Starting with when the ancient Greeks wrestled naked in the sand?
When the sun set yesterday on, inarguably, the greatest day in professional surfing’s history, I began to ponder the 2019 season as a whole and how truly fabulous it was. There were explosive performances, titillating scandals, scintillating rivalries, anger, joy, beauty, pain, wild wild almost too much wild fun…
…and a dull, monosyllabic hum emanating from the Wall of Positive Noise.
A fantastic season covered beautifully by Longtom, Jen See, Nick Carroll, Sean Doherty… even sometimes Li’l Mikey Cinnamon but fumbled at every turn by the sporting organizational and storytelling body that runs the entire show.
And how could the World Surf League fail to capitalize so spectacularly, so comprehensively on something so prima facie brilliant?
That damned Wall of Positive Noise put on absolute display yesterday, as it had been all year, when a simmering rivalry played out onscreen between world champ hopeful Gabriel Medina and his tormentor Caio Ibelli.
Gabriel burns Caio purposefully, payback for an interference in the last contest, that cost Gabriel his locking up the World Title, and admits it onstage during his post-heat interview while jaws from California to Calcutta remained on the floor.
There was enough in that moment to power an entire two seasons of a Netflix series and yet, and yet, the WSL insisted on leaving it all to rot unpicked.
Crazy that the surf fan world was buzzing across multiple platforms, from BeachGrit‘s first mention to Stab‘s clumsy attempt at getting in on the action to Kelly Slater dropping into Caio’s Instagram to comments, tweets, Facebook posts, phone calls, texts racing between friends spread across the globe.
But not one mention from Ronnie, Joe, 89 or Barton etc.
The mouthpieces of Vichy surfing.
I am certain there is much back-slapping and congratulating in Santa Monica today for a job well done but there should only be shame.
Shame and embarrassment at what might have been. A season worth the non-surfing sport fan’s interest. Shame for being the most flat-footed sport-governing body in the history of mankind.
Either unable or unwilling to perceive the utterly compelling narratives playing out in real time in a universe entirely in its own control.
Either unable or unwilling to dance.
See you next year when we tear this motherfucker down.
And listen to more unhinged ranting here!
Prescient: Obscure decade-old travel book predicts Kolohe Andino, John John Florence as 2020 men’s U.S. Olympic Surf Team!
And you have have certainly heard of the French astrologer Nostradamus who penned the 1555 best-seller Les Prophéties which predicted, among other things, the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001 some 400-odd years early. His forward-thinking augury is, to this day, mind-blowing and many wonder if we will ever see his like again.
Well, these things too are hard to predict but it appears as if a modern Nostradamus is walking amongst us today, toiling as a surf journalist who also studies the behavior of sharks.
In 2012, he traveled to Oahu’s North Shore and there began a work of narrative non-fiction that would be published the next year under the title Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell (buy here). It was a relative obscure offering, though did earn a coveted PEN Award nomination but our interest lies in an entire chapter dedicated to two, then, very young surfers: Kolohe Andino and John John Florence.
Chapter 14: You Said That You Could Let It Go. Or, a Contest
But excellence at a young age in surfing guarantees nothing, except possibly a rehab-worthy drug problem. Being a prodigy is as much a strike against as it is a way forward. And Kolohe and John John are both prodigies.
Both have been in the spotlight since they were children and both are dealing with the shoulder-stooping pressure of being prodigies on the brink of adulthood. The speculation about what they may become is now meaningless. They will either become great, today in the biggest opening day of the Pipeline Masters ever, literally not figuratively, or sink into the annals of surfing’s folk history.
The surf industry hedges by betting on both Kolohe and John John. It speaks highly of both. But, truthfully, the surf industry doesn’t know shit. By and large, its last good idea was turning cocaine profits into boardshorts. By and large, it has become entirely reactionary, conservative, and petty. There are still some brands that maintain a fine image and make fine products that are both stylistically hip and true to the space.
