Kelly, John John, Italo, Gabriel, Jack, meanwhile, breeze into the quarters…
Pro surfing roared back to post-suspension life in a huge day at Pipe where over-lapping heats were churned through with industrial efficiency.
Maybe the most heats run ever?*
Twenty-two by my count which spanned the three vestigial elimination heats, sixteen round three heats and three round of sixteen heats. No great shocks at pulsey four-to-eight-foot Pipeline, weirded out by wind and multiple swell angles which mostly served to outline the stark skill set difference between peers on the CT.
It was hard to watch Filipe Toledo in the first heat of the round of 32, for example, without feeling a real sense of pity.
Seven waves ridden in 40 minutes, nothing close to clean make. Pip got boofed in the head by the lip, Pip out ran the toob- once, twice, three times, Pip went straight to the beach.
There was talk in the booth all day about spiritual connections and the mental health benefits of the ocean and here was a guy, clearly unprepared on every level, melting down in front of our eyes. It was actually a relief when it was done.
Where too for Pip? He has to get through Sunset and Steamer Lane before Snapper offers any blessed relief.
Isn’t there some sort of God who can help him?
I thought that was the great trump card of the Brazilian Storm?
He wasn’t the only tube-dodger. Wade Carmichael couldn’t get behind one. Others looked out of sorts but managed to find form during the time from buzzer to buzzer.
None more-so than Gabe Medina who described himself in the presser as “still waking up”. He sat for over twenty minutes without moving a muscle in heat 13 against Yamban Rookie Morgan Ciblic. In the opening ten minutes I counted three unridden Pipe bombs, eight-foot plus, as heavy as it gets according to Jacky Robinson. Ten-point rides for Medina.
He sat as still as a statue. Inscrutable as buddha. As theatre it was compelling, if not baffling. A weird little non-make warm up wave was finally backed up by a deep cave exploration, a proper Pipe bomb and that was the heat. Medina only comes to life when his ego, his sense of honour, or even some mutated vision of justice is threatened.
Absent those factors, his lack of energy is palpable.
The only contender who hasn’t changed is Italo. He brought the customary froth and fizzle against Seabass. Fossicked around in dung heaps copping wearing closeouts before a minute to go under the lip take-off, the kind where he’s completely encased before getting to the bottom, pulled him well clear of another typically hapless Seabass performance.
The Kelly/Ethan Ewing heat occurred during the peak part of the day, roughly coterminous with the highlight performance by Jack Robinson in the next heat. It was confusing to follow, due to the celebrity call-ins. I think Gerry Lopez was on the line. It was an atrocious connection. Spirituality was the theme of the conversation, which meandered along awkwardly sentimental paths.
I thought, whilst the audience was distracted, we may have been witnessing one of the great sporting declines in history. Kelly got destroyed in a huge Backdoor bomb, went over the handlebars coming out of the toob, looked for all money like a VAL on his first Pipeline go out when he went over the falls without even attempting to put hooves on the board. At some point during those proceedings, according to his testimony, he was briefly knocked unconscious.
This decline was unremarked by the commentary team, it was like a parallel production unit reporting from a parallel Universe. No replays, no talk of Kelly’s over the falls.
Is this how it ends? The Kelly era, the Kelly Epoch, that we all live in, like it or not? The King getting punched out by Pipeline while the booth pretends to look away. “I’ve got no problem being put out to pasture,” claims Kelly in the teaser. “If someone gunna make me look silly they’ve got to be surfing pretty good”.
It wasn’t quite like that.
Seconds later, Kelly’s dropping like a dead weight thrown off a cliff down a blue wall and getting spat out of a classic Pipe chamber, with a full wrap exclamation mark. Kelly throws down a heavy Backdoor make. Within three minutes the decline was reversed. Ewing, who has to cringe at the AI comparisons, had no answer back.
Comparing like for like, in terms of two perennial Title contenders who have never quite got over the line and who were facing fired up Rookies the heats featuring Jordan Michael Smith and Julian Wilson were instructive.
It would not be unfair to see Jordy in Biblical terms, maybe featured in an epic watery, post-modern reinterpretation of the Sistine Chapel titled The Passion of Jordy, being spat out of the toob at Pipe in a shower of holy spray. That would suit the spiritual tone of the day. He obviously had more feeling than Jules, who was so thoroughly put to sleep by the incredibly precise positioning and execution of Jack Robinson that you wonder how he could wake up again.
It was one of those demoralizing losses like the one he laid on Toledo at the Box. It does seems unfair to call Jack Robinson a Rookie at Pipe. Kelly will need a lot of mana to have any chance against him when the comp resumes.
I predicted a rookie bloodbath but there were some pockets of resistance. Matt McGilvray was unflappable in disposing of Seth Moniz, who had the waves to win but was destroyed by a huge Pipe wave when his positioning was off by inches.
Peterson Crisanto charged many predatory pipe waves before losing to red hot Leo Fioravanti.
John Florence started very sharply with a tight technical make at Pipe, waited an eternity for the first Backdoor wave of the day against Connor, which was enough. He had to grind out a win against McGilvray in the round of 16 to make the quarters.
Which should see him make the top five for Trestles, operating under the theory that you can’t win a title now, but you can lose it.
Save Griffin Colapinto getting bounced by Crisanto after spending too long looking for a miracle Backdoor wave that wasn’t there. You don’t need to be that smart to be a pro surfer but you do need to catch two waves in a heat.
Huge, huge day.
Form won through, experience at Pipe paid off. Balls mattered, skill was at a premium. Same as it ever was.
Now the girls are going to have make sense of it.
Will the Booth look away, cut to the celebrity call-ins?
The whole world, millions according to Randy Rarick, will be watching.
*Maybe Carroll or Warshaw can phone in.