Why Italo Ferreira’s controversial loss to Jack Robinson at Bells is important and what it reveals about the Brazilian world champ, “Who else in the history of surfing has become so detached from who they once were because of success in competition?”

“I know how to lose! But go fuck yourself.” 

With three minutes remaining in the last quarter-final on Saturday, 2019 world champ Italo Ferreira held a lead and priority over Jack Robinson.

Robinson needed a high six, an achievable score but a solid one for a day with waves of uncertain quality.

Jack hunted for space, but Italo gave none. The men were so close their arms clashed on every paddle stroke.

“That is how you get your opponent in check,” said Rabbit. “He is within the turning circle of his surfboard.”

Sets roll through.

Out of position, they duck the first ones.

Less than a minute-and-a-half remains. Italo is forced to utilise his priority and take a wave.

It sections on takeoff but he floats it smoothly. He wraps under the lip, turns off the bottom, comes back and hits it. As the wave fattens he wraps twice more before hitting the end section with power.

It’s as good as any in the heat so far, and looks certain to at least equal the 7.10 he’s currently holding as his top score.

He rides out in the whitewash, standing tall and triumphant. One arm with outstretched index finger is in the air, pointing towards the beach and judges. 

He thumps his chest with his fist.

Job done, heat wrapped.

But, not quite.

With just twenty seconds remaining Robinson takes off on a mediocre wave. He carves under the lip with some speed, comes back, hits the lip again, before nursing the flatter section. He makes the end section in unspectacular fashion, clapping himself to the beach.

The wave is fine, but looks unlikely to trouble the result, particularly given Italo’s final, larger wave.

The partisan crowd are audible, as they have been throughout Jack’s final wave, but the cheers seem disproportionate to the ride.

We wait for the scores to drop.

It’s likely that Robinson has his second best scoring wave, but unlikely that it’s enough. It’s unclear how much he knows about Italo’s final ride.

The camera stays with Jack. He stops on the stairs and closes his eyes. He is mouthing something we cannot hear, a silent incantation to the judges, willing them to give him the score.

It works.

He’s given a straight seven, Italo a 6.70.

It was almost as if the scores had been mixed up.

The cameras follow both men on a split-screen, once again highlighting the clear and uncanny improvements in production quality at this event.

Jack is congratulated by friends and supporters, Italo smashes his board on the walls of the locker room and screams at the wind. Someone in his entourage quickly puts a cap over the camera lens.

As Jack heads to the lockers, a crew of cameramen are seen rushing out, clearly in pursuit of a furious Ferreira on his way to confront the judges. If this is the Make or Break crew, which I can only presume it is, they are certainly getting the drama they’re looking for.

Then, in an uncharacteristically slick move by production, we see a drone angle of a shirtless Italo in the judges tower demanding answers.

It was genuinely engaging and for once the WSL were not shying away from the negative side of professional sport.

For every winner, there must be a loser, and often this is more compelling.

And what of winning?

Have you tasted success? Did you like it?

More importantly, what did it do to you?

Whatever your understanding of success, I don’t think it’s a stretch for me to suggest that not one of you has come so far in such a short period of time as Italo Ferreira.

But, at what cost?

Remember who Italo was when he came on Tour.

He was unknown to all of us, but a clear talent with an electrifying backhand. Out of the water he was characterised by a beaming smile and endearingly broken English.

Seems like someone else now, right?

Who could’ve predicted this character arc. It’s a mere four years since he won his first event, three since his world title. Chalk up an Olympic Gold medal, national hero status and millions of followers.

Who else in the history of surfing has become so detached from who they once were because of success in competition?

The impact is apparent in his demeanour, his physicality and his style. 

His body looks hewn from granite. It’s adorned with elaborate piercings and jewellery, risqué fashion choices and tattoos. He travels with influencer girlfriends and an entourage. He sprays aggressive slogans on his boards. And he wears an almost permanent scowl.

All of this is fine. His choices are his choices, but it’s a long, long way from a boy whose first surfboard was the lid from a cooler where his father kept the fish he sold on the beach.

In the space of a few short years Italo Ferreira might as well have been whisked away from his old life and transported to another planet, and all because of surfing.

Realistically, it’s hard for any of us to truly empathise with Italo or understand his psychology.

But winning is addictive. 

It doesn’t matter what the context is, once you’ve had it you never want to let it go.

What would you do to keep hold of this feeling? 

Would you clench your jaws around it like a terrier with a rat, shake until its spine snaps, until its belly tears open from anus to throat, and blood and entrails drip from your chin?

That’s Italo’s approach to surfing. It has changed his life and he’s not about to let it go.

During the heat there was a phone-in from Tom Carroll. He revealed he and Italo share an affinity.

They “just clicked,” said Tom.

“It makes perfect sense,” agreed Joe.

But the Tom Carroll today, meditative, measured, intelligent, is different to the Tom Carroll of old. 

I wonder which side of the man Italo identities with? 

And what does Carroll see of himself in Ferreira?

I’ve no doubt that Italo will figure things out, but it might not be this year. It might take time and perspective, and perhaps some help.

We can’t fault his hunger or drive, nor should we deny him it. Without consequence and passion sport is nothing, and that’s what Italo gives us.

“Eu sei perder! Mas vai tomar no C…” he tweeted after the dust had settled. Complete with middle-finger emoji.

Translation: “I know how to lose! But go fuck yourself.” 


