Hot from the wetted lips of an industry insider enjoying after-lunch cocktails on a Sydney afternoon so humid it seized control of his usual refrigerated composure, is the rumour that the first event of the 2021 qualifying series, the Volcom Pipe Pro, is to be “furloughed” indefinitely.
Hawaiian authorities, our source said, were placed in a poor mood after five members of the WSL staff, including its CEO Erik “Elo” Logan, tested positive for COVID-19 forcing a suspension of the Pipeline Masters, the first event of the new-look 20-21 WCT tour.
The Pipe Masters had circumvented the usual conditions surrounding contests after it was pitched as a “non-spectator film production with comprehensive coronavirus protocols in place.”
"Wipe out! We're working on it. Paddling back out soon."
Yesterday, during theBillabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons presented by Hydro Flask semifinals, the World Surf League’s internet feed crashed in the United States of America leaving great swaths of professional surf fans locked out of the action.
Technological glitches happen and I don’t fault the WSL, or its CEO Erik Logan, for the momentary troubles but I do blame them both for declaring “Wipe Out! We’re working on it. Paddling back out soon.”
Gabriel Medina was in the water battling against countryman Italo Ferreira who was wearing hot pants. It was tense, high-octane, a likely preview of finals day 2021. Professional surf fans were on the edge of their stools, early afternoon cocktails clutched tightly but unconsumed as the action was simply too great to turn away from.
All of a sudden nothing.
A suspended production.
Wild refreshing of browsers ensued which, eventually, was met by a bit of whimsy.
The professional surf fan’s blood, already boiling due the interruption, might have forgiven the WSL if surf jargon had not been incorporated into the message. “Wipe Out! We’re working on it. Paddling back out soon.” was a bridge too far.
Unconsumed cocktails were chucked at long-suffering dogs. Computers near cowering children.
What was otherwise an exceptional day turned dark and many lives will not fully recover.
“Wipe out! We’re working on it. Paddling back out soon.”
Tito Ortiz, famous mixed-martial arts fighter and mayor pro tem of Huntington Beach, turns Surf City into ground zero for rebellion against Coronavirus restrictions: “I ain’t taking that vaccine – hell no!”
But does a two week stretch get any more action-packed in our surf world? Any more exciting? The last fourteen days saw the kickoff of the World Surf League’s championship tours, women’s and men’s, in Honolua Bay and at the Banzai Pipeline respectively. The Honolua event was cancelled after a fatal shark attack. The Banzai event was suspended after WSL CEO Erik Logan admitted to contracting the novel Coronavirus.
A cone of silence descended.
The women’s event was moved to the Banzai, the men’s event was allowed to resume, the cone of silence was temporarily lifted, history was made as the women carved, occasionally got pat, John John Florence won his very first Pipe Masters.
In the middle of all this, famous mixed-martial arts fighter and mayor pro tem of Huntington Beach Tito Ortiz spoke at a “Stop the Steal” rally in town and decried both mask wearing and the just-released Covid-19 vaccine cementing Surf City as “ground zero for rebellion against Coronavirus restrictions” according to the Orange County Register and whoa.
Who would have ever imagined Surf City becoming the ground zero of anything save the famed “Huntington Hop?”
Certainly not me but let’s watch Ortiz’s December 13 speech together, as surfers, in our ancestral home.
The Register reached out to Ortiz for clarification about his anti-mask stance and he responded, via text, “Wearing masks actually drops the oxygen levels required by the U.S. government, making (the) City of HB libel (sic) for dangerously low air intake levels!”
It does take much oxygen to do the Huntington Hop, that I know from experience, as I once became very winded hopping from middle pier all the way to the shore.
Surf City, USA.
John John Florence, Tyler Wright win “historical” Billabong Pipe Masters: “Florence fulfils destiny; pandering, condescending treatment of women’s heats nauseating!”
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.)
Open Thread: Comment Live on finals day of men’s Billabong Pipe Masters, historic finals day of women’s Roxy Pro also at Pipeline!