Moneyball: The hard stats reveal Gabriel Medina to be sure thing for world title in 2019; Italo Ferreira, 2020!

There are five surfers going into Pipe with a shot at the world title. Each of them comes with their own baggage, context and metrics…

Generally, my shtick is numbers, not words. Average heat score, win percentage, event/wave direction/wave height metrics, yada fucking yada.

(Click here to examine Balyn’s website, surf-stats.com)

Boring as fuck to most red-blooded surfers 93.67% of the time.

When I first spoke to Derek about analysing the title race, he didn’t tell me I’d be following a similar piece by a certain surf-writer doyen, and which you can read here.

I’m under no illusions. The numbers always pale in significance to the broader stories of the surfers themselves. The pros are just as fragile and flawed as the rest of us and there aren’t many metrics to reflect that accurately. Watching Kelly reluctantly coming to terms with his fading success is a gorgeous train wreck that no data set can accurately replicate.

The numbers do have a place, though.

When I find a stat that complements or even heightens the broader context of each surfer’s situation, I can offer a more resounding argument for or against them.

So, here we are.

There are five surfers going into Pipe with a shot at the world title. Each of them comes with their own baggage, context and metrics*.

Italo Ferreira
Pipe Win %: 54.55
Pipe Average Heat Score (AHS): 9.19 (11 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 11 (4 events: 13, 13, 5, 13)

Needed to win a title: A Pipe win is the only way to seal it outright.

Background: Derek’s favourite surfer (and mine) hadn’t won an event until 2018, when he proceeded to win three. Italo still found himself out of title contention due to consistency issues, which he’s improved this season while still locking in two wins from four finals. Peaking beautifully through Europe, and wearing the yellow jersey coming into Pipe, Italo looks like a genuine chance. The problem is, he hasn’t had any standout performances at heavy reef breaks (his best has been a single fifth place result at each of the Pipe/Fiji/Tahiti events and one Box bomb this year).

What to look for at Pipe: There have been several well-defined World Champion archetypes over the past few years: the workhorse (Adriano), the gifted natural (John), the talented contest machine (Mick, Gabriel). Italo isn’t any of these, or to be fair, maybe he’s all of them, he works hard, he competes well, he is focused and he’s certainly talented. What’s different is that none of those traits define him quite like they did the others. For Italo, who surfs fast, hucks any section, slays coffees and throws down some of the most entertaining claims on tour, it’s raw energy that will define his success. A fantastic trait, no doubt, but the question of whether it will be enough to get him through the tightest title race in years, at the biggest venue on tour, will be fascinating to see answered.

Gabriel Medina
Pipe Win %: 75
Pipe AHS: 13.78 (35 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 6.25 (8 events: 5, 9, 13, 2, 2, 13, 5, 1)

Needed to win a title: To finish one round/place above Italo and not behind any other contenders.

Background: Since 2013, Gabe regularly made Europe his bitch and cruised to three Pipe finals. But after his worst-ever France result and a priority mistake in Portugal, Gabriel’s seemingly inevitable third title was put on ice. He still has the second best win percentage and best AHS of all surfers this season, and he has the best record at Pipe of all the contenders. His error against Caio, while stupid, did result from him being so fucking hungry to win, a characteristic of champions. While he has cooled recently, there are still plenty of positives for Medina heading into the chaos of Pipe, with most betting agencies keeping him as the favourite to win this year.

What to look for at Pipe: Could the ice-cold Medina suffer another uncharacteristic melt? Will he back off with his hassling strategies and just let his surfing talk? What will Neymar and his millions of keyboard warriors to do to Gabe’s opponent if he’s eliminated early? With a solid history at Pipe and heavy favouritism, Gabe’s real story will be whether he will bounce back from Europe or continue to end the season with a whimper.

Filipe Toledo
Pipe Win %: 36.84
Pipe AHS: 9.68 (19 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 15 (6 events: 25, 5, 13, 9, 25, 13)

Needed to win a title: He will need a best-ever result at Pipe. If he wins, and Italo/Gabe don’t make the final, then he’ll be the 2019 champion. Anything else, and the variables become all-consuming.

