"Join me for the joy and the pain of the tour's opening gambit. Isn’t this the whole point of it all? Because without one, how might you recognise the other?"
Shortly after Longtom flew the coop, Derek asked me if I’d consider taking on his contest writing gig.
I was hesitant.
Hesitant to the degree that my first reaction was Fuck No.
It’s a cold and poisoned chalice, of course. I know that Steve turned comp reporting into art, and I appreciated it as much as anyone. Some of his contest wraps were more entertaining than the heats themselves, and I’m not even sure that’s hyperbole.
Most events happen at entirely unsociable hours for me. It’d be whisky, caffeine and insomnia for the duration of the comps, I’d need to accept that.
This probably isn’t conducive to patience for two yowling, scrapping toddlers at home or 100-odd volatile teenagers on a conveyor belt each day at work. I’d need to brace for that.
Then there’s the challenge of shouldering the dull ache of so many hours of pro surfing, especially with the nasally cadences of Joe Turpel as a soundscape.
Is this something akin to military grade torture? Did I want to find out?
And of course this melting pot of boredom, sleep-deprivation, whisky and lust for risk would be a catalyst for once again descending into deep, black gambling doom.
As many of you know, I am a hopeless addict.
This gig was surely a spiral to full relapse?
But, in the same way when you’re a kid you might hold your hand over a candle then keep going back to do it longer, I was a bit curious to see what happens when I simply threw myself into the flame.
And so I thought I’d give it a punt, because I like writing, and I like Derek, and I like (most of) you, too.
I love a creative challenge. So dead man’s shoes it is.
I must not gamble. I must not gamble. I must not gamble.
I. Must. Not. Gamble.
This is my mantra for the season. If for nothing else, stick around and watch me fail in a blaze of glorious self-loathing.
Join me for the joy and the pain. Isn’t this the whole point of it all? Because without one, how might you recognise the other?
I’m considerably less excited without Medina in the mix, of course, but I’m looking forward to getting a handle on the new guys. It’s ripe for someone unexpected to shine this year I reckon.
Anyway, let’s face it, there’s no way Medina quiets his inner beast for more than a couple of comps. He’ll have whittled all the sticks in the forest before long. It’ll be super fun to see him swing in from behind and start decimating people’s dreams in a ruthless game of catch-up.
And of course, lady and gentlemen, let’s not forget about one Robert Kelly Slater.
In what might or might not be his final year on Tour we can expect peak Kelly, in all his mad, mad glory. There’ll be no escaping him. Every narrative will lead to Kelly. He’ll make sure of it.
There’ll be a Netflix series worth of material over the course of the next year, and I can’t wait.
Slater will hit the half century a few days after Pipe finishes. Fifty. Five-O. That’s remarkable. I love to hate Slater, but the fact he’s still in the mix at the highest level bears repeating time and again.
He has approximately zero chance of claiming a twelfth title, but if the waves are big and barrelling he could absolutely take out a comp. And if he makes a final in decent waves I’ll be cheering him as loud as anyone.
Kelly Slater is a magnificent juxtaposition of genius on water and madness on land, and I’m here to celebrate all of it.
Oh Kelly, we’re going to have some fun, aren’t we?
Are you looking forward to it?
I am. I’m here for you, Kelly.
(P.S. I’ve already stuck 20 quid on Ivan Florence to win at, get this, 125/1! Clearly a bookie error in the early odds since he’s now dropped to 20/1. Well I wasn’t going to pass that up, was I?)