Retrogression was a theme. Conservative surfing, highly contagious.
Big old day, classic QS-style meat-grinder pro surfing in classic QS-style surf.
We were informed that the daily “mailout” from the judges expressed a strong preference for progressive manouevres but for long, long stretches it was meat and potatoes that won heats.
Retrogression was a theme, so I went back over a decade to the Rip Curl Search at Puerto Rico’s Middles break. The last comp where Andy Irons, a still oft cited figure in the sport who was battling a serious opioid addiction, was alive. Sure ’nuff, in gurgly head-high rights not a million miles dissimilar to what we saw today, Dane Reynolds was a trillion times more progressive.
Whatever that means.
But then, what do we seriously expect?
In a sport held hostage to tourism money, integrity and progression are the easiest oxen to sacrifice to the God of Mammon.
Eventually we did see the usual suspects break the chains and bolt for the exits. Principally Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira and Yago Dora.
Gabe Medina to a lesser extent, though he didn’t need to.
His first heat was more a masterclass of slowly applied pressure. A death grip from beginning to end on Connor O’leary who didn’t seem to have the repertoire or the confidence to use it against the champ. One tail-high whipped air reverse on a nothing section was traduced by the booth as being ruined by a “boxy” style, although Richie Lovett soon qualified the slur by claiming the far more post-modern truth that “style is perception”.
Connor spent the last ten minutes like a buzzing fly in the window sill. Post heat in the presser we got a glimpse of the post-Charlie Gabe ethos. Gone is the siege mentality that infuriated some and delighted others (me). In its place is a happy, relaxed Gabe performing in front of a small, tight unit: his babe and coach.
I mourn the loss of that peculiar combination that found slights to their honor everywhere they looked and cooked up strategies of revenge and redress, sometimes served as cold as ice.
A happy, content Gabe is a less interesting specimen of pro surfer to me.
But to each his and her own I guess.
I loved Julian Wilson’s presser after defeating Jack Robinson. A sore loser is a spectacle. A sore winner is an even finer one.
And Wilson was furious.
Robinson had blocked him on the final wave, totally physically blocked him and there was a blood chilling moment for Wilson when he appealed for the interference as Robinson destroyed the wave.
The interference was granted and Wilson put the knife in.
“He’s a good kid but he’s gotta get out of the way with a minute to go.”
Kid. Love it.
He then shamelessly played the local card.
“I live here,” said Wilson “been here for three years”.
I hope he draws Jack Robbo at North Point or the Box. That could be a genuine grudge match.
The heat of the day, the major upset the Woz interns will be frothing over was the JJF/Ciblic boilover.
I’m not saying Ciblic’s injury was a hoax. But if it was, what a brilliant psychological weapon to draw on JJF. Perhaps lure him into a false sense of security and drag him into that low energy semi-somnolent free-surfing state that can sometimes bedevil the 2016/17 champ.
That wasn’t really a factor, at first.
Judges did over-cook the spread on the opening exchange.
They paid meat and potatoes low repertoire over JJF’s variation and whip.
In my spiked preview piece, I had talked up Connor, talked down Morgs. Thought he was cannon fodder for the big dogs, if you’ll pardon a mangled metaphor. JJF was trying to chip away, throw down some variation.
He fell on an air.
Did the extra stiffness and lack of give in the Carbon Dark Arts play a role, once the pressure came on and the neurons perhaps fired that little too excitedly, reducing all margin for error?
That was my random thought when the errors started to pile up.
A dejected John claimed he would watch the tape straight away, after admitting he had no idea why or how things went wrong. He needed another good wave is about the size of it.
And when judges completely lost their minds and awarded a 9.03 to Ciblic for three turns he was shut out.
The lesson should be: local wildcards are the biggest threat to JJF, as they were to Kelly Slater.
By my notes it was heat seven before anything above the lip was attempted, despite head-high gurgle just begging for it. A standard air rev from Crosby Colapinto got a 5.83 in a losing heat. Afterwards he wished he had gone bigger.
Conservative surfing, it seems, is a highly contagious condition.
Three to the beach. Four to the beach. Whack, whack, whack. That’s what won heats.
Owen, Griff, Kanoa. Kanoa took on Ethan Ewing. E2. Aping a style does not a valid comparison make. I’m talking about the groupthink consensus that E2 is somehow the second coming of Andy Irons. Would a youthful AI have surfed without loosing his fins at least once, tried something at least more radical than the other guy?
Of course not.
Aggression, attitude, creativity, flair, risk: all that defined Andy’s surfing. Not the way he held his arms in a turn. By that measure, Ewing is a pale simulacrum of AI, and I mean no disrespect to him. It wasn’t his call to start comparing himself.
But someone has to do the remedial work so E2 can start building his own legacy.
Japan was big today.
First with Japanese Australian Connor O’leary and then Kanoa Igarashi. Is it merely preparatory marketing for the Olympics or is there a bigger agenda at play to expand back into the Japanese market where apparently two million surfers would provided a willing receptacle for a WSL looking to expand?
It was never explained why a country that once hosted two back-to-back events for years suddenly dropped off the schedule without warning.
Certainly the business case must be tantalising.
A 2019 Bloomberg article featuring our own D. Rielly and C. Smith featured the remark, maybe somewhat cynically, that Kanoa had chosen Japan to compete for because of the money available. He said he was already “way” past two million a year based on Olympics sponsorship endorsement.
If Connor wanted to slice himself off a piece of that action who could blame him, let alone the WSL itself.
We live in the age of Casino Capitalism and Kanoa personifies that perfectly.
Big winners and big losers. Stark white beaks proliferate amongst the Top 34 like flocks of Ibis feasting on over-flowing bins.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb in his book Black Swan called this tendency Extremistan, to differentiate it from Mediocristan.
In Extremistan, Kanoa is raking in millions while Caio has no sponsor.
The Brazilian Storm back markers went for the meat and spuds.
World Title favourite Filipe Toledo did not.
In the last heat of the day, as Medina did in the first, he laid on a masterclass.
As much as his Pipe surfing is a weakness, his small-wave surfing is unbeatable. Would you bet against him at three-foot Trestles?
On a sunny California day with time to spare, the bones warm, the muscles loose, his house and family minutes away?
His boards dialed in?
You’re braver than me.