I really need to get out of the habit of underrating Brisa. I ranked her way down in fifteenth last time. Eesh. | Photo: WSL

Post-Sunset and Pre-Portugal Women’s WTF Rankings, “Sunset exposed the one-trick wonders. Many women wanted to fit their usual turns into the unruly Sunset lineup. It did not work super great!”

"I have renamed this feature. It’s my party and I can do what I want. Power, it sounds so masculine! So definitive! And I am neither of those things."

Welcome back to the Women’s Power Rankings. BeachGrit official! 

I have renamed this feature. It’s my party and I can do what I want.

 Power, it sounds so masculine! So definitive! And I am neither of those things. 

WTF also captures the chaos of this particular CT season so far. Sunset upended the rankings in so many surprising ways. I’m not sure it’s my favorite ever CT event, but I don’t hate it. If it happens again next year, I will not be sad. 

One thing I did like, is the way the Sunset lineup exposed the one-trick wonders. Quite a few women wanted to fit their usual turns into the unruly Sunset lineup. It did not work super great. 

Lots of the rookies found more success than usual, maybe because they came to the whole thing without a lot of preconceptions. Just surf some waves. So simple. 

Next up, it’s beach break time in Portugal. It is cold. The contest is mobile with multiple breaks and wind directions. Apparently, there are lefts. Not my favorite! But I am not trying to win a world title, fortunately. 

To the rankings! 

18. (-4) Moana Jones Wong 

She’s still surfing’s new It Girl, but she didn’t make her heats at Sunset. No one should be given a free pass to the CT on the basis of a single result, no matter how badass that result is. This is my firm stance. With Vahine Fierro rippin’ it up in Tahiti, a wildcard for Teahupo’o isn’t assured for Moana. I hope she gets fired the fuck up, hits the QS, and destroys. If she does have what it takes, it will be very fun to see her on Tour. But she needs the results to back it.

17. (-6) Bronte McCaulay

I gave Bronte an overly optimistic billing last time, and she promptly went out in round two. To be fair, she was fresh off the plane with almost no time in the Sunset lineup. I got carried away by the clips I’ve seen of her in heavy surf out there in West Australia. This, my friends, is why I do not bet on surfing. Bronte returns as a wildcard for Portugal. The WSL gave her the nod after her contest season was interrupted by travel restrictions and family tragedy. The lefts in Portugal should favor her and I’d expect her to move on up the rankings real soon here. 

16. (-14) Steph Gilmore 

At her best, Steph is still a lovely surfer. But these days, she has trouble with the grindy heats, the heats where the waves aren’t super perfect. Steph doesn’t like to surf bad waves. I mean, honestly, who does? But that makes it hard to be a successful contest surfer, since you have to surf the waves you’re given. Drifting around the lineup, looking for waves that aren’t there, well, that isn’t going to win a contest. Steph spent a lot of time drifting at Sunset and not much time surfing. She lost her round one, squeaked through round two, then went out in three. Not exactly a world champion trajectory. Time to grind, Steph. 

15. (-7) Courtney Conlogue

This was definitely not the Hawaii campaign Courtney hoped to have. She trains her ass off and might be the most jacked woman on Tour. Respect. I like how fearless Courtney can be. She’ll go for the gnarly section every time. She just needs to make them more often. Easier said than done. She nailed a solid two-turn combo for a nine in her opening heat at Sunset. In fact, she might have had one of the highest heat totals of round one, but she couldn’t keep it rolling. Consistency is her weakness and it sent her home early in Hawaii. 

14. (-8)  Tati West

After her high finish last year, I expected Tati to come out swinging in these early events. Also, she grew up in Kauai. Surely, she learned something there. Nope. She went down in round three to Luana Silva. I can’t say I remember much about her Sunset heats at all, but her Pipe surfing was… not great. Portugal should go better for her. 

13. (+0) Sally Fitzgibbons

Regardless of sport, some athletes benefitted from the Covid break, but many didn’t. I’d put Sal in the second group, and I’m not entirely sure why. I do know she put a priority on airs in recent years, and has put in many hours in onshore crap working on them. It’s hard to be good at everything at once, and that may explain her underwhelming Hawaii performances. If she wants to make the midyear cut, Sal has work to do. 

