Yesterday was a terrific reminder of how good pro surfing could be if only the current owners of pro surfing, billionaire Dirk Ziff’s WSL, reached into their bag, pulled out a clawhammer and did away with twenty-four of the current thirty-six surfers.
No fear or regret, but no elation of sense of triumph either. Just a job that has to be done.
Today, even better, four surfers left in the men and women, a handful of heats, no need to run through the void of low-tide etc.
"Colapinto’s rotation as the day died was as pretty as I’ve ever seen. It was awarded the first ten of the year unanimously from the judges."
Brazil vs USA final looms at MEO Pro Portugal after wild day of surfing that saw the season’s first ten-point ride, “A lot of juice was squeezed from a fruit that began plump and ripe and ended virtually dehydrated!”
Meanwhile, "Strider and Joe sounded like a pair of faith healers, vomiting platitudes and gushing superlatives."
More trees you say?
Ok, just one.
Today I visited the Fortingall Yew. It’s the oldest living organism in Europe, and if more extreme estimates of its age are correct it’s the oldest living thing in the world.
Estimates vary significantly from 3000-9000 years old, but because the inner part of the trunk rots and disappears as it ages it’s impossible to say with more accuracy. Many experts agree 5000 years seems reasonable.
It’s hard to contextualise the deep past, but that’s before we had invented the wheel or writing.
If you were a Brazilian pro surfer I would tell you the tree was already 3000 years old when Christ was born.
I was staggered by it. I was diminished by it. What if trees are sentient? Think of what it knows…
Stranger still, the graveyard where it lives has a walled section beneath the tree. Unknown to me until today, it is the final resting place of Sir Donald Currie who bequeathed it to his relatives for their own earthly remains. Did I qualify, I wondered?
Sir Donald Currie was a ship owner, politician and philanthropist. He was recognised not only for his achievements but generosity as a landowner and kindness towards his tenant crofters.
I thought about purpose, and achievement, and ancient connections. I thought about making your mark and being remembered.
Then I went back to the van to stream more professional surfing on my phone, try to ignore the money I had thrown indiscriminately into a dark pit, and to wonder what I might say about it all.
The day started well.
Supertubos was divine in the morning sun – cold, green and hollow. Paul Evans called it “semi-furious”. It was a morning to wash clean the memories of the previous days of competition.
We were reminded why we do this, and why we do at Supertubos. It was a morning we needed to remind us why we’re here spelunking through the dark days, losing money and hope.
It’s not just because the local mayor and Portuguese board of tourism are prepared to fluff the WSL’s pillows and leave them miniature chocolates, it’s because the waves can get good.
I’ve heard all of you Portugal berators and naysayers in recent days, but I’ll defend it to the death. Not least because it’s the only European spot remaining on Tour, which really is a travesty.
But also because when it’s on Supertubos serves up a perfect A-frame with options in both directions. It favours neither goofy nor regular and is perhaps the most democratic wave on Tour.
The remaining heats of the round of 32 and the entirety of the round of 16 was completed using the overlapping heat format, before switching to single heats for the quarters.
Please, anyone reading with the power to wield influence, let’s just make overlapping heats the norm, yeah? It’s infinitely better for many, many reasons. We churn through the draw with a faster pace and more action, we make the most of good conditions, slow heats can be disguised, and it forces late drama when the priority switches and there’s limited time left.
I’m not sure all the surfers would support it, but I’m absolutely sure fans would.
The production as a whole needs to get a lot better at managing the dual heats – I don’t think the pace is so frantic that we need to miss waves, for example – but it’s definitely a format change that should be permanent.
If the whole day had played out like the morning heats it would’ve been a resounding success. As it was it went to shit for the quarter finals and we were back to turns on windy faces. Colapinto’s ten point rotation to end the day was a light in the dark, but more on that in a minute.
Standout moments from the morning were Nat Young channeling Rose Namajunas (whose name he wore on his back) to manhandle a critical drop and a deep tube for a deserved nine-points, and John Florence, clearly feeling himself in the European Pipeline by casually threading barrels and detonating end sections like it was a freesurf.
Everyone knows when John is in a rhythm like this he’s unstoppable. It’s an altered state he struggles to find consistently in competition. His post heat interview suggested he recognises this, too. I know John could have many years ahead, but I just can’t see him having the fire to keep at it. At some point the humble surf fan will need to accept that Florence’s competitive career might never match his talent. There are two world titles in the bag, and although we might believe he should have more, I’m not sure he needs them.
Heat of the morning surely went to Kelly vs Caio to close out the round of 32. With archangel Ibelli dressed once again in white there are some heavy handed religious metaphors I’ll try to avoid.
It went back and forth but Caio led until Kelly got a tube to doggy-door exit then a lip to the head that was awarded an 8.17.
It seemed highly questionable in the scheme of things, but this swung the pendulum back in Lucifer’s favour.
Just as perplexing was Caio’s almost buzzer beater. Needing a mid-seven, he threaded a long barrel on a small but not inconsequential inside wave and exited fast and clean. It looked like the score he needed every day of the week. Instead, he was given a 6.37.