But it is hard when everyone has gone public and boards and chairmen from equity groups have the final say. So most industry brands pull advertisements from magazines for controversial pieces and the most stupidly tame pieces alike. They complain, bitterly, about virtually everything just like a senile old grandpa. An article about sunglasses ran recently on Surfing Magazine’s website, for instance, and a small company from Encinitas, California, was not included.
A hundred and ten people looked at the story but the company felt so totally shattered that they sent nasty emails to Tony Perez about how unfair everything is and that they buy ads and expect to be included and blah blah blah. Blah. That is the surf industry. And even betting on both Kolohe and John John may bring only more hurt old feelings.
Kolohe Andino, down the beach, is the future of surfing and John John Florence, up the beach, is also the future of surfing but they are two different futures. They are a fork in the road. Kolohe is blue chip, corpo. He is million-dollar Super Bowl television commercials. He is kids in Nebraska buying Nike Surf trunks and wearing them to their local swimming pool.
And John John is core. Super core. He is the first explorers who tackled towering waves at Waimea, Sunset, and Pipeline. He is dingy kids fearlessly paddling out at waves that will crush them because that is what it means to be a surfer.
Kolohe and John John. The California prodigy with the Hawaiian name and the Hawaiian prodigy named after the most eastern-seaboard-establishment celebrity ever.
The chapter goes on and on, taking unexpected twists and turns but comes back around to Kolohe and John John, predicting their greatness.
Yesterday the two were announced as the official provisional men’s U.S. Olympic Surf Team.
The question now is, what else does this surf journalist with a passing interest in cocaine (buy here) know?
More as the story develops.
On its own terms, it delivered on the ultimate potential outcome: One and Two finalling for the World Title at solid Pipe. Italo Ferreira, best in the air, now best in the tube led from opening bell to closing hooter to defeat Gabe Medina, whose own competitive strategy – as brilliant as it was black hearted – seemed not just to desert him, but to eat him from the inside out. WSL
Billabong Pipe Masters, Finals Day: “Delivered on the ultimate potential outcome: Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira finalling for the World Title at solid Pipe!”
"Impossible not to be drawn into and swept up in the emotion of the good guy winning. The son of a fishmonger in a poor town now top of the world."
Anti-climax is a rhetorical device that can be defined as a sudden transition in discourse from an important idea to a ludicrous or trivial one.
Today’s Pipe final day looked destined to wallow around in a shallow swamp of the sports finest anti-climax.
And then, it didn’t.
I’m still struggling to come to terms with it.
On its own terms, it delivered on the ultimate potential outcome: One and Two finalling for the World Title at solid Pipe. Italo Ferreira, best in the air, now best in the tube led from opening bell to closing hooter to defeat Gabe Medina, whose own competitive strategy – as brilliant as it was black hearted – seemed not just to desert him, but to eat him from the inside out.
Gabe floundered from the start, gifted Italo the opening wave, continued gifting him waves all Final and then crumbled like a mouldy cheese.
Way back in the opening heat, under the watchful green eyes of Mari, Italo bested Peterson Crisanto doing what he did all event, including the final. He swung on lots of waves, he spiked ultra late take-offs, threaded deep tubes and launched off end sections.
It was a hyper-active approach that appeared vulnerable to a competitor that could punish his mistakes and non-makes but that guy never showed up.
In the presser after his quarter-final win over Yago Dora Ferreira was vibrating at such a high frequency he could barely talk. His elbow was under ice after smashing a lava spike.
He can’t maintain that level of emotional arousal, I thought, without dropping off a cliff at some point.
It was the exact counterpoint to Kelly’s mentally trained calmness. He didn’t just maintain it though, he increased it. He turned it up so high both Kelly and Gabe melted.
Gabe has split the surfing universe again.
In case you missed, final thirty seconds of his heat against Caio, Gabe has one score and change. Caio has not a single make. Charlie does the math and starts screaming on the beach: “Burn him! Burn him!”
V.mediaeval, which I love.
I don’t speak Portuguese, so when Gabe takes off on Caio on the final wave its utterly inconceivable, just a total WTF moment. A completely intentional priority interference, this time to win.
Perfect symmetry now attained with the Portugal debacle.
