Eight hours of non-elimination surfing in big, wonky waves.
It took an age for this competition to start. Five straight lay-days can certainly take the wind out of your sails.
But when it did we were ushered in with a familiar script, swell on tap, vineyards, great local foods, arresting nature – visually, spiritually, sexually even…
And don’t forget all manner of creatures trotting, swimming and swooping two-by-two through wide expansive landscapes.
Western Australia is paradise, don’t you know.
Part surf competition, part government-funded tourist drive, same as it ever was.
The waves showed up, not perfect in shape, but more than sufficient in size.
Not all competitors wanted to surf, according to Richie Lovett. They’d been making their voices heard about the suitability of conditions, some clearly preferring to wait for a little less size, a little more form.
You have to shake off that negative mindset, said Richie. If you’re surfing, you’re surfing. If you paddle out in the wrong frame of mind you will surely lose.
He was dead right, of course.
Pondering this, I realised it’s exactly the sort of information that could help someone make a lot of money betting on surfing. If you had a sense of someone’s mind in these pre-heat moments, you might have a sense of their performance to come.
I like these feisty new voices, whoever they are, and you can’t blame them for seeking the best canvas on which to perform their dubious art.
Personally I enjoy the heats when the waves are less than perfect. Seeing the best cope with challenge is illuminating, at least from a very niche and arguably masochistic perspective.
I was all aboard the WSL hype train early, hearing there was a massive swell in the water. Surely this meant full-bore competition surfing at its finest: death-defying drops; competitors surfing for their lives and livelihoods, make or break; and full-rail carves that left water suspended in the air like the slackened jaws of fans at home.
But it wasn’t quite like that.
It was simply eight hours of non-elimination surfing in big, wonky waves. There were scrappy heats, warbles in the face, bouncy carves that were visually unappealing and never quite in control.
Main Break looked wild and wooly, like a worse version of the worst version of Bells that is so heavily criticised.
One man who muscled his way through the adversary of not only his competitors but the warbly faces of a wave he’d never surfed before was Callum Robson. In an all rookie match-up for the opening heat of the day he dispatched Sammy Pupo and Imai deVault, leading early and throughout.
Despite the laydays he’s clearly carrying some momentum from Bells, and there seems no reason why he could not also do well here. Is he Australia’s new Great White Hope? It might be a tussle with Ethan Ewing, but he has a blue-collar appeal vaunted by so many Australians.
Well, perhaps aside from the wine-quaffing, neighbour-shaming puritan type of Australian that seems to frequent Swellnet. The type with a drawer dedicated to instruction manuals. The type who could give you the ins and outs of a cat’s arsehole about the various merits of pressure washers.
Not those kind. The good kind. The kind like Robbo himself. He’s got to be Robbo, right? Or more likely: RRRROBBOOOOOOOOOO…
From new hope we transitioned to fading hope.
Given the early heat and the well documented fact Kelly doesn’t like mornings, he was a fairly safe bet to visit another losers round.
I did appreciate the interaction with the small boy who approached him as he came out of the water. The boy was decked out in a Slater jersey with a pen at the ready, too young to understand the nuances of adult moods. Slater glanced at him, seemed halfway to silently mouthing Fuck Off and scything through the child’s very soul with a laser death stare, before noting the camera and donning his mask.
Good on him, I thought, even if it was just for the camera.
Later, during a post-heat breakdown Shannon claimed that “Kelly was just on fire” in his heat. This was slightly confusing given that he was in last place for the entire heat, but I presume her psychological conditioning took over for a moment.
John Florence cantered through the next heat against easy opposition, but not without producing a turn that you might watch then watch again. It was the kind of tip-to-tail carve that makes your rectus femoris burn to witness. The kind of turn that sold thousands of Pyzel Ghosts.
View this post on Instagram
John occupies a lonely pedestal in the minds of many. Moments like this show it’s not without some justification, but WCT events are not expression sessions.
However, this is a competition that has been good to Florence, and there’s a world in which this becomes a pivotal and season defining moment.
Additional title threats Kanoa and Filipe both negotiated first round victories with middling scores on a day when middling scores were more than enough.
On paper Filipe looked fragile against Owen Wright in a meaty swell. In all transparency I bet significantly against him. But he’s the most recent champion here, and at some point the narrative that he can’t compete in waves of a certain size or power will change.