If I’d had money on it I might have written an entire article about how shocking it was, how utterly farcical that he didn’t get the score. It was a smaller wave, but it was deep, technical and loaded with drama, and we’ve seen in the past how much the latter can juice scores.
But it was not to be. The crusade was over, Ibelli had been smote. I believe I predicted god’s patience wearing thin for the claiming of mid-twos earlier in the competition.
In Kelly’s post heat breakdown he made sure to point out that Caio had a lead on him overall, and therefore a target on his back. Then he pointed out that Caio had the wave to win the heat but messed it up, eliciting joyous hollering from him in the water. Then he started talking about old heats at Sunset which seemed little to do with anything but him working through his mistakes as if he was talking to a therapist.
A blight on the morning was the commentary team, as usual. The problem became wildly apparent today. Because they’d spent the last few days of objectively shite waves telling us how pumping it was, how these were the world’s best surfers, how frothing everyone was, not least them etc etc, when it came to today, when some of this commentary would actually have been warranted, it had been rendered meaningless and they had run out of things to say.
We were the bored partners of a gushing, clingy lover who says “I love you” multiple times a day. The words no longer carried any meaning.
Strider and Joe were just one long stream of incessant drivel. They sounded like a pair of faith healers, vomiting platitudes and gushing superlatives that meant nothing.
Sometimes I think I’ve watched too much pro surfing and the things that grate on me must go unnoticed by a general audience, but today I was vindicated. My partner and I were driving back from a glorious weekend without children.
Like a dedicated professional I streamed the comp as I was driving.
Entirely unprompted she would laugh at the two men who seemed terrified of silence and so filled it with words instead. Any words, in any order.
What the fuck are they talking about? She asked. I had no answer.
“We’re so used to him exiting, or brexiting these tubes,” said Strider this morning apropos of nothing.
“They’re getting paid to have fun, getting paid to work, getting paid to live,” he said dramatically like it was the climax of a shit movie.
Strider in the booth is horrendous. He just makes noise, endless noise. There’s surfing cliche, there’s wandering verbiage, there’s utter mince. “It’s a great user experience, being at the beach…” he mangled at one point.
I’ll let him off with “Jackson Baker the candlestick maker” just because that’s the only way I’ll be able to think of him now.
A slightly embarrassing realisation I had today was that I’m beginning to enjoy how clinical and composed some of Kanoa’s surfing is… I was so excited about how much he blew the tail out on a closer today I swerved wildly, nearly putting the van off the road.
The quarter finals felt a little flat to me. The wind had kicked up and we were back to eeking out turns and looking for hail mary airs.
A lot of juice was squeezed from a fruit that began plump and ripe and ended virtually dehydrated.
But there was to be closure worthy of any ending. Colapinto’s rotation as the day died was as pretty as I’ve ever seen. It was awarded the first ten of the year unanimously from the judges, and you won’t find any argument from me.
It was captured live from the drone angle. The setting sun cast a thick band of shimmering gold across the Atlantic, and at the end Colapinto’s gangly silhouette spun high and clean. It was simply divine.
You might imagine Caio Ibelli watching from the shore, noting the ethereal golden light, Griffin’s rotation as if lifted by an invisible hand, and his own sodden white wetsuit on the ground, and wondering…
(Upcoming semis, Filipe v Italo, John John v Griff.)
Britain aims to become international surfing powerhouse ahead of Paris Olympics by appointing GB Snowsport’s chief executive as chairwoman of GB Surfing!
"We need to find kids who already have the skills, the balance, the athleticism."
Oh you know how much I love the snow, letting me bore you with my icy adventures semi-regularly, but I have never once considered that sliding down a mountain improves one’s surfing ability. Snow (boarding specifically) and surf share a wonderful extreme DNA but curling, freestyle skiing, bobsled don’t really seem to offer much to each other, in terms of performance, but, once again, it appears as if I am wrong.
Days ago, the Kingdom of Great Britain appointed the chief executive of GB Snowsport’s Vicky Gosling as new chairwoman of GB Surfing.
Gosling will not step down as CEO of Snowport and sees beautiful synergistic possibilities just over the horizon, boldly declaring, “If you ask anybody what I always bang on about, it’s precisely that. How do we do talent ID better? We need to find kids who already have the skills, the balance, the athleticism. We’re looking at gymnastics, we’re looking at skateboarding, at cycling for endurance and cross-country, we’re looking at rowing. I would like to be in a position where you give them a period of 12-18 months where they’re training together, you don’t need to specialise yet – a bit like doing your GCSEs I guess. Build on skills like agility, athleticism – and then let’s see which sport suits you best, or where do we think your skills suit the best. Particularly if you cluster them – so freestyle, or endurance, or speed. Everyone would then be a really strong place to bring them through.”
Sounds very Chinese.
But which other sporting skills, specifically snow skills, could make world-class surfers?
Oh man. I wish professional surfing was actually like biathlon.
Which of our surfers would be the best shot? What would they shoot at?
Stephanie Gilmore, the champ's season hanging by a thread.
