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!
Maybe that magical wetsuit of armor has one more trick...
Oh to be the CEO of professional surfing, locked alone in your room in the very middle of the Pacific Ocean, streaming Real Housewives of Atlanta over a glitchy WiFi connection, having Spam Musubis slid under your door, by gloved hands, all mashed and misshapen, nearly single-handedly derailing the Billabong Pipe Masters in Memory of Andy Irons presented by Hydro Flask.
A pariah in the truest sense of the word.
Then salt gets rubbed directly into the wound as love-of-life hometown Manhattan Beach, California posts a boast so hard about how chill everything is there.
Your Manhattan Beach where you made a name for yourself stand up paddling into straight-hander after straight-hander bedecked in your magical suit of armor.
Per the local news:
Beachside Manhattan Beach is bustling today as folks get out to enjoy fresh air, sunshine, scenic ocean views, and all that Manhattan Beach is! Just this morning, a socially distanced line wound down the sidewalk near Becker’s Bakery and diners were out enjoying meals at Uncle Bill’s Pancake House, Homie, The Kettle, Simmzy’s, Manhattan Pizzeria, Ercoles, Sloopy’s Beach Cafe, North End Caffe, OBs Pub & Grill, Wild Cafe and Pancho’s.
Grotesque-looking Spam Musubis and Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.
Do you remember how funny that wetsuit of armor business was?
I almost forgot.
Hawaiian surfer loses leg, lung, to wet-gangrene formation; has thigh skin grafted onto bottom of other foot making it hairy: “I like to think there’s gonna be some type of perk with that — maybe I get better traction on my surfboard wax!”
We’ve have been introduced to many new heroes in the past few days, or at least two. Matt McGillivray, the surfer from South Africa who performed so admirably at Pipe, and the Gold Coast woman who risked life and limb attempting to save two beer kegs from an angry ocean.
Champions of The People™.
Today, we meet a new one, Carter Parry, a Hawaii-based surfer and internet technology expert who was stricken with an almost impossible to believe run of bad luck. First, at the start of last year’s holiday season, he was rushed to the hospital in Honolulu feeling very sick. He woke up, two weeks later with his leg amputated below the knee, due methicillin-susceptible staphylococcus aureus (MSSA), or wet-gangrene, and had one of his two lungs removed due a “super infection” in his blood.
He was on his way to getting his second leg chopped off but the doctors saved it as described by Parry himself. “The doctors took a huge stretch [of skin] from my knee to my hip, and the nerve ending from my thigh, and transplanted that to my foot. They rebuilt the whole sole of my foot with my thigh tissue and fat, and that is a surgery that should not have worked but because it did, I am not a double amputee — which, for my lung condition, is huge.”
His medical team knew the foot surgery had been a success when, “All the hairs on the bottom of my foot began to stand up in the cold operating room. So they knew the nerve was connected,” Parry continued, and regarding having having hair on the bottom of his foot said, “I like to think there’s gonna be some type of perk with that — maybe I can [channel] extra static electricity, or get better traction on my surfboard wax. We’ll see.”
He said of his run of luck, “I was dealt this hand and I just wanted to surf again — that’s really all I was thinking about the whole time. My appreciation for life has just altered so much in a positive way. … I think my life’s gonna be better than it was before. I might not even be able to stand on a surfboard anymore, but I’m sure as hell gonna try.”
Talk about making lemonade out of lemons and our World Surf League should immediately contact the effervescent young man for a spot in the booth. I would never complain about the Wall of Positive Noise again.