Gaz and Waz, happy in the heat.

Surf Ranch Pro Day Two Analysis: “Like a dog coming back to lick its own vomit the mess of the Surf Ranch has an irresistibly vile attraction to me”

Why cover pro surfing at all is a question any surf journalist has to grapple seriously with during Surf Ranch.

Gots to admit: today’s coverage was much harder than yesterday.

Any lingering whiff of novelty had worn off; what was left was hard, repetitious, (mostly) incomprehensible slog. Why even come back after vowing to never cover it again. Like a dog coming back to lick its own vomit the mess of the Surf Ranch just seemed to have an irresistibly vile attraction to me.

Obviously others had made the same vows and kept them.

I trawled the mainstream press looking for coverage.

Nothing. LA times, San Francisco Examiner, all the Aussie papers. Not a dicky bird.

The surfing media was mostly flatlining. STAB came out with a desultory wrap after yesterday’s opening day which made me think, why even bother? This was a fart in an empty room. It both stunk and created zero reaction. Seven hundred people watching on Facebook Live as the women were about to hit the water, that bumped up to around 1500 as Carissa Moore surfed and stayed there for the rest of the day.

Medina shrugged off any scoreboard pressure and came in just a hair behind Toledo. Performances just under his previous high points, according to my notes from 2018 and 2019, backed up by the judges. There’s no surfer with higher surf IQ on Earth, the ability to read, adapt, master; replicate in a consistent fashion. Gabe mastered Surf Ranch from his opening runs. The software runs perfectly every single time.

Why cover pro surfing at all is a question any surf journalist has to grapple seriously with during Surf Ranch.

There’s no fun it.

It’s equivalent to the mechanical fucking of porn stars accompanied by industrial scale gaslighting from the corporate machine and commentary. There’s a perverse pleasure in being tuned up so high listening to so much anti-reality while trying to navigate back to some kind of, any kind of, objective truth.

Three hundred-thousand gallons of water a day lost from the tub in drought-stricken Central Valley and we get barraged with Greenwashing.

Pure Alice in Wonderland stuff.

Two things stood out. Firstly, the amazing stasis from year to year in terms of the contenders. Toledo, Medina, Owen Wright, Slater. Defay and Moore amongst the women.

Second, the total failure of the wildcards and rookies. Only Morgan Cibilic managed a semi-respectable 14th on the leaderboard (9th place) though that could go down.

Jack Robinson failed, as did Ribeiro, Eli Hanneman, Lucas Vicente, Michael Dunphy, Nat Young, Liam O’Brien, Jabe Swierkocki. Not one could produce a decent scoreline after four perfect waves.

That’s a savage indictment, although on what I’m not sure. The wave itself? The talent level on Tour?

Hard to imagine any elite sport with that much failure put out there. The women were no better. Caitlin Simmers was fun to watch but failed to produce a score. As did Kirra Pinkerton, Alyssa Spencer, Amuro Tsuzuki.

Only previous event winner Coco Ho made a dent in the draw with some stylish tube-riding and swoops.

And the format.

All that was simple, elegant and brutally easy to understand about Surf Ranch, a Leaderboard followed by a Finals Day was butchered by a new system of bonus runs that dragged things out interminably, left us wanting less, in a state of confusion. Give ’em four runs and a Finals Day.

This thing should be over in a day-and-a-half. Let the brutality work its magic. The machine is cruel. Let cruelty reign.

OK, granted Griff Colapinto made full use of the bonus runs on a middle-aged groveller board. Which fitted the Tub perfectly. The vast majority of bonus runs were pissing in the wind. Did we really need to see more Surf Ranch waves ridden by back markers?

I say no.The audience says no. Mainstream press says no.

The direction of the WSL has always seemed antithetical to both commonsense and any kind of grand narrative that can inflame surfer imagination, accelerated since the loss of Fiji and the advent of Surf Ranch.

Why became clearer to me after listening to a podcast with Dave Prodan and a bunch of WSL employees I think called Break Room. Did you listen?

The general level of cluelessness was off the chain. From the top to the bottom they are so clueless they have no idea they are clueless.

One of the employees told an anecdote about how his sister-in-law from Kansas tried to watch a comp and couldn’t even understand how many surfers were in a heat and why. He came to the (sensible) conclusion that the barrier to entry as far as becoming a fan of the sport was high.