Background: Filipe managed to move beyond his ‘small-wave specialist’ reputation with an increasingly formidable rail game and solid performances at respectable rights including J-Bay and Bells. What he hasn’t managed to shake is his reputation for holding back in juicy waves, especially on his backhand. Poor efforts in Tahiti and at the Box this year only entrenched the perceived depth of Filipe’s big wave weakness. It’s increasingly likely that, if he’s ever going to win a title, he’ll need to wrap it up in Europe.

What to look for at Pipe: Remember when Pipe was meant to have been pulled from the tour? Permits and politics were all stacked against the WSL and there was talk of an alternate season-ender in friendlier reef breaks off the coast of Western Sumatra? Filipe must be pining for that alternative reality right about now. The big question everyone wants to know about Filipe in this title race is, Will he go? If we get proper Pipe, then all eyes will be on Pip. At least he’ll be too consumed by the waves to worry about the title details.

Jordy Smith
Pipe Win %: 52.94
Pipe AHS: 11.43 (23 heats)
Average place at Pipe: 11.89 (9 events: 17, 5, 13, 13, inj, 25, 13, 5, 13, 3)

Needed to win a title: “If Jordy wins the Pipe Masters and Italo loses before the final, he will win the Title,” says the WSL. Ain’t that a big ask.

Background: This hyper-talented serial under-achiever had his best Pipe result last year with a close semi-final loss to eventual winner Medina. While Jordy’s consistency this year has been an asset, it’s also a weakness as he must progress further than his peers to improve his overall total. He’s peaking at the right time, with a positive result in Portugal and clutch effort against Kanoa, but Jordy again showed fragility in the final when presented with a red-hot Italo.

What to look for at Pipe: Jordy won’t have as much to prove at Pipe as Italo/Filipe/Kolohe. If Backdoor fires, he could be right there amongst it. But if a competitor drops a 10 on him, he will need to do more than simply burn them while in a combination situation. Jordy’s biggest obstacle seems to be between his ears, so it will be high drama watching to see when/if he’ll crack.

Kolohe Andino
Pipe Win %: 37.5
Pipe AHS: 9.35 (21 heats)
Average result at Pipe: 17.75 (8 events: 25, 13, 25, 13, 25, 3, 13, 25)

Needed to win a title: Divine intervention. This sucks for Brother as the big man seems to be working for the Brazilians. Technically, Kolohe can win if he makes the final at Pipe. This is good because it doesn’t require him to win an event. It’s bad because it requires all four of the other contenders to get, at best, seventeenths (Medina, Filipe and Italo) or ninths (Jordy). If they progress further, then the numbers get tighter and tighter. For example, Gabriel or Italo need only a fifth to negate Kolohe’s result entirely.

Background: After wearing the Yellow Jersey in Tahiti, Kolohe flatlined with consecutive seventeenths and missed a title via his one possible avenue: consistency (winning events doesn’t seem to be his thing). He got thrown a massive bone via Medina’s European fade, but again managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of potential victory against fellow title choker Jordy in the Portugal quarters. His Pipe record smells worse than Griff’s Quik Pro France wetsuit.

What to look for at Pipe: The only acceptable outcome for Kolohe would be to pull off an inexplicable and long-overdue event win. It still wouldn’t guarantee a world title, but it might be enough to get the monkey (and keyboard hacks like myself) off his back going into the 2020 season. My biggest consideration towards Brother at this event is trying to guess which local wildcard will bring him undone, as I’m looking for a cheap option to round out my fantasy team.

So, who will win?

The numbers say Medina. If Jordy hadn’t been pantsed by Italo in the final a few days ago, I’d say he’d have had a good shot. His numbers would have been slightly better than Italo’s and he would have had the confidence needed to pull it off. Kolohe’s situation is too schadenfreude, dependent on the failure of others. Filipe needs to overcome so many years of well-supported data against him in big waves. Italo could definitely win, especially if he builds momentum and starts running off pure adrenaline, but I feel this may be his cliched ‘lose one before you win one’ year.

