And, Kelly Slater sharing the stage with people who hadn't yet figured out how to get barrelled at Pipe and who got paid the same. Historical.
On the beach at the Banzai Pipeline, during an adjournment in the Mens Final, Megan Abubo was interviewing the fresh victor of the Maui Pro at Pipeline, Tyler Wright*.
It begged the question for the viewer: Is an historical moment, in and of itself, incredible?
Tyler seemed downbeat, unbarrelled during the Final. It capped a bizarre admission that her confidence at the start of the day was zero. She was the epitome of the reluctant victor, a potent symbol of a sport that will brook any gulf in reality, ruin any broadcast, to establish its credentials as the avant-garde in gender equality.
Almost two decades since Blue Crush spearheaded a massive thrust in womens surfing, with a Final Day at Pipeline providing the dramatic denouement of the film. Has women’s surfing gone forwards or backwards in that time?
If prizemoney is the measure than huge leaps forwards.
If performance at Pipe is the measure then we are way behind the standards of the previous century.
In one of the more blackly comic scenes of the day Pipe pioneer Rochelle Ballard was reduced to giving real-time lessons in technique for successfully threading Pipe tubes to hapless contestants. Carissa Moore was the only woman to demonstrate any basic proficiency at Pipe and Backdoor. She had the butt/hip drag stall, the positioning and the courage to huck the ledge, then go back for more after savage donuts.
Tyler won the Final with three scrappy turns on a Backdoor wave off the reef.
What did it take for John John to finally win?
The best Pipe surfer of his generation but no strap. How could that be?
Whoa, wait, is John married?
He said, “my wife” at the Finals presser.
How could that happen with zero coverage?
To answer the question why hadn’t John won I went back and reviewed every heat of his since 2013. The conclusion was inescapable: John was a victim of his own level of comfort. He’d wander around, get lost catching crappy waves, insane waves for us, not heat-winning waves and leave the door open for opponents to best him. Most famously Jeremy Flores buzzer beater in 2017.
It wasn’t so much a lack of focus but more such an extreme level of comfort that lacked the intensity required to win.
That made him most vulnerable to head-fuck merchants like Kelly Slater and Gabe Medina, both of whom he attacked today.
If you had to pick a yin-yang concept today it would be the WSL broadcast versus Florences Tube-riding. The broadcast cut away from a wave of John’s to a head shot of Tyler. They cut the hitherto seamless You-Tube feed. The site went down, the blather was inane.
The pandering, condescending, infantilising treatment of the women’s heats was nauseating.
To balance, John’s ability to thread what looked like closeouts, even to the world’s best, and find exits, particularly at Backdoor was surfing on a heavenly plane. Taken as a complete A-to-Z compendium of Pipe/Backdoor tuberiding it was perhaps the finest display ever seen.
Two against Leo Fioravanti in their quarters were viciously under-scored but were enough to bury him in the opening exchanges. He played cat and mouse with an almost fifty-year-old man who holds decades of casual mental dominance over him, as well as a winning record in heavy surf, and beat him at every juncture.
Kelly laid a full-rail wrap on a Pipe wave, John laid a better, heavier turn on a bottomless backdoor nug after emerging calm as a master waiter carrying drinks at the Kui Lima. It was gorgeous, gorgeous action. The total pinnacle of what pro surfing can offer the working stiff.
With five to go in their epic semi, Kelly basically needs a ten. Maybe that was a little harsh of judges to highball the JJF scorecard and juice the spread but we’ll need to review the tape later. Kelly had two monstrous attempts at Backdoor. Lost a paddle battle with John, that looked like he won. If he had, the drainer he threaded on the buzzer would have given judges palpitations.
As it was, John forced the interference, nuked Kelly’s scorecard, and Florence was into the Finals.
Medina’s run in was more circumspect. A sleepy quarter against Kanoa, followed by a scrappy, grindy (to use the word of the day) semi against an injured Italo with more mystifying non-makes than we’ve ever seen from Gabe at Pipeline. He had enough waves to win the contest, including the Final where he laid down his best body of work, but in the end never seemed at any point to carry that dominant, winning energy that is characteristic of his Pipe surfing.
“Pipe chooses you,” said Jeremy Flores through an early morning of grey, wonky Pipe.
It seemed after three effortless makes from Medina at the beginning of the Final; deep drives at Pipe, ultra-technical backside tube-riding at Backdoor, hard drives off three-quarter bottom turns, that he had been chosen.
The old script was a non-competitive JJF would slowly fade-out and retreat to non-confrontational freesurfing. Not this time. He was able to back-up his earlier barn-storming heats with patient grinding, perhaps the beneficiary of a little love from the judges, before putting the chin-fluff in front with a clean make on a wave that Medina rejected.
That left Medina alone on the peak with lines stacked.
The bomb came, Medina duly dropped into it on his tippy toes and packed it. It was a breathless moment. I’m not sure whether the broadcast team called it.
Surely they must have.
Surely they couldn’t have been jabbering still about the women’s historical Final. Medina failed to emerge and that was that. Florence fulfilled his destiny. The little tow-headed skate kid with the cool Mom and the deadbeat Dad, surfing Pipe since he was in Kindergarten, finally wears the crown that eludes him for so long.
No rookies further than the quarters.
As mutha-fucking predicted Ross.
Nothing but the cream rising to the top, same as it ever was, same as it ever will be at Pipe.
Kelly still there at the pointy end putting on masterclasses, 14 months shy of his fifth decade.
And he had to share the stage with people who hadn’t yet figured out how to get barrelled at Pipe and who got paid the same.
*Straight rip-off of a Russian story. Has to be a tail-pad in it for who can guess it.
(Editor’s note: Yes! Tail-pad, tee etc.)