True. Very true.

Prodan responded that he thought the problem was the “packaging” and that initiatives in 23/23 would make the sport more understandable to the mainstream.

Watching Surf Ranch makes one realise how laughably deluded that proposal is no matter how much you try and dumb it down for Middle America. The problem with Surf Ranch is both packaging: it’s boring and ugly and drab and repetitive and product: the scoring is incomprehensible to commentary and viewers.

Commentators had no idea how to parse rides and fell back to default gushing over everything. At one point counting turns became a way of grading rides. Ms Kansas has no chance of deciphering a 6.15 from a 6.67. We’ve gone back to the days of three to the beach, except now it’s 15 to the beach. Ironically the mechanical reproducibility of the Tub has made surfing less accessible and understandable than ever to the non-surfer.

It must be shortened.

Guys and gals must compete against each other.

Johanne Defay would beat the entire bottom half of the mens draw on current form. Steph Gilmore surfs deeper than anyone. Sally Fitzgibbons surfed the left better than all save Medina.

If the Tub is to be an innovation then let it be an innovation that erases the distinction between the sexes. If we are going to remove nature from the equation, then we might as well nix biology too.

PS: I think Italo is still a stutter step behind the true contenders but reserve right to withhold judgement until his final bonus runs.


World’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater melts heart of online troll with devastating put-down: “Holy crap! He answered!”

"Rarely does a guitarist have a concert without another instrument.” 

True to recent form, eleven-time world champ Kelly Slater has engaged with a minnow on Instagram who described his Lemoore wavepool as “predictable”. 

Micah Ball, 181 followers, with a bio link to a Jehova’s Witness website, had reacted to a post by the WSL, showing Slater carrying two surfboards as he readied for his runs. 

“So not sure which board to ride on your predictable wave you built,” he wrote.

“Let me help you out,” Slater replied. “If I break a board or want to ride a different board on the other direction, I’ve got not time to grab another. Ah… Sarcasm, the lowest form of wit (but fun nonetheless). “

Troll and master punctuated comments with laughing emojis, Slater’s a pointed retort, I think. 

Ball’s heart quickly melted after the personal missive. 

“holy crap he answered (clap emoji) you gotta admit it looks funny LOL (laughing emoji) all good bro go rip (shaka emoji).”

Then, 

“@kellyslater since I got ya how many boards you broke on your wave is your next question (beer emoji).” 

Slater, howevs, still smarting from the “look funny” observation, punches back. 

“What looks funny about it? We always have 2 backup boards per heat. Rarely does a guitarist have a concert without another instrument.” 

Devastating. 

Ball chastened, accepted Slater’s coup de grâce, a fan forever. 

“@kellyslater true, now stop talking to me and go surf. I’m sitting up the hot mountains wishing I was there (flame and shaka emojis.)”

Recent highlights in Slater v trolls on Instagram include, “World’s Greatest Surfer rips gloves off and goes toe to toe with muralist on satirical Instagram account, ‘Did I sleep with your girl back in the day or something?'” 

“Flat-earthers turn on Kelly Slater!”

And the very entertaining,

“Kelly Slater hits back at historically inaccurate troll: “I don’t give a shit. You’re a on glue. You’re a miserable coward…accusing me of being racist? My girlfriend is Chinese… fuck off!” 


Breaking: In move that stuns corporate public relations experts, World Surf League threatens to overshadow Surf Ranch Pro by announcing new official sparkling water partnership!

Bated breath.

The number one rule of corporate public relations, never pull focus from an existing rollout unless absolutely certain that both current and new announcement will synergistically send the overall business to the moon, has long been taught in the finest MBA programs the country over.

Wharton.

Kellogg.

Stern.

Students learn, know, head out into the corporate workspace practicing yet many were shocked, overnight, when the World Surf League threatened to overshadow its Surf Ranch Pro, currently in day two (comment here), with the announcement of an exciting new official sparkling water partnership.

Per the press release:

AUSTIN, Texas, June 17, 2021 /PRNewswire/ — Waterloo Sparkling Water, based in Austin and known for its refreshing fruit-inspired flavored sparkling waters, is pleased to announce it is the Official Sparkling Water of the World Surf League (WSL). Waterloo is also partnering on an exciting, new WSL original video series airing in 2021.