Comment live, day four, MEO Pro Portugal, as seven-time world champ Stephanie Gilmore’s season hangs by thread!
Make the tragic mistake of walking into a comment room!
Gimme a tawny blonde with tawny eyes with deep full breasts thrusting arrogantly and a man-eating look over eight hours of heats any day but here we are, eyes impacted under the merciless repetition of thirty-minute heats, more if the heat restart button is punched.
But, where else can you meet like-minded souls enjoying the masochism of it all, part cruelty, part bonhomie.
"Jack Robinson was eliminated by a minuscule 0.59 points. Tell me the scoring is consistent enough for such narrow margins of victory…"
More on poetry, you say?
Just a pinch then.
I told the class an anecdote yesterday to precede our discussion about the impulse to create. Poetry’s a tough sell to teenagers, you see. Tough sell to anyone, really.
A little anecdote can let you into a story when you don’t quite know where you want to go or how you might get there.
I told them how I was compelled to write things down from the moment I knew how to form letters. I couldn’t help it. I was always scribbling little drifting couplets for no-one to see. My formative experiences of music were all about words, I spent hours studiously copying and deciphering lyrics. I covered my school jotters with memorised verse and chorus, metre and rhyme.
Seven heats in the round of 32 were completed today. If there were stand out moments I didn’t see them. But I’m willing to be convinced that my apathy was unwarranted or unfair. Come ahead.
Filipe looked ominous as expected in conditions where only he can manufacture speed and verve and make sub-par waves look acceptable.
Morgan Ciblic was pipped by Connor O’Leary by 0.07 points despite doing the smoothest backhand surfing I saw all day. No hitches in his bottom turns, no re-adjustments or wiggles, just clean transitions.
0.07 points? Justify that, WSL.
Jack Robinson was also eliminated by a minuscule 0.59 points.
Tell me the scoring is consistent enough for such narrow margins of victory and I’ll laugh.
We’ve complained about scoring recently, as we always do, but only because it’s been mildly comprehensible. When the waves are consistent and demand to be ridden in similar fashion it’s easy for us to compare and contrast. But when surfers are forced to hunt for scraps and random peaks then approaches diversify. In this situation it becomes farcical to send surfers home on evidence of fractions of arbitrary points.
Fittingly, I’ve just tried to watch the replay of Ciblic vs O’Leary and the screen goes black after the first minute or so. Technical glitch or Stalinist erasure?
In conditions like today the scoring becomes too alien to be controversial. Or perhaps for any of us to really care if it is.
Except, of course, those of us who’d bet heavily on Barron Mamiya and Molly Picklum. Both went out today. Maybe they deserved to on the strength of one scrappy heat, though certainly not on talent. This is not a new problem, but it is still to the detriment of the competition and our entertainment.
Is Jack Robinson just a less talented JJF? He attracts many accolades but seems some way from proving his competitive chops at this level.
We were spoiled for waves in Hawaii. We knew that was a danger but perhaps couldn’t accept it. Regardless, it’s an omen that has come home to roost in Portugal like a grim, black bird.
At times today the waves looked fun, for you or I, perhaps. Not for the world’s best surfers in the world’s most mediocre waves.
In these conditions it’s a total lottery, and that doesn’t feel right for this level of competition.
It’s supposed to be the highest level of professional surfing, yet you’d be forgiven for feeling it’s not only unfulfilling, but gutted and hollowed.
Perhaps I’m just sore at bets gone awry.
I’ll correct myself there, I am sore at bets gone awry. But I’m sorer at the fact that what lies ahead makes it almost impossible to chase my losses.
It comes and it goes, I suppose.
Joe Turpel reminded us today that it was “interesting how years come and go”.
Sure, Joe. Time as a construct is fascinating.
Lots of surfers have noted how at home they feel in Portugal.
I’m not entirely sure where this comes from other than maybe some backhanders from the mayor of Peniche, but I’m glad they’re having fun outside of surfing, because it’s about to go onshore and get a whole lot worse.
I dealt with intermittent toothache today. I woke with a dull ache at three am and it came and went throughout the day. As the pain subsided a little this evening and the darkness folded in I went for a run.
I ran on the banks of the River Tay, the longest river in Scotland and the largest in the UK by volumetric discharge. Members of a rookery cawed through the dusk. Snowdrops lent luminosity to the trail ahead.
The banks of the river are home to an arboretum of rare and spectacular trees: giant redwoods, Douglas fir, Japanese red cedar, noble fir, European larch, western hemlock, English oak… Some of them are 400 years old. How stoic and dependable they seemed. How self-contained, resilient and powerful. After the shaky uncertainties of the day I felt deeply drawn to them, envious, even.
Fishermen in tweeds idled the outboard of their wooden dinghy against the flow. I had passed the same men and others earlier, but there was nary a twitch of line nor stir of salmon for any of them.
Is a passion still worth your time if you don’t get a chance to perform?
What if the conditions for success are mysterious and perhaps even down to chance?
And how about being forced to do it in front of an audience for points and your livelihood?