How foolish to ever doubt the old master.
Well, well. Two full rounds completed. All the waves and drama we could eat.
Victory and defeat, joy and tragedy. More perfect Pipeline.
But it was an inauspicious start.
Day two opened with twelve solid minutes of Connor Coffin and Barron Mamiya bobbing in the Pipe line-up like despondent flotsam.
No waves caught, no waves available.
Eventually, Barron posted a slew of high fives, looking every ounce the local and dispensing with Coffin in almost casual fashion as if he were a speck of dust on his collar.
The scale was compressed again in light of the swell that was supposed to arrive, and we were reminded of this approximately every thirty seconds for the entirety of the round of 32.
The broadcast went full bipolar early on today.
It began with punditry hot potato, with everyone throwing segments back and forward to each other, we’ve got Kaipo and Rosie, we’ve got the Surfline forecast (the graphic equivalent of a migraine), we’ve got echoey Strider from the line-up, we’ve got Makua Rothman, we’ve got Hydroflask DEEP STATS, we’ve got Laura Enever in the Red Bull Athlete Zone! And we’ve got Richie Porta…
And why so many breaks and “Stay Tuned” screens?
If there’s a purpose to this I’m missing it. Heats are in the water, waves being surfed and we’re left staring at images of an empty beach overlaid with ambient noise?
However, whether conscious improvement or just the product being so good we didn’t notice, things did get better.
Laura Enever is growing on me. Even Makua had some interesting points to make during a stint in the booth. He’s “here to stay”, as he announced at the beginning of today’s show. Was he talking to us? His new employers? Does Eddie have ELo Duct-taped in a basement with a tennis ball strapped in his mouth? One can only hope.
Slater appeared for his morning heat, slightly bleary and in a logo-less black wetsuit, lizard brown head gleaming. It was a demonic style choice I fully support.
He was even given the black singlet and advanced easily through his round of 32 heat over rookie Jake Marshall, who it’s probably unfair to say already looks like the whipping boy elect of this current crop of newbies. That’s less a slight on him and more a mark of just how good this new group look.
Slater’s performance was dominant, Satanic even. His post-heat presser was calm and without drama. He was simply heading home for a glass of hot water.
Knowing now what was to come later, one might be given to suspect he was also summoning mysterious forces in the interlude between heats.
Kanoa Igarashi beating Owen Wright destroyed nearly every bet I had.
And once again, with hindsight, it seems a shame that they faced off before the waves showed up. Surely Owen would have relished and triumphed in conditions like we saw later in the day.
There was to be an exciting end to the round of 32 heat between Kolohe and our new favourite Peruvian, Lucca Mesinas.
Andino had controlled the heat throughout with Mesinas’ scoring waves coming in two of his final three.
For his final and somewhat controversial score he split a peak at the buzzer with Andino, who went Backdoor. It looked like a scoring wave for both surfers. The feeling was that Mesinas likely got the score, but Kolohe had surely improved his.
A 6.83 for Mesinas vs a 5.07 for Andino seemed bizarre to even the most hardened of Kolohe sceptics. I haven’t watched it again (mainly because it’s three am and the WSL website is utter shite) but I do feel it’s worth another look.
It made me wonder whether a retrospective look at judging in the latter stages of heats (in much the same way as NBA referees produce a report on the officiating of the final two mins of games) would be something that would garner favour for judges.
Or would it just open up a can of worms and alienate them further?
Regardless, the Kolohe Curse might be real.
The World’s Greatest Skater Surfer was next up against Toledo.
The youngest, but curiously follically challenged Florence brother started strongly, though his scores seemed lowballed.
Little Pip went to work building a mini house by hunting micro barrels amongst the monsters, before being awarded a 7.67 for a Backdoor wave that was the highest score of the day to this point. It was solid but certainly seemed overscored on the scale that had been established.
Jack Robinson seemed like the safest bet of the day given his mastery of day one and a building swell, but couldn’t seem to find his rhythm. His defeat by perhaps the most impressive of the rookies so far, Brazilian Joao Chianca, was a surprise that proved once again betting on surfing is a fool’s errand.
John Florence rolled through his rd of 32 heat against Jackson Baker confidently, junkie beard almost obliterated by spit on his first wave.
At some point towards the end of this round Kaipo announced that the opening day of competition was the most viewed ever.
This may well be true, but I would suggest it’s more likely to be misrepresentation of fact. I would guess, given the way the WSL has pivoted to a content company and now streams on YouTube as well as the app, that every troll who checks in is counted and accounted for. I would guess that they just have more data available to them than before, and place more value in it.
But it hardly matters what they say when the waves show up, and by the beginning of the round of 16 the swell that had been promised all day had not only turned up, it had surpassed all predictions. It was imposing and perfect, and the performances grew with the swell.
The opening heat was Slater vs Mamiya. The Hawaiian asserted local authority early with a 6.50 and an 8.67. Slater answered back with an 8.00, but as the time ticked by I noted the following: “No excuses for Slater. He was outsurfed by a younger, more virile surfer. Which begs the question: if Kelly can’t do it in perfect Kelly conditions, then what hope for the remainder of the year? It could be a long, sad year for Slater and his acolytes.”
How foolish that was to seem seconds later.
Go back and watch the dying moments. Watch the little water slaps from Kelly. They were an incantation that we’ve seen before.
And with seconds remaining, the wave came.
Who could deny Slater the welling of emotion he showed on the sand in his post heat interview with Rosie. “It’s just nice to have a moment like that again,” said Kelly, gulping tears.
The 9.23 was perhaps overcooked by the judges in the emotion and drama of the moment, but it hardly mattered. The score was comfortably beyond the 7.18 he had needed with seconds left on the clock, 20 to be precise, he told us, when he had first eyed the wave, but far less when he stood up.
“I’ve just had so many moments like that, over thirty years,” Kelly said. “I don’t know what to make of it, maybe just a life spent in the ocean…”
It was a great moment. A Kelly moment. An old master at work.
When he regained composure the eyes sparkled once again. That was great, but it wasn’t enough. He knows he’s on a favourable side of the draw, the opposite side to John, and that’s who he wants in the end.
The honours for best heat of the day belonged to John Florence and Joao Chianca in maxing Pipe.
In truth, John never looked like losing, not at home, and not in these conditions. He posted a 9.77 for a gigantic, picture perfect Pipe wave that was composed yet not lacking intensity or drama. He was an artist at his zenith
But if that was the smoothest and most perfect wave of the heat, it wasn’t to be the highest scored. That honour belonged to Joao Chianca on the next wave of the set, sliding down the face more in air than water, before being bucked at the bottom and disappearing. It seemed like he had no chance of coming back, but when he did he was rewarded with a 9.87.
As with Kelly’s buzzer beater, and as we’ve seen on many occasions, the judges are not fully objective, rather they respond to the emotions of the moment. Last minute heroics or theatrics will always win out.
Florence backed up immediately with an 8.00, and was the rightful winner.
We can only hope that this event, which has served up surf competition in its resplendent finery, can provide us with a fitting climax.
And if we were to dare to dream, perhaps it might be the artist vs the old master, in the one arena they’d both choose, at the wave that favours neither and rewards us all.