And, after all the claims, all the hype, women denied their moment.
And so I made it after all, with you, to revel in live professional surfing and a sporting moment for the ages.
No witches or epiphanies for me, but a plunge into an icy river under darkness will give a man some pause. As will cracking your head against a stone wall after too much whisky and general boisterousness. A man might also recognise his own mortality when he is bleeding profusely from a head wound whilst a friend groans with rib pain and a storm rages outside, miles of wilderness away from the nearest hospital.
If Shaun “Charon” Thompson had been there to ferry us across the river we might have left then, but as it was we burned all the wood, slept it off, then faced ourselves and the elements in the morning.
I arrived back just as it was kicking off, tuning in with the back of my head still caked in blood.
Don’t question my commitment.
Death and danger was present at Pipeline right from the off. They’ve been playing it up all week, as they always do. World’s Most Dangerous Wave and all that. But Cote cranked up the danger hyperbole meter to 11 today.
It was clearly part of the mandated script: HISTORY. DANGER. EMPHASISE EXCELLENT WAVES. DON’T MENTION THE WOMEN.
Challenging Pipeline. Dangerous Pipeline. Deadly Pipeline. Perfect Pipeline. Scary Pipeline. Awesome Pipeline. Phenomenal Pipeline. Historic Pipeline.
Give us a break.
Is Pipe really the world’s deadliest wave? I’ll defer to those with personal experience on that one, but I might suggest that there are many waves around the world with attributes that would scare me more than Pipeline. Slabbing, gigantic, isolated, sharky, cold…
Whose benefit is the danger hype for anyway? I would guess not us. I would guess the average surf fan knows it’s a serious wave.
But the greater problem is that there are only so many ways you can say this, or so many times you need to. It’s this kind of fake-hype, shallow narrative, WSL doublespeak that really irks.
Perhaps it was subconsciously excusing the women from surfing to make the decision to call it off more palatable. Perhaps they were simply thinking, as we all were, how are the women going to cope?
The screaming silence about the women’s comp was the dominant story of the day until the very last moments. After all the claims, all the hype, all the history.
JMD promised we would crown champions in both men’s and women’s divisions at the outset of the day. Never has the appetite for women’s surfing been so high.
But they didn’t.
And not that I blame them really, but at least own that decision instead of trying to pull the wool over our eyes. We get that you’ve been hyping this moment all week, but a little honesty would be more agreeable than bare-faced JMD lies.
With fifteen minutes to go in the men’s final Jesse was wheeled out sheepishly to tell us that conditions were “less optimal”. She’d been chatting to some of the women, she said. They weren’t up for it. I noted the “some”. I presume it means Tyler Wright, who outright said in a post-heat interview earlier in the week that she didn’t want to surf if the waves got big.
I would genuinely like to know if all four women were consulted.
If so, how was this done? Did Carissa and MJW (in my eyes the only two women remaining who could’ve surfed those waves) also not want to go?
Please ask for us, Jen See.
I felt for the women today. I felt that the WSL had used them as pawns of wokeness to garner media attention then hung them out to dry.
Not letting them surf and not confronting the reasons has undermined the whole show. It has undermined the likes of Carissa and MJW. Surfers who were denied their moment. Denied the opportunity to do what they were there to do, and what they surely could have. Denied the chance to rocket women’s surfing into the reality promised by the WSL’s bluster.
Fittingly, JMD’s announcement was made as Kelly threaded an excellent Backdoor wave.
Conditions were perhaps not perfect, but they were pretty damn good. Good enough for a men’s final. Good enough for eights and nines. The WSL had gone full Big Brother.
If the finals day lacked the consistently perfect waves of the earlier rounds, it made up for it in other ways.
The quarters were a disjointed affair. Two highly entertaining match-ups were spliced by two immediately forgettable ones.
Kelly looked imperious against Kanoa.
A Slaterism I’ve noted over the years is that 360 wrap kickout. When he’s doing that, you get the sense something’s brewing. The win was gratifying for everyone I’m sure, not least him, but more so the anti-Kanoa contingent.
It’s a movement that seems to grow stronger by the day. I was curious to discover the reasons via the BG live comments and asked if you might summarise your anti-Kanoa stance in no more than two words.