So, Medina for 2019.

Italo for 2020.

*All stats taken from my own databases. They vary from some WSL stats as they only include 2013-2019 data and because the WSL scores a second place in a three-man heat as a loss.


Hello, Fabien...

Breaking: One-ton Great White shark enters Gulf of Mexico; Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Commission warns surfers to “be aware of surroundings!”

Boo!

A grossly overfed female Great White shark weighing more than 2000 lbs has just entered the Gulf of Mexico forcing Florida’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to issue an edict warning surfers to “be aware of your surroundings.”

And as if Halloween isn’t scary enough. As if all the ghosts and ghouls, vampires and child predators, razor blades hidden in apples and Rohypnol slipped into drinks aren’t scary enough but no. Much like Floridian surfer Kelly Slater, it appears as if Great White sharks demand the perpetual spotlight, never letting it stray, always pulling focus and let’s quickly meet Unama’ki, which means “Land of Fog” in a native Novia Scotia language as Novia Scotia is where the beast was first tagged.

OCEARCH says the creature, which measures 15 feet, 5 inches, is the second largest great white shark it’s ever tagged in the northwest Atlantic. The nonprofit has teamed up with SeaWorld to follow great whites in the hopes of finding out more about their eating and breeding habits, and it’s hoping Unama’ki will bring them right to a major site. “As a big mature female, Unama’ki has the potential to lead us to the site where she gives birth and [expose] a new white shark nursery,” OCEARCH says.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) said that while Florida beaches and waterways “more than likely contain sharks,” the animals have played a major role in maintaining balance in the state’s ecosystem.

“Shark activity is at its peak in Florida waters during April through October,” the FWC said and also urged visitors to be aware of their surroundings and understand the risks they take swimming in the waters.

And just imagine, there you are getting in a little pre-Trick-or-Treat surf in Florida’s normally placid gulf. Already on edge from a Halloween marathon, visions of Michael Myers teasing your overwrought brain when all of a sudden…

…BOO!

Up pops over 2000 lbs of Unama’ki all teeth and appetite.

I don’t think you’d ever recover from the fright.

I certainly wouldn’t

More as this horror story develops.


The great Peter Townend, pioneer of pro surfing etc, bows before the might of the Chinese Dragon. | Photo: Birdwell Beach Britches

From the Growth-and-Development Desk: A record-smashing 300 surfers to participate in upcoming Republic of China surf contest!

The world's most popular sport!

Now, to be all the way honest I don’t know if 300 surfers smashed the previous Taiwan Open of Surfing record or the all-time record for any surf contest anywhere ever but 300 surfers does seem a whole lot and maybe the most. Just imagine all the lips being licked in the International Surfing Association offices, all those entrance fees, all that hot hot pyramid action. The potential new uplines and downlines etc. and let’s quickly learn about The Scam in Siam*.

The 2019 Taiwan Open of Surfing will once again crown the champions of two of the World Surfing League’s (WSL) four major events, according to a press release issued by Taitung County Government on Tuesday (Oct. 29).

As happened last year, the winners of the World Junior Championships and World Longboard Championships will be crowned. In addition, the QS Men 1,500 Shortboard WSL will also be held.

The event will be held on the coast at Jinzun (金樽) in Donghe Township (東河鄉), Taitung County, during a 15-day period from Nov. 23 to Dec. 7. More than 300 constants from 28 countries, a record number for the event, will take part, say the organizers.

Oh.

300 surfers over 4 events? That seems reasonable but, while you’re here, can we briefly discuss Taiwan? When I was a boy it seemed as if a full-blown invasion of the little rebel island by massive Red China was always but an accidental button push away. Did the two reach some detente during the 20-odd years I wasn’t paying attention?

Is the One China policy a wildly successful and unmitigated foreign policy success?

Help!

*I know Taiwan is not Siam but I couldn’t resist such a clever turn of phrase.


Bebe, another wonderful catch for Bluestar Alliance, and Hurley's new stablemate. "Designed for the confident, sexy, modern woman,"

Nike sells Hurley to brand management company Bluestar Alliance!