The villain, the heel, the bad guy excites me, gets me through long hours of pro surfing tedium. From that POV, Medina’s drop-in is the best thing that happens all day.
It directly contravenes Rule 171.11, or so it appears, which includes as possible sanction being suspended from the entire Tour!
Nothing from the WSL, though.
Medina pushes through.
Where he sails close to the wind against a clearly injured Florence who admitted his knee was “still super fresh.” Medina gave him an experience in claustrophobia in a two-man heat, living all over him. It made me feel uncomfortable watching, like the tax office when it sat on my face for twelve months over a bill.
Medina comboed JJF after cooly giving him the first wave of a set then slotting a huge tube to an air right in front of him. Fifteen minutes to go JJF sat in deep combination, the wind swung north, the lineup looked as ratty as a 1970’s New York alley. 5 to go, no change.
A minute and change and John concedes, hugging it out with Medina.
With Kelly’s buzzer-beater miracle against Jack Freestone and John’s loss to Gabe, the ducks were now all lined for Kelly.
Triple Crown, Pipe win, Olympic quals.
You could sense him furiously calculating, even as he sandbagged Rosie claiming he wasn’t. Huge day, retire, come out of retirement, for a second time. A monstrous day in the limelight. I was rooting for him. I really was.
Even when I woke this morning and found myself on the end of a testy DM exchange with the Goat on his wavepool proposal at Coolum.
He had nothing against Italo.
Butchered the first wave of a massive set, a straight closeout, while Italo threaded one from behind the foam ball and had to watch an enormous blue Pipe cavern blowing smoke into the channel as he wore the set on the head.
He was comboed from start to finish.
Start to finish.
There seems a curious, counterintuitive reversal in Kelly’s surfing. His instinctual waveriding still seems to be holding, but his wisdom and decision-making has been increasingly unreliable.
Which would be the opposite effect you’d expect from all the mind-training he’s been doing.
He got the Triple Crown and time on the podium.
You can hate on Gabe all day every day for his competitive antics, but it would take a peculiar variety of delusion to claim he had no place in the Pipe final.
With Italo now in the final, a great equalisation was underway. Italo had by far the easiest side of the draw, until now, having to face Slater and then Medina.
With Medina’s win against Colapinto it now looked like he had the cruise control into the final.
Italo has been kryptonite for Medina in the past, five-two head-to-head record.
But Medina smashed him at J-Bay, so it looked like that psychological hoodoo had been broken.
A strange, one-sided final showed Medina still oppressed by it.
By my analysis, it was over almost from the opening hooter. Medina let Italo get around him and into a hefty Backdoor cavern, which he emerged from untouched.
We kept waiting for a Medina comeback that never came.
He gave away bombs, took shitty waves and completely choked in the final ten minutes when he gifted Italo a throaty runner which he weaved his Timmy Patterson in and out of before launching a very greased full rotation air.
That was a classic Gabe wave, and he just gave it away.
Double anti-climaxes is a climax, right? The final was anti-climax, the day in its entirety massive climax. Twenty thousand watching on the Facebook feed, packed beach chairing Italo up the soft sand. Floods and floods of tears of joy for Italo, a victory dedicated to Grandparents who had passed into the next dimension.
Impossible not to be drawn into and swept up in the emotion of the good guy winning. The son of a fishmonger in a poor town now top of the world.
I continued to watch. The presentation was compelling. Sophie G came up on stage. She stood there. She did not speak.
Turpel made the Olympic qualifying announcements.
Kelly took the stage to accept the Triple Crown.
As he has been all year, he was in the mood for talking. Squinting into the horizon, clearly distracted, he said a rescue was taking place.
Sophie stood there, mute. Why was she there?
The camera suddenly cut away and the broadcast went back to the booth.
It was strange, compelling and somehow emblematic of a year that has produced greatness in spite of itself.
Nothing seems to quite hang together, to make sense but the show rolls on.
Italo is our new World Champ, how you feeling about that? I think, loved up all to hell.
Italo Ferreira, Pipe Master, 2019 world champ may require smuggling into Oahu via Mex. WSL
Italo Ferreira: Little Boy Who Learned to Surf on Drink Cooler’s Foam Lid Wins Pro Surfing World Title!