12. (+0) Isabella Nichols

I really liked Isabella’s surfing last year. She’s stylish and dynamic. But it’s possible her skillset is tuned for beach breaks and not much more. We’ll find out soon enough. Certainly, she wasn’t super at Sunset, and she had one legit high-scoring barrel at backdoor. She’ll need more than that to stay on Tour. Isabella’s currently safe from the midyear cut, but there’s some talented women hot on her heels. 

11. (-6) Lakey Peterson

Back at Pipe, Lakey made the semis. It should not have been surprising. She does her homework, and her Backdoor surfing looked alright. Honestly, I expected more from her at Sunset. It’s a right. She has plenty of power. What could go wrong? Lakey’s weakness is her reliance on her one turn. When it works, the judges love it. She’s fast, she can connect many, many turns given the right wave. But Sunset didn’t cooperate. And Lakey didn’t really have an alternate plan. She went down in round three to Bettylou Sakura Johnson. 

10. (+8) India Robinson

I’ll confess I didn’t know where to put India in these rankings last time around. So I put her last. Oops. Her powerful surfing matched Sunset well, and she sent Sal home after scoring a pair of sevens. In the quarters, India couldn’t keep it rolling against local girl Bettylou, who’s pretty obviously a future world champ in the making. Still, a solid performance from India, and Margaret River should suit her well, too. 

9. (-6) Tyler Wright

After making the semis at Pipe, Tyler went out in round three at Sunset. I don’t understand anything. Tyler won Sunset as a wildcard. Sure, I thought, she can do well there. Like Lakey, she kept trying to fit her signature turn into a wave that just wasn’t having it. Girl, you can do more than a layback. I know you can. Get creative! 

8. (+9) Luana Silva

I badly underestimated Luana, a local girl who has surfed Sunset many, many times. Sometimes, I am stupid. In her quarterfinal heat against Gabriela Bryan, Luana scored a 8.83. Too bad she couldn’t back it. Luana leaves Hawaii with a ninth and a fifth. She’s sitting just above the midyear cutline with a horde of other women. A good result in Portugal will help her cause, and I would not bet against her getting it. I’m stupid, but apparently still capable of learning!

7. (+9) Molly Picklum

After Caity Simmers turned down her CT spot, Molly got a late call-up. She didn’t have a ton of time to learn the lineups in Hawaii, but she charged anyway. I like her style. At Sunset, she took down Carissa Moore by going on bigger waves. That’s it. Sometimes, simplicity works best. Molly lost to eventual winner Brisa Hennessey in the quarters. She’s close to cutline — like everyone else, really — and probably wishes that Pipe result was better. I watched her on the Challenger Series, but fuck if I can remember how her backhand is. I’d expect her to go well at Margaret River, though, easy. 

6. (+3) Johanne Defay

Leaving Hawaii with a pair of quarterfinal finishes is a solid start for Johanne. Consistency is one of her strengths, making Johanne basically the opposite of Courtney. At Sunset, she lost to Malia Manuel, who was on a heater surfing at home. No shame for Johanne there. She’s headed home to Europe and beach break surfing suits her. Also, she gets to go left. Johanne should move up the rankings here after Portugal, but you know how well my predictions turn out. Spoiler! Not super good!

5. (-5) Carissa Moore

I’ll confess I didn’t really know where to put Carissa in the rankings this time around. In the actual not-WTF rankings, she sits fourth behind Brisa, Malia, and Moana. Carissa finished second at Pipe to Moana. Sure, she wanted to win, but second to the local specialist is not too shabby. But her performance at Sunset, a wave that should suit her, was underwhelming. Carissa lost to Molly with an 11-point heat score. That was a winnable heat for Carissa, but her wave choice looked super sus. The judges rightly rewarded Molly for charging on bigger waves. It’s been a minute since Carissa went home in round three. She’s still in the top five, but she needs to go to work if she wants to stay there. 

4. (+6) Gabriela Bryan

Watching Gabriela Bryan take down Steph in round three gave me so much joy. Not because I have any hate for Steph. Quite the opposite, I’m a Steph fan, for sure. Instead, it was the fearless exuberance Gabriela brought to the thing. She just fucking went for it. She got smashed in a section, went back out, got another wave. I love the competitive fire Gabriela brings to her heats. And, she’s got power to burn. One of the unpredictable and talented rookies on Tour, Gabriela could well go far this year. 

