Talk of a 12th world title at fifty is clearly sentimental bullshit. But if there’s one person that believes it’s possible it’s Kelly Slater.
Well, did it meet expectations? After stupendous Pipeline there was always the threat of a damp Sunset squib.
But intensity and swell built as the day progressed and transpired as fine entertainment, thanks mainly to the one component the WSL can’t control or sodomise.
Mother Nature came to play, as Strider might say.
I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to actively dislike “Mother Nature”. Strider’s the worst offender, but they’re all at it… Mother Nature this and that…slinging thin metaphor like prisoners seagulling from their cells.
Some other phrases fed to the WSL hive mind today were as follows:
So much water moving. Doesn’t do it justice. Huge playing field. Harder than it looks. Belongs on tour. Challenging wave. Chip ins. Building swell. Longer rail line.
It might seem pedantic to constantly nitpick at the broadcast team, but try watching all of it and not finding the repetition jarring.
Anyway, the waves were big.
Mother Nature was squirting with trembling knees.
How big? I have no idea. Barton called a set fifteen feet, which seemed reasonable to me. Surfline were probably calling it forty feet.
Typically, there was a lot of hyping how great Sunset is.
A vocal counterargument to whispered criticisms, perhaps mainly historic ones from the man in yellow, who seems more than ever to be in charge of the mixing desk.
I suppose any wave where a surfer can spend the first few seconds prone, the next few desperately hunting for a section, then score 7s or 8s for one big turn is to be justly questioned.
But I was looking forward to seeing some turns after Pipe. I’ve always gravitated towards surfers with an aesthetically pleasing bottom turn, the kind who will surely do well here.
One such surfer is Jordy Smith, who opened the day with a victory, on a 6’11″, no less.
A pro surfing supergeek might correct me (paging Longtom/Nick Carroll), but I would be surprised if this isn’t the biggest blade wielded in a WCT heat in many, many moons. Perhaps sometime in the early 00s?
But despite Jordy’s comfortable victory and my full and complete endorsement of longer boards, it did look a couple of inches over and he seemed to be wrestling with it a little. This was possibly just a marker of the first heat of the day and essentially a warm up for Smith.
A tangent I’ll save for another day is Jordy’s career arc. You either die a hero or live long enough for everyone to feel sorry for you. As the second oldest surfer in the draw (can you believe it?) I see him having a solid year.
Our current number one surfer in the world was absolutely rank in his first heat, finishing dead last behind wildcard Barron Mamiya (who was one of the smoothest performers all day) and rookie Callum Robson.
To be fair to him, he did look lovely in yellow. As Strider noted, it just seemed right, “like mustard on a hot dog”. And the WSL sure like a lot of mustard.
Is there a figure in professional sports more ritually and repetitively praised by people who are supposed to be objective broadcasters? I doubt it.
Going from first to last for Kelly would have been some kind of dark poetry. After the Pipe victory he was unwilling to leave the table, high on the possibilities despite the slim odds. It was like hitting an early few numbers at the roulette wheel. All of a sudden you’re glued to the table, even when the initial win is gone, and especially when more has.
Talk of a twelfth world title at fifty is clearly sentimental fairytale bullshit.
But mark my words: if there’s one person that believes it’s a possibility, it’s Kelly Slater.
I know we’re just a few heats into a long year, but on evidence so far there’s a fair chance Slater will be grandfathered into the final five.
The greatest athlete in pro surfing history, on home soil, aged fifty.
I can almost hear some shiny-faced child caterwauling Star Spangled Banner.
But he should’ve been out today.
Koa Smith, surfing his first heat of the day as replacement for Kai Lenny, clearly got the six he needed on a chunky wave right at the buzzer.
Re-watching it now it’s not the high seven or eight I was convinced it was in the moment, but that, perhaps, makes it more outrageous. We’ve seen how judges are swayed by emotion and last minute heroics, so why no gravy for Koa?
He made a tough looking take-off on a set wave (with largely set-up work in between, granted. But it’s Sunset, right?) then performed one of the better backhand turns we’d seen all day to air drop on the end section.
It had everything required to get the score, and more.
Slater had ditched his board and was cleaned up by the very set that Koa caught for a full minute as the heat closed, and was eventually picked up by the ski. That should’ve been his inglorious end.
At risk of beating a Longtom drum, the WSL still depends on Kelly Slater. Given the mainstream attention he garnered in the wake of Pipe, perhaps now more than ever.
John Florence produced probably the best turns of the day, holding his rail and body in a way that evoked the Ghost of Margaret River. His round one win was assured yet somehow not convincing.
Without sounding like a JJF skeptic, it’ll be interesting to see what he can string together. His turns (or more accurately, Turns) were outstanding, but I often feel they flatter to deceive. How many times have we seen him produce these moments and not win?
John was on a typical 6’2″ today in comparison to many others who opted for extra length. 6’6″ seemed to be a popular choice, but with some extending beyond this, perhaps unwisely? It must be hard to make board selections around fellow pros and local experts muddying the waters of decision.