With further transparency I’ll admit that I missed the next three heat victories of Italo, Ethan and O’Leary. (I’ve had to fact check that last one a couple of times. Connor O’Leary, first round heat victory? Unlikely but apparently no less true).
You’ll forgive me for the absence, but it was somewhere around five or six am and I needed at least an hour of sleep before work.
Please let me know if I missed anything significant. I haven’t had a chance to catch up today and in all likelihood I won’t.
There’s nothing captivating about sports on replay, less so the opening rounds of a CT event. It wouldn’t take me long to count the number of heats I’ve watched after the fact. There is nothing compelling about a recorded version of something already on record. Live sport exists in the moment, and beyond that moment it is diminished to such an extent that only the very greatest moments will live on. Even then they can only have a fraction of the original impact.
I tend to consume pro-surfing in a dreamlike state, time zones as they are. Something I’ve considered is the fact that if a new audience was to come, then it would likely be from Europe and mainland USA. As such, something must be done to make the format more palatable and easier to consume without slipping from consciousness for the sake of watching live sport.
The answer to this, in part, is to make it much, much shorter.
I woke to Joao Chianca’s victory in a tough-looking heat in terms of quality of opponent and waves. He seems to be the poster boy for the anti-cut brigade, the one surfer people on both sides of the debate feel should be saved, somehow. Perhaps he’ll do it through his own performance here. If not I strongly suspect there’ll be some wildcards in his future.
The opening round concluded with victories for Leo and Griff. Notable for me was the fate of poor Seth Moniz, consigned to the loser’s round for the second comp in a row, somewhat confusingly for such a talented and vibrant surfer.
Given what we saw of him at Pipe, surfing the final against Kelly so exhausted that he could barely speak, if you told me he was suffering chronic fatigue as a result I wouldn’t question it.
More notable was another delightful phone in from Shaun Tomson!
He provided less spiritual meandering this time but just as much comedic drivel. Jordy is the “god of power”, according to Shaun. No-one on Tour can stand next to him in this regard. Furthermore, he’s a cross between Joel Parkinson and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Thanks for that, Shaun. What a gruesome beast that must be.
And with that I went to work.
Margaret River Pro Men’s Opening Round 1 Results:
HEAT 1: Callum Robson (AUS) 12.17 DEF. Imaikalani deVault (HAW) 10.00, Samuel Pupo (BRA) 9.83
HEAT 2: Jackson Baker (AUS) 12.03 DEF. Barron Mamiya (HAW) 10.77, Matthew McGillivray (ZAF) 10.17
HEAT 3: Ezekiel Lau (HAW) 15.00 DEF. Ryan Callinan (AUS) 13.37, Kelly Slater (USA) 9.20
HEAT 4: John John Florence (HAW) 15.60 DEF. Lucca Mesinas (PER) 8.93, Jacob Willcox (AUS) 8.44
HEAT 5: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 13.10 DEF. Conner Coffin (USA) 8.50, Ben Spence (AUS) 7.70
HEAT 6: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 13.00 DEF. Owen Wright (AUS) 9.63, Jack Thomas (AUS) 6.90
HEAT 7: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 14.17 DEF. Jake Marshall (USA) 13.26, Jadson Andre (BRA) 6.17
HEAT 8: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 13.70 DEF. Nat Young (USA) 10.90, Deivid Silva (BRA) 7.63
HEAT 9: Connor O’Leary (AUS) 13.80 DEF. Morgan Cibilic (AUS) 12.90, Caio Ibelli (BRA) 9.24
HEAT 10: Joao Chianca (BRA) 12.43 DEF. Kolohe Andino (USA) 11.87, Miguel Pupo (BRA) 6.27
HEAT 11: Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA) 11.33 DEF. Jordy Smith (ZAF) 11.17, Seth Moniz (HAW) 6.50
HEAT 12: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 14.07 DEF. Jack Robinson (AUS) 11.47, Frederico Morais (PRT) 11.43
Margaret River Pro Men’s Elimination Round 2 Matchups:
HEAT 1: Kelly Slater (USA) vs. Jadson Andre (BRA) vs. Jack Thomas (AUS)
HEAT 2: Caio Ibelli (BRA) vs. Deivid Silva (BRA) vs. Ben Spence (AUS)
HEAT 3: Miguel Pupo (BRA) vs. Frederico Morais (PRT) vs. Jacob Willcox (AUS)
HEAT 4: Seth Moniz (HAW) vs. Samuel Pupo (BRA) vs. Matthew McGillivray (ZAF)