3. (+1) Bettylou Sakura Johnson

I expected Bettylou to do well at Sunset, and she did not disappoint. She took down Lakey in round three by working with the wave, rather than against it. On paper, I would have expected her to beat Brisa in the semis. Turn for turn, Bettylou looked better, but she didn’t pick waves where she could really open up. Lots of getting smashed in closeouts for her in that heat, which is not exactly a winning strategy. All the same, for the women looking to move up the rankings, I’d expect Bettylou to be difficult to dislodge.

2. (+4) Malia Manuel 

What a bittersweet result for Malia. She’s made seven finals and never yet won an event. But her surfing in Hawaii was so good. A quarterfinal finish at Pipe and a final at Sunset. I thought I was rating her too highly ahead of Sunset and I am super happy to be proved wrong. After Sunset, she posted a photo of her dad surfing Sunset. They share a similar stance, which is lovely. Malia picked up one of the year-long wildcards and it’s nice to see her making the most of it.

1. (+15) Brisa Hennessey

I really need to get out of the habit of underrating Brisa. I ranked her way down in fifteenth last time. Eesh. In my own defense, she fell off Tour last year and had to hit the Challenger Series to requalify. Well. She is certainly storming it this season, so far. At Sunset, she won her first ever CT event. She also made quarters at Pipe. She leaves Hawaii as the world number one. Brisa, good at surfing. Got it. 

Question: Is two-time World Champion, currently retired Brazilian Gabriel Medina a high renaissance masterpiece?

The ideal man?

Matt George, days ago, wrote an art criticism piece worthy of the ages comparing Snapper Rocks to Dante’s Purgatorio and wow. Did you read? Love? I haven’t dipped into the comments yet but have to think you did. Surfing reaching into the heights of high culture matters and means something and I can’t imagine anything other than real applause.

Well, in response to these new things, this certain information that has come to light, I sorted my eye and examined a recent piece by the august Derek Rielly titled WORLD SURFING CHAMPION GABRIEL MEDINA REUNITES WITH HALF-SISTER AND SURF PRODIGY SOPHIA FOLLOWING BREAKUP OF MARRIAGE TO SPORTS ILLUSTRATED MODEL YASMIN BRUNET AND RAPPROCHEMENT WITH ESTRANGED MOM AND STEP DADDY, “MY LITTLE ONE!”

High art in and of itself but I found myself drawn down to the sand, down to Gabriel Medina’s feet.


Have you seen before?

Yes you have. Directly on Michelangelo’s David standing tall and proud in Florence, Italy.

Which all begs the question. Is Gabriel Medina a high renaissance masterpiece, perfect in every single way?

Have a think. Respond below.

Mick Fanning (left) giving the Gold Coast water wiiiings.
Mick Fanning (left) giving the Gold Coast water wiiiings.

Surf stars Joel Parkinson and Mick Fanning delight and inspire by selflessly ferrying stranded residents, pets as Australia’s Gold Coast catastrophically floods!

Winning praise on social media.

Torrential rains have overwhelmed Australia’s Gold Coast in the past few days leading to wild floods, water buried roads, destroyed property and stranded citizens yearning to be dry. Authorities estimate that over 20,000 households have been affected, highways and byways collapsed, pushing hundreds into cardboard homeless encampments.

Yet even in all this misery, these heaping spoonfuls of misfortune, heroes rise and, this time, that hero happens to be none other that White Lighting himself.

In the just released story, World champion surfer surprises locals with legendary act during NSW floods, we learn…

On Tuesday, pharmacist Skye Swift put a call out on social media for a ride from Tweed to Murwillumbah to make sure residents could access essential medication, The Age reported.

To her surprise, none other than the three-time world surfing champion rocked up on a jet ski offering to give her a ride.

As well as winning praise on social media, Mr Fanning was able to bring smiles to the faces of residents doing it tough.

The 40-year-old lives on the Gold Coast and since retiring from professional surfing, has become actively involved in the community and local culinary scene.

Fellow surf star and 2012 world champ Joel Parkinson was also spotted lending a hand, ferrying stranded residents alongside Mr Fanning on Monday and Tuesday.

Parkinson, the news noted, also saved many pets and a four-year-old boy.

Delightful and inspiring but as I read of the heroics, I was forced re-check the headline and realized that I had correctly understood it at first pass. World champion surfer… How come World Champion Joel Parkinson got left entirely off?

Institutional bias?

Well, to add injury to insult, Parkinson returned home from his selfless act only to find his garage door open and his wife’s car stolen.

“All day I’d been helping people who were close to losing their lives and their houses and I came home to that,” he told The Age.

“There were so many people out there trying to do good, but some people just want to do bad.”