The WSL is the global home of surfing, dedicated to changing the world through the inspirational power of surfing by creating authentic events, experiences, and storytelling to inspire a growing, global community to live with purpose, originality, and stoke.

“Waterloo is excited to partner with the World Surf League,” said Waterloo Chief Marketing Officer Kathy Maurella. “We think we’re a natural fit to support the WSL, its events and programming that bring the surfing community together, where the thrill of fully engaging experiences is celebrated. We are committed to awakening the senses here at Waterloo, too – creating sparkling waters that add a multi-sensorial boost to the moment.”

“We are thrilled to have Waterloo partner at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro, Rip Curl WSL Finals, and US Open of Surfing,” said Cherie Cohen, WSL Chief Revenue Officer. “The brand is well established and strategically partnering at our premier California events will bring Waterloo even closer to California surf culture and our passionate fanbase.”

Waterloo will provide chilled samples of its sparkling waters, including Watermelon, Blueberry, Grape, Black Cherry, and Strawberry, in athlete, attendee and media areas at three key events: Surf Ranch Pro, Challenger Series US Open of Surfing, and the Rip Curl WSL Finals. Waterloo has only ever been produced in recyclable aluminum cans made with BPA-free liners, consistent with WSL commitments to sustainability and the oceans.

Supporting the adventurous, active lifestyles of surfers and fans nationwide, Waterloo varieties are made with Non-GMO Project Verified flavors and purified carbonated water, bringing forward uniquely true-to-fruit taste and aroma with zero calories, zero sugars or artificial sweeteners, and zero sodium.

The risky gambit is being watched closely from all corners.

Will the Surf Ranch Pro suffer?

Will Waterloo sparkling water be lost in the (lack of) noise?

Will the two join together, in Voltron-esque fashion, and crush all-comers?

More as the story develops.


Open Thread: Comment Live, Day Two of the Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe!

Come on, get hot!


Fizz Toledo, dazzling.

Surf Ranch Pro, day one analysis: “Filipe Toledo carries show with four sizzling rides…puts scorecard pressure on Gabriel Medina… wildcards, rookies fail…”

Tough dead withered dreams. Brown as the drought stricken landscape.

First thoughts: Australia does pro surfing so, so much better than America, absent Huntington Beach and its memorable riots of course.

I still have no idea why but I suspect it’s some kind of deeply anarcho-libertarian streak embodied deep in the American surfer consciousness that rejects the roar of standardization which accompanies pro surfing. Most pertinently, the Californian taxpayer has never been tapped like the Australian, a contrast made by Connor Coffin who said after his runs he hoped “California would support the sport a bit more” so they could have more events there.

Dare I say it but there seems more intelligence and insight in the Australian commentary and coverage. Without Ronnie Blakey to counter-balance Cote, Mel and Kaipo we seemed to be in fairyland most of the day.

More on that later.

Second thoughts: Time flies don’t it.

It was just three years ago when the Tub made it’s debut and the WSL and it’s associated cheer squad was drunk with prospects of future growth and mainstream acceptance. Sophie Goldschmidt bet the farm (and her leadership) on the tub transforming Pro Surfing, calling it “game-changing”, envisaging a Shangri-La where tub contests would mirror snowboard half-pipe and skiing with highly progressive, choreographed moves pushing performance much more significantly.

The Kool-aid was intoxicating.

Matt Biolos said we were in for a great leap forwards in both performance and board design.

Nick Carroll openly scoffed at naysayers saying in a piece written after the 2018 Founders Cup that he almost “laughed out loud” at people who said the “jury was still out*” on the tub as the future of pro surfing.

(*Probably yours truly.)

I think the jury is in now and the judgement has been handed down.

I’ll let former CT stalwart Taylor Knox deliver the verdict. He claimed on the current ep of Getting Heated every single one of his buddies found it boring and that it shouldn’t be on Tour. Even the ever-anodyne Mick Fanning claimed it “needed a shake-up” and suggested forcing pros to ride alt-boards to bring some novelty factor back to the basin.