A longer rail to hold and caress whilst hunting for a section at Sunset does seem like the wise choice, but this doesn’t suit everyone. There was a lot of epoxy-like chatter, a lot of high and unpleasant looking noses. Scores were awarded based on those that bounced vs those that didn’t.
Is this the greatest disparity of equipment choice we’ve seen in a competition for a long time? That in itself sparks interest for me.
Kaipo and Makua seemed to be stuck on a loop of long boards short boards long rail lines long boards long long boards short boards rail lines long rails short rails long boards boards long long short long boards.
It was exhausting.
The BG commentariat seemed generally in favour of Makua and felt he was improving. I felt he had a voice like Temazepam. While mildly preferable to the amphetamine-like side effects of Kaipo, I still can’t endorse it.
Kaipo called Sunset a “time bandit” on several occasions today. I have no idea what he meant. Neither did he, but he knew he bloody liked it.
To be absolutely fair, the broadcast was pared back and improved for it. Live action was still missed in favour of ads, of course, but there were fewer cuts to different places and people that detracted from what was going on in the water. It seemed the producers were more focused on delivering an unfettered stream of live surfing. Imagine.
A whole heat passed, or perhaps even two, where we didn’t hear from Strider. Perhaps calling Kaipo “babe” a couple of times was just too strange, even as a Striderism.
Italo looked to have a little pep in his step despite coming second to Ultimate Surfer Zeke Lau in his opener. New woman, no cry, perhaps.
His backhand might have the required flashiness for a goofy to win here. And have you seen his Insta lately? Blimey. Roids or just testosterone? Worth some money, in any case.
Some closing notes on others…
Has there ever been a surfer as inexplicably overrated as Ethan Ewing? I noted how fast he went once today, but most of the time he’s doing absolutely nothing yet the pundits are talking him up as if he’s the Second Coming.
And what about Morgs? Second album syndrome if ever I’ve seen it. Still in the comp by virtue of an interference call he had nothing to do with.
This is a bold and unruly prediction for a bold and unruly wave, but I’m calling this comp as Jordy’s to lose, even at this early stage. He wasn’t the best performer today, but Sunset is surely built for his game.
There was a lot of booth hype for Ultimate Surfer Zeke Lau, notably from close friend Makua Rothman, but for my money (and I do mean that very literally) he’s a poor man’s Jordy Smith.
(Sidenote: wouldn’t it be great if you could lay bets in surfing? If anyone knows of an outlet with this functionality I’d be delighted for an introduction…)
Meat and potatoes elimination time now. FFS why don’t they just start with the round of 32?
Hurley Pro Sunset Beach Round 1 Results:
HEAT 1: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 12.50 DEF. Ryan Callinan (AUS) 8.33, Matthew McGillivray (ZAF) 6.84
HEAT 2: Kanoa Igarashi (JAP) 15.33 DEF. Lucca Mesinas (PER) 10.17, Caio Ibelli (7.64)
HEAT 3: Barron Mamiya (HAW) 11.40 DEF. Callum Robson (AUS) 9.83, Kelly Slater (USA) 8.94
HEAT 4: Jadson Andre (BRA) 11.50 DEF. Conner Coffin (USA) 9.10, Jordan Lawler (AUS) 7.90
HEAT 5: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 12.43, DEF. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 11.67, Billy Kemper (HAW) 9.86
HEAT 6: Filipe Toledo (BRA) Joao Chianca (BRA) DEF. Kai Lenny (HAW)
HEAT 7: Imaikalani deVault (HAW) 14.76 DEF. Samuel Pupo (BRA) 9.00, Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 8.43
HEAT 8: John John Florence (HAW) 12.83 DEF. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 11.20, Owen Wright (AUS) 9.84)
HEAT 9: Jackson Baker (AUS) 10.77 DEF. Deivid Silva (BRA) 9.63, Griffin Colapinto (USA) 8.73
HEAT 10: Kolohe Andino (USA) 12.20 DEF. Nat Young (USA) 10.93, Seth Moniz (HAW) 7.97
HEAT 11: Jake Marshall (USA) 13.27 DEF. Jack Robinson (AUS) 12.40, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 5.87
HEAT 12: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 9.33 DEF. Frederico Morais (POR) 8.43, Connor O’Leary (AUS) 1.33
Hurley Pro Sunset Beach Elimination Round Results:
HEAT 1: Matthew McGillivray (ZAF)13.57 DEF. Kelly Slater (USA) 13.00, Koa Smith (HAW) 12.77
HEAT 2: Billy Kemper (HAW) 11.66 DEF. Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 6.43, Owen Wright (AUS) 5.67
HEAT 3: Connor O’Leary (AUS) 13.54 DEF. Griffin Colapinto (USA) 12.17, Jordan Lawler (AUS) 6.60
HEAT 4: Caio Ibelli (BRA) 10.77 DEF. Seth Moniz (HAW) 9.26, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 6.83