Volcom, sold in April to maker of velour tracksuits, Rip Curl, October to camping retailer, Hurley, on the cusp of Halloween to owners of clothing brands for the "confident, sexy modern woman!"

Those of an advanced age will remember the glorious day in 2002 when Bob Hurley sold his eponymous brand to Nike for a hundred and twenty mill, three years after Hurley International was launched.

You know the story of the shaper-turned-surfwear-baron Bob Hurley? How a teenager from Rhode Island earned his stripes at Huntington Beach, became a team rider for HSS, a shaper of renown (sleds for world champs Rabbit Bartholomew and Pete Townend) and then in his twenty-eighth year scooped the license for Billabong USA for $40,000?

Yeah, it’s a good one, and it improved with age.

After Bob spent sixteen years turning Billabong into a hundred-mill-biz, he handed back the Billabong license to start the eponymous… Hurley.

Now, as reported in various biz trade journals, Nike has sold Hurley to the “brand management company” Bluestar Alliance for an undisclosed amount. The way Bluestar works is it identifies brands it wants to buy and once they get the keys, “our team of experts embark on a complete and thorough understanding of the brand’s potential channels of distribution and price point strategies. We create tools such as brand development profiles, trend guides, style guides and marketing strategies. These marketing materials portray graphic illustrations and a strategic marketing road map to enhance consumer brand recognition.”

Three months ago, the newsagent Reuters reported that Nike was “exploring options” for Hurley “including possible divestment” according to “people familiar with the matter.”

Nike’s potential retrenchment from the surfwear market is emblematic of the stance of most major consumer companies towards the sector. Surf brands have lost their appeal among non-surfing consumers, who now prefer boutique brands and retro streetwear. 

The sale follows Volcom’s  to the Authentic Brands Group, makers of iconic velour tracksuits, in April and Rip Curl to camping equipment retailer Kathmandu for three hundred and fifty mill (Australian) three weeks ago.


Warshaw on surfing’s great Svengalis: “I watched Sound Waves, Kelly Slater twice. It’s almost druggy, like MDMA!”

Men, always men, who come into the lives of great surfers offering success, happiness, friendship and just a little fairy dust…

It really is difficult to release grip on a fabulous story. Elo Logan’s masterful touch on the documentary Sound Waves: Kelly Slater, Surf Ranch has inspired stories, here, here, here and we’ll deliberate on it again, below.

The subject today is surfing’s Svengalis, men, always men, who come into the lives of great surfers offering success, happiness, friendship and just a little fairy dust.

I wondered aloud to Matt Warshaw, custodian of surfing’s historical archive and which you can subscribe to and access here, if he’d seen the Slater ep and if he would take time out of his busy Scrabble schedule to give BeachGrit readers an insight into the magical world of the Surf Svengali.

BeachGrit: I’m guessing you saw Sound Waves: Kelly Slater, Surf Ranch, where Kelly, beset by insecurities and an apparent unhappiness, is attended to by an Australian faith healer. 

Warshaw: I watched it the day it came out, and twice since. It’s almost druggy. Like MDMA, but the opposite, where everything, every exchange, every moment bends toward low-grade stress and tension. That scene at the beginning where Kelly’s watching somebody surf a left and says “Who’s that?” Zeke Lau says “Kaipo,” and Kelly says “I hope he’s super nervous,” then they both force a laugh, then Strider walks by and the mirthless banter continues. On it goes. The scenes with Kelly and his girlfriend, that awkward backstage moment with Jack White, and yes especially the bits with Kelly and the spoon-bender — there isn’t a relaxed frame in the whole thing. At some level I’m super impressed that WSL put it out there. It feels incredibly fifth column. It’s like if Wild Wild Country was released as a promo for Rajneesh.

But back to Charlie Goldsmith, named onscreen as “Kelly’s Friend.” It reminds me that pro surfers, in particular it seems, perhaps because of the arbitrary nature of how success for ‘em is measured, heat by heat, every wave out of ten, are susceptible to, how should we call ‘em, Svengalis? Is that your take?

