bonus runs. Nevertheless, prelim analysis suggested average scores are down about a point-and-a-half from last year.

There are outliers, Gabe Medina obvs, and almost the entire women’s side of the draw who rendered the normal gender disparity almost mute in the mechanical copulation of the basin.

Why?

Debate raged with some blaming the technology and some blaming the surfers. I think a complex-ish interplay of factors has created almost the perfect storm for producing and rewarding safety surfing and conservatism. The lack of practise waves is huge. Kelly Slater made the astute observation that Medina and Italo had an almost snowboardery (sic) look to their surfing.

Snowboard half-pipe is the obvious parallel to make with the basin. Except instead of unlimited opportunity to practice and perfect high-risk runs surfers here get two waves a day, a farcical amount of practice time. Kelly himself admitted that with only two waves available surfers were hardly likely to risk them by going big.

Practice safe = surf safe.

Another factor is simple calculus.

Despite their reputation for being intellectual pygmies pro surfers have been rational actors in the tub. With the double-cut format, a pair of sixes was a fair bet to get to the bonus round. Judges relentlessly awarded mediocre surfing with mediocre scores but pros held solid and in the reckoning their math was correct. Those who went big early and fell, like M-Boz, got shovelled out the backdoor with a thirty-third jammed sideways where the sun don’t shine.

That is a technology and a format problem.

The third factor was a lingering resentment from last year held particularly by Jordy Smith and Kolohe Andino, who felt judges did not reward progressive surfing. Jordy was staunch in his commitment to offering up solid safety surfing and got duly rewarded.

Kolohe choked.

Made it to the bonus round, cruised a left and fell.

Came to his final right and boiled over. Loosed the fins on a section, got caught behind and in a moment of pure frustration went even bigger on the next section. The wave, as it does, peeled off without him.

He dodged the presser with Rosie but Strider caught up with him in the Jeep as it whisked him off the premises.

“How you feelin’ buddy?”

Silence.

“I’m stoked,” he offered in a voice as deadpan as Death Valley.

In one of the more beautiful unscripted broadcast moments of the day the camera panned to Snips looking grave and Dino Andino tapping furiously on the wooden edge of the fence as a diminutive figure scurried behind in the background.

Sophie!

The vibe was, let’s be kind and allow for the flattening effect of video, low.

In the tent, a different reality prevails.

Could Soph detect the tragedy unfolding around her?

We’ll never know because the modern CEO maintains the veil, until death, or the ghostwritten memoir, whichever comes first.

Filipe Toledo did not safety surf, proving that the changes to the wave from CT two to three, or the reverse were no impediment to high-risk, hi-fi surfing.

The left is his weakness. He fell early on his first try, then spiked a right with various potent concoctions including a rapid-fire reverse and a club sandwich which clicked so smoothly it made the crowd gasp. He made a wave on the next left attempt and then threw away his final right before shepherding his young daughter away from the water’s edge.

Precision is key said Kelly in the booth, perhaps unaware how ironically the machine both demanded and robbed surfers of the ability to achieve it.

Brisa Hennsesy took a more philosophical angle, declaring that the mise en scene was beautiful and her method was to pretend she was in the ocean and this was part of her fate in being born as a surfer.

That romanticism attracted me. Her surfing, not so much.

It was left to Courtney Conlogue to come up with the perfect blend of the philosophical, the artistic and the athletic on afternoon bonus runs. Her exaggerated soul-outs into the tube section, producing flamboyant late entries seemed perfectly formed homage to Terry Fitzgerald in Morning of the Earth. Even allowing for an under-score those waves rocketed her up the leaderboard.

Was the day going to go on forever?

In late afternoon light and an atmosphere tinged with melancholy, like the end of a child’s birthday party, as the last guest prepares to leave and the child looking at his Dad asks, “Does night really have to fall on my birthday” the last bonus runs of the day were held. The commentary team were tight-lipped on the schedule, the website obstinate in its refusal to yield information.