Well, I’ve put his name in the title here and ahead of Mick Fanning’s too. A small token of good but at least something. Here, also, is a picture of him enjoying a ride on a ski.

Kong at Sunset back in the wild days of 1987. | Photo: Jeff Divine

Surf historian Matt Warshaw slams Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach as “a grievous shoulder riding display”; offers compelling 35-year-old footage as prima facie evidence!

"I would say it is the greatest fade in surf history, except there are so few others in contention that it seems like the only fade in surf history."

All four minutes of this new Elkerton edit are great, but obviously I was building up to the big Sunset finale, and while every wave in that series is amazing—and a hard rebuke to the grievous shoulder-riding display we got during the Hurley Pro—the wave at 3:10 takes us to the fissioning core of the Elkerton-Sunset combine.

I would say it is the greatest fade in surf history, except there are so few others in contention that it seems like the only fade in surf history.

The fade is a set-up move, a prelude, a way to get you where you want to be. Sunset is to the fade what Périgord is to the black truffle, and hold that thought because we’ll revisit France further down the page. 

Sunset is a right-breaking wave, yes, but to ride it at all you’re gonna spend a lot of time pointing straight to the beach, and to ride it at the highest level you will at times be aiming east, against the grain and toward the point, adding some left-angling zig to your predominately right-angling zag. 

Michael Tomson didn’t say as much in his declaration of Sunset as the ultimate big-wave break. But that compass-swinging range of direction is a big part of the Sunset draw—or it used to be, anyway, back when the best surfers paddled all the way outside to ride it.

Jeff Hakman had a deep-fade-to-bottom turn so precise and perfect that he looked as if he’d penciled it beforehand with a French Curve. Barry Kanaiupuni had that smooth fade, too, but where Hakman was always a rock-steady Earl Palmer 2/4 man, BK could jam out some crazy Miles Davis 7/16 shit.

But again, unless you were a real connoisseur, the fade was just the thing you did before the massive bottom turn.

Except for Elkerton.

The Elkerton fade I mentioned above is both prelude and the thing itself. 

It can stand on its own. 

Hakman and BK and everybody else I’ve ever seen do a giant Sunset fade are all still essentially fixed on, and oriented to, the right. Their eyes might look for the bottom, but are just as likely sizing up the section to come. 

Gary is not. 

But he isn’t turning Sunset into a left, exactly, either. 

Instead, he’s doing something that reminds me of that great Gavin Rudolph quote, spoken just after winning the 1971 Smirnoff as a North Shore rookie.

“The other guys surf Sunset like it should be surfed,” Gavin said, his eye pinwheeling, a bit stunned on his good fortune as he’d ridden Sunset for the first time just the day before. “Where I sort of surf it like it shouldn’t be surfed, but should be surfed, you know what I mean?”

No? Okay, try this.

Elkerton, when the moment requires it, rides Sunset like a snowboarder, not a surfer. Unbound and full-speed, inventing and tracking along a fall-line that nobody else could even see.

Halfway through the fade he does an uphill carve, and the thrill and velocity and sheer joy of that moment is as clear to me today as it was 35 years ago when I watched live from the bleachers.

It also, weirdly, looks 100% cutting edge here in 2022, although it is basically an extinct move. Zero chance we’d have seen anything resembling that turn the Hurley event, even if the pros had paddled out to the actually takeoff zone to begin their rides. 

Equipment is destiny, and Gary’s choice of equipment—a deep-six channel bottom, just north of 8′ long, twice the weight of Barron Mamiya’s Hurley-winning double step-up—is now found only in board collections and at the business end of Nick Carroll’s quiver. 

Most pros, today and from yesteryear, would have difficulty turning Gary’s board with anything less than a block-and-tackle rig. 

Elkerton, of course, plants his feet and swings that thing around as easily as a certain newly-liberated and very angry primate climbing the Empire State Building with his best girl.

Gary as a person was (and is) as fascinating as his surfing was powerful. 

A good part of his mostly school-free childhood was spent on a shrimp trawler, with his father, Bully Elkerton. Gary was still known as “Fat Boy” when Quiksilver picked up him at age 16, gave him a media makeover, and turned him loose on the surf world as “Kong,” with strict orders to not go pro but instead surf hard, wear Quiks, get photographed, and basically be a half-scary half-funny surf-action figure.

Elkerton did that for four years and did it perfectly (except he bucked orders and joined the WCT), drunk and coked-up on the regular, but mostly just running on his own premium blend of aggression and confidence and ambition.