I don’t know. Probably not. All athletes at that level, I’m guessing, are looking for any kind of edge or advantage they can find, mental and physical. Kelly has Goldsmith, Italo has God. If putting your faith in some person or entity gives you peace of mind, relaxes you, distracts from the pressure, then it works. Goldsmith laying that New Age hoodoo on Kelly makes more sense than his girlfriend telling him again and again to “have fun.”

My fav moment involving a surfer and his Svengali is Cheyne Horan’s pal and mentor, name of Kerry, in the vastly underrated movie Scream in Blue. He paces up and down their Burleigh Heads apartment after a bad heat at the Stubbies saying, “You weren’t doing any snaps! Why weren’t you doing any snaps? You have to do more snaps!” Do you remember that fabulous moment? What was Cheyne’s deal?

Scream in Blue was my greatest VHS treasure. A few years ago I plugged my ancient VCR into my MacBook to digitize everything I have, and the fucking machine ate Scream in Blue. I felt like Strider getting laughingly kicked in the nuts by Kelly. I’d kill for another copy. But yes, I remember the scene you’re describing well! That same year, I think it was 1987, I flew Matt George to Australia to do a profile on Cheyne, and Matt fully embedded himself in the Kerry-led commune up in the hills behind Byron. Yeah, there are similarities between what Kelly is looking for with Charlie, and what Cheyne was looking for with Kerry. Guidance, I guess. Maybe a short-cut to knowledge. But Kelly, by the looks of it, is just flirting with his guru; he’s halfway to looking at the camera and giving us an eye-roll. Cheyne went all in, just drank the Kerry Kool-Aid by the gallon. Cheyne’s deal with Kerry, to me anyway, looked almost dangerous, like brainwashing. I wonder what ended up happening there. At some point Cheyne broke away, but I don’t know when.

Another great mentor is the surf photographer Paul Sargeant, also called Sarge, who disappeared in a poof of smoke after allegations of sexual assault on a popular surf journalist, and which was sensationally brought to light by the writer Fred Pawle in Stab. (Read The Bottomless Vortex of Indugence here and subscribe to Sarge’s new YouTube channel here.) For a very long time, almost every young Australian surfer rode under his LMB banner, an abbreviation of various things, but initially, Lick My Balls.

I don’t know much about Sarge except what I read in Fred’s article.

Oh you dirty diplomat. How about Derek Hynd? Rip Curl coach for a lot of years, but some Svengali in there too, maybe?

For sure. I mean, you can’t put young and not especially educated surfers on tour, with that kind of pressure, and not have them grab onto an older, more experienced person. There’d be plenty of cases, a huge majority in fact, where it works out fine. The older surfer advising and looking out for the younger guys. But it can get weird and maybe even abusive, and now and then the rest of us hear about it. I interviewed Sunny Garcia a few years ago, and he said Derek “was a dick to everyone” and talked about how Derek would lock him out of his room and make him sleep in the hotel hallway. All in the name of getting Sunny to do better in heats. On the other hand, Sunny said it worked. On the other other hand, Sunny probably wasn’t the best person to argue the case one way or the other.

You’re the gatekeeper to surf history. Who else is there? We talked about Thor Svenson before. He was a wildcat.

In the 1960s, Thor made the Windansea Surf Club into a really big deal, almost completely on his own. Huge ambition. Got things done. Ronald Regan, when he was governor of California, gave Svenson and WIndansea a letter of introduction when the team flew off to Australia in 1967. Thor is another guy I only know about from articles, but there was always a creepy vibe around him, and after I posted about Windansea I got a few replies from surfers in Australia that were disturbing — nothing I was able to track down, although I didn’t try very hard.

What is most interesting about surf’s Svengalis is how few of ’em actually pick up a surfboard. What’s the attraction to be around gorgeous young men at the peak of their physical prowess you think?

I’ll check that one to the guy who founded a “sophisticated men’s interest magazine with an emphasis on high-performance surfing.” 😀