Maybe it was going to go on forever.

Wade Carmichael crushed his left and improved the right.

Owen Wright mastered the low-risk, high-speed quasi-progressive surfing the basin demanded, first on the left with tail wafts and whips and a dramatic late-hit-to-freefall-tube-ride and then on the right, burrowing in on the outside tube section before unleashing a flurry of tight snaps.

For a man who had done no surfing for the day it was an impressive feat. Matched by few.

On a brown leather couch the man who had been thanked as a God by Deivid Silva a few minutes ago (“Thanks to God for the opportunity to ride more waves here”), the GOAT, Morpheus according to Ronnie Blakey, more Mephistophelean to me, watched his creation whirring on it’s tracks, the final perfect wave silhouetted in the scotopic light.

Men’s Freshwater Pro pres. by Outerknown Leaderboard Top 8
Gabriel Medina (BRA) 17.77
Filipe Toledo (BRA) 16.07
Owen Wright (AUS) 15.97
Jordy Smith (ZAF) 15.90
Griffin Colapinto (USA) 15.50
Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.97
Wade Carmichael (AUS) 14.90
Willian Cardoso (BRA) 14.70

Women’s Freshwater Pro pres. by Outerknown Leaderboard Top 4
Johanne Defay (FRA) 17.50
Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.23
Caroline Marks (USA) 16.10
Courtney Conlogue (USA) 15.83


Santa Monica Sessions!

Listen: “Surfing’s long-forgotten core just kicked well-financed, wildly connected interlopers over a cliff!”

We are living in rare historical times. In movies, Robin Hood steals the money, gives it to the poor and gets the girl. The kids who want to keep their vacant lot to play baseball thwart the evil mall developer. The little guys inspire and overcome. Eddie the Eagle soars. In real life, courts are stacked in favor of the Jeffery Epsteins, corporations snatch any vacant lot they want, little guy is ignored until he goes away broke, sick and/or dead though Eddie the Eagle still soars.

And right now, right here, we are soaring too. This rare historical time when surfing’s long-forgotten, long-dismissed, long-taken for granted core rose up and said, “What? This isn’t us…” and kicked one of America’s most well-connected billionaires plus all of his collaborators over a cliff.

In real life, not movies, unfolding right now, The People™ are winning.

Surf Ranch’s Freshwater Pro, the World Surf League’s Instagram Influencer geared content, the round tables, platitudes, bald-faced mining of true nasty, addictive, self-destructive passion for profit are all over.

Finished.

Not even the Wall of Positive Noise can block the roar. Not even sustainable plastic bag after sustainable plastic bag filled with Joe Turpel’s verbal cotton candy stuffed so deep into ears can stop the hammering truth.

It’s a wrap and the sort of ending everyone can feel before it actually happens. The World Surf League is cratering in Lemoore, a fitting place for it all to happen. It is reeling underneath that cow stink sun and it will not recover, mark my words. A truth has taken hold amongst all those not on the payroll and they know. Everyone knows but more importantly feels.

Oh, I am very aware that Chris Cotê thinks, “Surf media has become so negative.” That he believes it would, “Be cool to see more positivity and less click bait…” except he’s aiming his WSL issued firearm in the wrong direction like all collaborators do.

I still believe in surfing’s core, for pity’s sake, and how much more childlike, rose-colored, naive, positive can a person be?

Zero more. It’s absurd. As absurd as the Freshwater Pro’s “growing crowds” on days that the public isn’t admitted and “spitting barrels” when those crouchy things don’t spit but I’m also right because our absurdity is cinematic, heartfelt and honest. It’s the absurdity of fables and dreams. Totally unsustainable, life-altering in all the wrong way dreams.

I still believe. And when the World Surf League fully craters we’ll dance a quick jig before paddling out while sneering, “locals only.”

Suck it, Dirk Ziff!