Beats Kelly Slater, Gabriel Medina, wins Pipe Masters, world title.
Minutes ago, on an overcast eighty-degree afternoon at Banzai Pipeline, the little boy from a remote town in north-east Brazil who was too poor to buy a surfboard so learned to surf on a drink cooler’s foam lid, was crowned surfing champion of the world.
Italo, who survived a win-at-all-costs challenge from defending world champ Gabriel Medina, was flawless throughout the event, his pace seldom slackening despite an injured elbow, eventually winning his first Pipe Masters.
“I can’t imagine,” Italo wept, afterwards. “This is coming to my grandmother. She passed away two weeks ago in Europe. She was stoked for me to do it. So I did. God gave me this.”
Italo Ferreira, who is twenty-five years old, grew up and still lives in the beachside hamlet of Baía Formosa; a joint where the only paved roads are the ones that lead into the village.
Italo’s daddy would wander the beach and buy the catch of local fisherman, selling the fish to restaurants. His skinny son wanted to surf so Pops gave him the foam lid from the box he kept his fish in.
The rest, the elevation to stardom, came quickly
In 2014, Dino Andino, daddy of one of the other contenders at Pipe, went up to Timmy Patterson, who’s been making Italo’s boards since he was fifteen, and said, “Who is that Italian guy? He’s doing floaters on eight-foot closeouts on grinding beachbreaks and making ‘em. He’s going to be on tour next year. That guy’s a freak.”
Italo was rookie of the year in 2015, won three events and almost the title in 2018 and, this year, two events and the title. Italo is now the third Brazilian in four years, after Adriano de Souza and Gabriel Medina, to be crowned world champion.
In May, I spent two days with Italo and his girlfriend Mari as he prepared for the Margaret River Pro and as he struggled to erase the spectre of Great White death from his head.
On day two, I recorded this interview.
DR: I want to talk to you, first, about Bells this year. You’re the defending champ and the world number one after winning Snapper. First, you get thrown against the Winkipop cliffs, your apparent drowning broadcast live, then you get called on the most technical interference I’d ever seen, an overly punitive response. Talk to me.
Italo: The interference? When Jordy dropped into that wave he was in the whitewater and I saw clean face for him. I got out of the wave and I was, like, this is not an interference. After I got to the outside I heard, “Italo, you just got an interference against Jordy.” I was, like, fuck those guys. Later, I saw the photo of Jordy on his stomach and holding his board in the whitewater and I’m pulling off the wave ten metres away.
Mari interjects that it was a new rule and in this instance it was the first time it had been exercised in competition.
Italo: All the Brazilians do crazy things so they’re always trying to change (the rules) ‘case we’re always so hungry. We do everything to win! That’s why the rule changed.
DR: In this instance, it was Jordy, a South African, who did everything to win when he spun around in the dirt. A very Slater-at-HB sorta move.
Italo: He tried to play the game with the rules.
DR: Were you ready to swing when you came in?
Italo: Yeah. I punched the locker and broke everything. I almost broke my fingers. That’s how I put all the negative things off. By punching back!
DR: Is it painful for you to lose?
Italo: I feel a lot of pain.
DR: There’s an arresting photo of you, in tears, on the stairs at Bells, Mari comforting you. That was after your brush with mortality at Winki, yeah? Tell me that story.
Italo: The wave smashed me and my board hit me in the face. I was under the water for thirty seconds. When I came up I saw the jetski coming but there was a set behind it and he couldn’t get me. That’s why I think to paddle to Winki. I catch the whitewater and go to the stairs there. I was standing there and someone say, the ski is coming, so I jump back in the water but then another set came and it was hard for the ski to come back.
Mari: No one was talking about it! Nothing! I was asking the other guy, the microphone guy, “What about Italo?’ The jstski was on the outside and no one was on the inside!
DR: How were you feeling, so close to the beach, the crowd, but also so close to being skewered in front of 10,000 people?