Karl Von Fanningstadt went into the excellent range with “wears cufflinks”, but JohnsKnees was already holding a high 9 for “Huntington Beach”.
“Kanoa Triggerashi” as someone later called him seems an appropriate moniker going forward.
Seth dispatched John in the other quarter worth mentioning, with excellent surfing from both according to scores and gut.
But the tone and result was set in the first couple of minutes. The horizon blackened as a gigantic set rolled through. This early in the proceedings all surfers scheduled to be in the water were surely quivering, as I was at home.
Seth snagged the best Backdoor wave of the competition to this point for a 9.60, only eclipsed by Slater in the final. John failed to exit a left.
The result wasn’t surprising to me, however. If I’d been a bit braver I might have staked a heftier chunk of cash on it.
Does John fail to perform when the pressure is really on? Seems an odd thing to say for a two-time world champ, but he seems at his best when he’s a clear frontrunner, rather than when he’s expected to be.
My collected experience of watching him in competitions has manifested a lingering doubt over his capacity to deliver killer blows under duress. For me, this is the separation between him and Medina.
At some point during the quarters we were treated to a phone-in befitting of finals day.
Would you believe me, dear reader, if I told you that it trumped both Gerry Lopez and Shaun White?
Here we were, revelling in the joy of great waves, warm water and hearty competition, and here comes Shaun Tomson, dropping in to kill the buzz and hammer home the brutal truths of our own mortality.
He might well have been wearing a cowl and holding a scythe.
First he noted the first person killed at Pipe, then he told us it was entirely possible, even likely, and possibly almost certain that you might die at Pipeline. He noted a few more dead people, reminded us once again that the surfers were putting their lives on the line, this very moment, right in front of us. It was so dangerous that someone might be killed any second! You just don’t know.
It was not what anyone hungover needed to hear. I touched the matted, bloody hair at the back of my head and had to step away from the laptop for a moment and exhale deeply.
Fucking thanks, Shaun. Lovely of you to drop by.
Thankfully he was still alive and prescient enough to note there was an actual wave being surfed, forcing the inept producers to show us the heat instead of continuing on his grim death march.
When he returned he served us up some meandering cosmic verbiage. I’ve honestly had hallucinogenic experiences that were less intense than listening to a saucer-eyed Shaun Tomson.
“They can look into the future. Alien level,” he suggested of the surfers in the water.
Cote said he could tell by his eyes that he’d gone into full surf fan mode. It looked to us like he’d gone into full barbiturate mode.
However, I do hope the WSL continue this phone-in though future events. The comedy value is unparalleled, and they’ve set a high bar to start.
Semi finals were largely disappointing, but for the interference call that derailed the Slater vs Miggy match-up after twelve solid minutes of nothing.
To be fair to Slater, the “master of war” as Strider called him, he noted at the end that it wasn’t a way he wanted to win a heat. No-one believed him, of course. Winning is winning.
We cut to Richie Porta, who could barely contain his excitement for obscurely clarifying an obscure rule. In doing so we missed Kelly’s one decent scoring wave. The WSL were going to their fundamentals for the finals.
BG commenter Gelato Pickle managed what a tittering Richie couldn’t in noting this from the WSL rule book: “…it is the responsibility of each Judge to determine which Surfer has the inside position based on whether the wave is a superior right or left, but never on which Surfer is first to their feet.”
It was a bit of a disappointing semi and I felt for Miggy who had been excellent all comp.
Seth beat Caio in the other semi, deservedly if not particularly notably, but perhaps I missed something.
I may have been distracted by the triumphant return to form of Rosy Hodge.
She had clearly stepped up her game for finals. Looking more like her radiant self and apropos of what I’m unsure, she mentioned “whipped cream” at the start of the semis.
I think commenter Waterproof Polo spoke for many of us when he wrote “Please say whuup crahhm again Rosie”, and I can only presume she was playing to the fans.
This fan, for one, was happy to have her back.
Not so fast, Laura Enever.
A note for some of the other broadcast team:
Strider’s persistently garbled reports from the line up were at least the antithesis of Shaun Thompson’s dour death march. We had no idea what he was trying to say, of course, but at least he was happy. It was the punditry equivalent of licking windows.