Then at 22, Elkerton moved to France with his new wife, demanded everybody to stop calling him “Kong,” and ground out three world title runner-up finishes. 

Compromises were made. 

Except in big surf, Elkerton wasn’t as much fun to watch as he had been. 

But what an incredible turn it was, for this human cartoon to remake himself into a French-speaking sportsman who gave up beer for sparkling water, leaned in gracefully for double-cheek kisses, and could hold his own while talking politics and culture.

Eventually, inevitably I suppose, we later learned (by way of an excellent if heavily ghost-written biography humbly titled Kong: the Life and Times of a Surfing Legend) of Elkerton’s divorce, his post-tour drift, job loss, another marriage, and fatherhood. 

He worked construction for a while. Opened a surf school, then shut it down. Did some pro tour coaching; hired out as “brand ambassador” for a Maldives boat tour. 

Knocked around, in other words.

All of this seemed relatable in ways that the earlier stages of Elkerton’s life did not. There comes a point in adulthood where you realize there is no end zone for happiness, no getting over completely; that doubt and regret and monkey-mind chatter can be reduced but not eliminated.

Or you don’t realize these things, and suffer.

Elkerton closes his book, disappointingly, with a literal happy-face cliche: “The best surfer is the one with the biggest smile.” 

The better ending is found up front, in the book’s introduction, as Gary recalls collapsing on the beach after winning the 2000 Masters world title, which puts him face-to-face with his own past, specifically the “failure” of his three WCT runner-up finishes.

It wasn’t a celebration, and it wasn’t an expression of relief or triumph. I collapsed because I finally felt the full weight of the gorilla I had on my back. I had no idea how heavy he was until I let him go; until I saw that I was hanging onto him, not the other way around. I’d been carrying the big bastard around since I was twelve years old, loving him and ignoring him equally, but always feeding him. And second-place finishes feed the beast like nothing else.

[I realized] I no longer needed to keep thinking about him, living up to his legend in the water and out, or wrestling him kicking and screaming into the background. 

I collected myself and walked toward the approaching throng of wellwishers and beyond them into a brand-new and much-improved relationship. With a gorilla called Kong.

(You like this? Matt Warshaw delivers a surf essay every Sunday, PST. All of ’em a pleasure to read. Maybe time to subscribe to Warshaw’s Encyclopedia of Surfing, yeah? Three bucks a month.)

Wild scenes on Oahu’s North Shore as beachfront house collapses into the ocean in the middle of the night, “Today the first house on the North Shore fell in. This is one of many; in the next couple of years all of these might fall in!”

“Brings new meaning to the world beachfront.”

One of those pretty clapboard houses built on the sand at Rocky Point on Oahu’s North Shore has collapsed into the Pacific after heavy winter swells gobbled up all the sand.

At one am, the Honolulu Fire Department responded to reports of a downed power line and “that a house was falling into the ocean.”

Neighbours are freaking out, natch, ‘cause they figure their multi-million dollar joints could be next.

“It makes me emotional because I’m hoping that all these agencies are here to be helpful and maybe they have solutions,” neighbour Jeannie Martinson told KITV4.

Department of Land and Natural Resources Chairperson Suzanne Case says the only long-term solution is gonna be for those houses to move back from the beachfront.

“It is a terrible situation and we are very sympathetic with it and at the same time we don’t have all the answers, you know, we can’t solve everything,” Case told KITV4.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi told a press conference they were gonna look into the usual short-term solutions, sand bags etc, but added, “I think we have to be in favor regrettably of what’s happening in the world, and I say regrettably because climate change is real, sea level rise is definitely real.”

Case agreed and called the situation “a long time coming. We knew it was going to happen eventually. It’s a dangerous situation, as debris is falling into the ocean. This is sad … climate change, sea level rise, and wave energy in new powerful patterns. This is a beach that’s important to everyone. The houses are built on sand berms and there’s just no way they can last long-term. We continue to encourage the homeowners here to seek other alternatives.”

Three-time NSSA champ and runner-up to Zeke Lau’s Ultimate Surfer, Koa Smith, said, “Today the first house on the North Shore fell in. It sucks, man. The ocean takes what it wants. We’re just living here temporarily. It sucks for the family. This is one of many, be really interesting, in the next couple of years all these might fall in, over at Pupukea and all that. Brings new meaning to beachfront.”


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