Italo: I was trying to breathe, to stay relaxed, but I was nervous because I didn’t know what was going to happen. After that, I asked the locals and they said, one guy dead at that place, many many years ago.
Mari: The first thing he told me was, “I thought I was going to die” and then he started to cry. It was crazy.
Italo: That’s why I’m staying on the stairs, without energy, nothing. I can’t feel the legs. I stayed there and tried to breathe.
DR: Who are you and what is your life like?
Italo: It’s a quiet life; I do nothing crazy. I don’t like parties and these things. I just like to wake up early and surf and get a good breakfast and back to the water again. When I go home to Baia Formosa, I don’t have a lot of time there so I try to enjoy every single moment. I surf and I film and I have a quad bike so I can do crazy things on the beach. I have a sports car, too.
DR: Describe growing up in a little Brazilian surf town.
Italo: I start to surf eight, nine, years old. I was, like, a fast learner because we have nothing to do there.
DR: What was your first surfboard?
Italo: I didn’t start with a surfboard. My father buys fish to sell at the restaurants and, because I was so small and so skinny, I was able to surf with the foam lid from a box. After that, a friend gave me a board and then I started to compete. I start to win these contests and I tried to win cars, motorbikes, tickets to fly overseas.
DR: How long do you surf in a session?
Italo: It used to be for three or four hours. Now I try to surf for one-and-a-half hours to save my body for the contest. Those things are a marathon. I’m not the crazy guy I used to be in the past. Instead of one five-hour session, I have four surfs in one day. I think it works better.
DR: How many waves will you catch in one hour?
Italo: Maybe thirty, thirty-five. I catch a lot of waves. I always try to get away from the crowd so I can catch waves because I like to surf and not sit there. I don’t like places like Margaret River where there’s just one peak and you only catch one wave in thirty minutes.
DR: Do you remember your first air?
Italo: I can’t remember because I’ve done a lot. All the guys from the north-east of Brazil, the first manoeuvre you learn is the air because we have small shirty waves. One foot, strong wind, so you stand up, go fast and do an air. That’s why Brazilians have more of a facility to do airs and it’s why we have a problem with barrels and big turns.
DR: What you do with your money? Half-a-mill in prize money from the past year or so alone ain’t a bad windfall.
Italo: The first thing I did when I started to get money was to buy a hotel and a restaurant for my dad and my mom. Now I just think about my future because I’ve taken care of them.
DR: Why do you think you can win a world title?
Italo: Perseverance. And I have the talent. I have a piece of paper with all my goals written on it. I can’t show it now but when I get a world title, I’ll put a photo of it on Instagram.
DR: How often do you look at it?
Italo: When bad things happen I go there and look at the paper and it puts my mind on the way again.
Breaking: Did a breach of WSL Rule 171.11 just cost Gabriel Medina the World Title?
"Intentional, unsportsmanlike and of a serious nature..."
Rules are funny things. Live by them, die by them, as they say. For certain you either watched, or heard of, Gabriel Medina’s dying seconds burn of Caio Ibelli during his Round of 16 heat at Pipeline. Medina, and/or his step-father Charlie deduced that Ibelli would not have enough to win even if Gabe was served a priority interference.
In the post heat interview, Medina shrugged the whole thing off as “…that’s a rule in the book. I used it to my advantage.”
…Did Medina consider Rule 171.11 and let us now read together from the World Surf League’s performance manual.
171.11 Serious Unsportsmanlike Interference If the Discipline Director and Commissioner’s Office determine that an interference during an Event was intentional, unsportsmanlike and of a serious nature, notwithstanding any penalty available under Article 188 (which may include suspension from Events or an entire Tour), a Surfer will lose the benefit of counting their best Event result when calculating their Ranking on the relevant Tour (e.g. if this Article is violated at a QSEvent, their QS Ranking will be effected). Notwithstanding any resulting discipline being imposed by the Discipline Director, the heat in question can be re-surfed if determined by the Head Judge that the result was affected by the Surfer’s conduct referred to within this Article.
Medina admitted himself that he intentionally interfered and I don’t see how the Discipline Director could see it any other way.
Calls in etc. and, as always, more as the story develops.