The dream of Shangri-La: the crowds, the broadcast friendly waves on demand, the stratospheric performance leaps, everything, all of it, seemed to finally disintegrate in a shimmering heat haze of disinterest, obliterated by the unrelenting heat of California’s central valley. An inverse of Steinbeck’s Oklahoma dust bowl, where dreams came to die in California, not be reborn.

Tough dead withered dreams. Brown as the drought stricken landscape.

Mikey Wright fell on all four rides for a total score of six. He was up and riding for less than a minute. Vaughan Blakey was asked in a previous episode of Getting Heated who had the best chance of making an impact in the tub, wildcards or rookies.

I can’t remember what he said because I was screaming at the screen the correct answer: Neither of them!

The rookies all failed and the wildcards weren’t far behind. No wave bar Pipeline is more hostile to rookies. The eight warm up rides bake-in failure. Imagine going to the Olympics to do a snowboard half-pipe and your preparation is eight runs. In total.

More Shangri-La myth: remember when Kelly Slater claimed the pool would “democratise” surfing? Now I’m almost laughing out loud.

The opposite is true: technology subordinated waves to its measure, objectifying experience and selling to the highest or best connected bidder.

Is the Surf Ranch the new Brazil?

I mean as an unfavoured location that pro surfers feel free to no-show. The list of truants, some not even bothering to offer an excuse, is long, causing Mick Fanning to claim “people (pros) aren’t respecting it”. A bitter harvest of Slater’s legacy of treating the Tour as his personal plaything? The question is merely being asked, not answered.

Eli Hanneman was the wildcard I was most excited to see surf live. He failed to fire a single shot on four rides with a total of 8.93 for two best rides. I think, bad for his brand and a lowering of his stock. It was close to five hours of non-stop surfing on a mechanical perfect wave before an excellent score was logged. Yago Dora greased a slick air rev as easy as squeezing a watermelon seed between your fingers before casually popping another clean straight air on the end corner for an 8.5.

Those who could, did. And largely they were the same who did it last time, and the time before that. Owen Wright was metronomic in his rhythm on both right and left. That constant pace looks contrived in the ocean against more explosive opponents, fits in perfectly at the basin.

Toledo carried the show with four sizzling rides. What was promised as far as high performance, he delivers. A left on a dark arts constructed Inferno 72 set-up as a quad was my favourite ride of the day. The drive and speed was a notch above.

The only other surfer to experiment with fin configs was Kelly Slater.

Riding a stubby 5’6” quad Kelly fell on the opening wave in the first tube section, safety surfed a left for a score then opened up on his next right. I thought the wave was weirdly under-scored until Dora showed up. Judges will not go excellent without a completed air in the ride. Fair enough.

While they held their nerve for the men, they dropped their bottle when the women surfed. With the completely standardized, albeit flattened technoscape and equal prizemoney it would seem logical to judge men and women not just to the same criteria but to the same scale. ie. a five for a man should be a five for a woman.

Somehow, either by conscious decree or maybe what Galbraith called an “innocent fraud” a five for a man is judged a high six for a woman. Steph Gilmore got a 7.67 after failing to complete the ride. A mid-six at best for the men’s runs that went before.

How will they massage this “innocent fraud” into the tubular reality of Teahupoo and Pipeline and produce a comprehensible sporting product?

That kind of fantasy/magical thinking did provide me with moments of genuine joy today. Chris Cote upon gushing over the tube at Surf Ranch was forced to exclaim, “Even at Pipeline getting barrelled is pretty rare”.

He thought getting your feet taken out by the cascading whitewater on the left was like getting bitten by a Great White.

Rosie was so enthused she went back in time and channeled the dearly departed Sophie G and outlined a future with many more tubs on Tour.

My favourite exchange was between Joe Turpel and guest Malia Ward. Joe tried mansplaining the nuances between the left and the right to which Malia deadpanned, “well the left and the right, they are two different directions Joe”.

Perfect.

I think Filipe, by pushing the bar so high today, has put scoreboard pressure on Medina. Maybe more importantly laid a stake in the ground for what might be expected come Finals Day in September.

That will be an affront to the pride of Medina.

And nothing fucks with you, as we all know, like pride.

See how Medina answers back tomorrow.

Italo, traditionally weak at the tub has the most ground to cover to catch up.

No one else seems relevant, bar Kanoa.