Ross produced the neologism “friffle”, to describe the texture on a wave. Cote was impressed and vowed to write it down. He definitely wasn’t joking.
If there was a WSL Wordle of the event it was “SENDY”. I hope you hate that as much as me.
And if you’re reading, Makua (unlikely I know, for practical reasons), can we just put an argument to bed? Kelly Slater is not the greatest athlete of all time.
You can make a case for him, sure, and his longevity is unparalleled, but he has dominated a minority sport which grossly lacks diversity.
Aside from this, surfing is not a truly big stage. Surfing has never, and maybe will never, have moments where the whole world is watching. Maybe Pipeline is our Superbowl, our World Cup final, but really it’s nothing like it. We’re just a handful of core fans of a niche sport (plus Samwaters).
The greatest athletes of all time need to come from sports where the talent pool is so vast that to rise to the top and stay there is unfathomable. If you dominate a sport that everyone can have a shot at, then you’re the greatest of all time. Michael Jordan, Lebron James, Floyd Mayweather, Muhammad Ali, Lionel Messi, Eluid Kipchoge…we can discuss them.
Slater, great as he is to us, not so much to the world.
It’s an argument I used to make to non-surfing friends who would laugh at me. And I’d think, oh well, it’s just because they don’t surf. Then I realised that was exactly the point.
And so to the finale, the outcome of which seemed decided on the beach.
Both surfers deserved to be there, and as such it was a fitting final.
But poor Seth looked drained, slight and shattered after his semi. He’d given it to Slater before the starting horn.
There was some awkward pre-heat slapping between the two, Kelly no doubt telling him how much he loved him. Not that I doubt this was genuine. We saw a raw, honest and emotional Slater today, exposed and opened by his one true love, and I for one appreciated that.
The final took a while to get going. Kelly got a flat nine that seemed a little high.
There was a lot of talk from the booth about “ribs” on the waves. Another term to describe the effects of wind that seemed very in vogue for the day.
Seth couldn’t seem to make anything, simply exhausted in his third heat of the day and on a back-to-back. They should really have given him a rest before the final. It seemed unjust.
Then, in the final two minutes, a Backdoor wave for each man as good as I’ve seen in any final. Both made gravity defying drops into gaping pits, and both came out clean.
Slater’s wave edged it in both score and aesthetics. For me it was the wave of the event.
He might have dropped a full eight feet through fresh air on the take off, but the little head dip to make it under the lip seemed to commit not just his rail but his whole being.
It was beautiful. Coming out, he knew it, too.
Kelly was rightly emotional in the aftermath. He was vindicated, then, in our eyes and his own mind. None of the other shit mattered. All that stuff that’s periphery to watching this man still conjure magic from a surfboard, to still be producing moments of greatness, mere days from his 50th birthday.
I do wish someone other than Kaipo had been there to give this moment the respect it deserved. Someone with a little composure and a few brain cells. Ronnie would probably have been best.
Kaipo’s over-hyped, childish inanities ruined and infantilised the moment. It was not befitting of sporting history, which is a claim hard to argue with, and it would’ve been more appropriate to have someone with a little composure to ask some decent questions when Slater was so raw and open.
“I committed my life to this,” Slater said.
And where would we be without people like him, people willing to do this?
There’s an argument that sports stars should stay in their lane, do what they do best. Maybe they should, maybe they shouldn’t, but it seems an appropriate way to think about Kelly Slater.
It’s not fair, I know that. It’s a bit like when a band grows up and can’t make albums we love anymore, because they can’t stay young forever, no matter how much we want to trap them in that bubble.
We love to see Slater surf, and maybe we don’t always let him be a human being. Maybe that’s a bit unfair.
But the vicarious pleasure we get when a great athlete does what they’ve dedicated a lifetime to doing, when they do what we could never do, that’s something truly special.
Winning for Kelly is winning for us. His life may have been one dimensional, not balanced or happy, perhaps, but the moments of joy he’s produced for us as surf fans are what elite sporting competition is all about.
“I’ve hated lots of it,” he said.
We know, Kelly, but we’ll remember and love it for the rest of our lives.