Toledo (right) helps Wright lift their trophy.

World’s best small-wave surfer Filipe Toledo now tops the rankings after Bells win: “He could elect to sit out Teahupo’o if the forecast is over four-foot and still hold a commanding lead going into Trestles!”

Holy Toledo.

“Dejected” is the word to describe Finals Day at Bells Beach.

It might describe the fans, or Ethan Ewing, or Jack Robinson, or the waves we were left with.

A problem exists when an event window produces quality waves but the grand finale is held in conditions where the average surfer might shrug her shoulders and get in or not. I make it three events in a row. That’s a damning indictment on both the current format and the decisions of Jesse Miley-Dyer, who is surely is not long for this world.

The solutions? Overlapping heats as standard for the rounds of 32 and 16, better calls by the Commissioner, and – dare I say it – the looming cut.

Not dejected today was Filipe Toledo, who eventually rang the bell and surely knows that in the absence of Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira, he has no real competition in anything but heavy reef breaks.

At the conclusion of a disappointing final which seemed both dull and inevitable at the outset, Richie Lovett asserted that “history tells us that the Bells champion often goes on to win the world title.” I haven’t checked his claim, but you’d be bold to bet against it at this stage.

Toledo now holds the lead in the overall rating. Given the events left on the calendar, he could probably elect to sit out of Teahupo’o if the forecast is over 4ft and still hold a commanding lead going into Trestles.

Once again, with no Gabriel Medina (unless he was a wildcard), a boiling-over Italo (more on him in another post) and the shadow version of JJF who emerges in sub-par waves, who’s fit to compete with Toledo at Trestles?

Kanoa?

We saw some of the best and most entertaining Bells Beach ever in the mid-rounds, the juxtaposition of which made Finals Day even more egregiously awful.

But let’s forget about that for a moment and focus on what will be remembered from Bells Beach in 2022.

The production as a whole was slicker, the commentary more competent.

As you know, I like to extricate and examine the various wrinkles that exist in the broadcast and production of WSL events, sometimes with tongue-in-cheek, and sometimes with great vengeance and furious anger.

But this time I was left wanting. On the whole, I would have to say I was impressed?

As mentioned before, moving Kaipo to the water (essentially stashing him in the back of the wardrobe) was a masterstroke. Ronnie was dependable as ever, Joe was Joe, Richie and Rabbit were both good, as was Laura. And if I’m to look beyond the tone of Shannon’s voice I’d have to say I don’t hate her.

Interviewing the losers is a welcome addition and a suggestion many of us have made online for a long time. Better pre and post heat camera work was also evident, allowing us to gauge reactions and moods, and therefore develop character and context.

Fewer waves were missed during heats, though we were still left staring at “Stay Tuned” screens occasionally. The old boys phone-in club is harmless enough, but I can’t say it adds much, especially for potential new audiences.

I think we might reasonably assume that much of this improvement is due to guidance from Box to Box films, or perhaps just observation of what they’re doing.

We were also provided with a shimmer of intrigue and a sniff of rebellion with talk of a strike in protest of the mid-season cut, but the restless natives were quickly slapped back in chains by Erik Logan. More surprising, I’m fully with ELo on this one. Both in terms of the decision to have the cut and the manner in which he re-stamped the intention.

Sit down and shut up was the correct response. Professional surfing is for entertainment, it owes no-one a living.

Will Logan’s iron fisting be decisive and final? I would guess so.

But what it has done is elicited some passion from the surfers and the fans. It is a talking point, and talking points are what sport needs. “The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about” goes the old adage.

It also makes me think of the advice I give when teaching creative writing to school pupils: create characters your reader can care about. They might manifest in a variety of ways: it could be characters we love or root for; but equally ones we might loathe or despise. Villains are just as effective as heroes. And always remember: the last thing you want is characters no-one gives a shit about, characters where the reader’s only response can be pure, unadulterated apathy.

The latter is largely what we have been given by the WSL for years now. Sugar-coated nothingness. That’s changing. Perhaps it has taken an outside perspective to make those changes, a Hollywood perspective. Perhaps it has taken some non-endemic media influence to teach us how our sport should be presented.

Maybe the change makes you uncomfortable. Surfing won’t feel like yours anymore. But change is nearly always hard to some degree. When it’s virtually metamorphosis, it’s bound to hurt.

Maybe Erik Logan is not the villain we want, but the villain we need.


In dramatic escalation, world’s richest man Elon Musk throws muscle behind proposed surfer boycott of Margaret River, “The Mid-Year Cut Stinks! Make ASP/WSL just the media partner… put mics on judges!”

"Wow, that escalated quickly…Elon gets it! Looks like we've got our new billionaire."

The Santa Monica HQ of the WSL was thrown into turmoil earlier today when it appeared the world’s richest man, Elon Musk, had thrown his muscle behind a surfer boycott of Margaret River as well as deep changes to the World Surf League, the not-for-profit organisation owned by fellow billionaire Dirk Ziff.

You’ll remember, three days ago, both sides of the pro surfing gender divide revealed as united in their hate for this year’s mid-year tour cut.

The cut, which erases anyone below 22 in the men, ten in the women, comes into play after the next event at Margaret River; for slow-to-start tour rookies it means their career in the big leagues is over before it’s even begun. For Owen Wright, the biggest name to fall, it spells the end of fifteen years on tour.

Following a series of tweets from photographer Peter King, Musk appeared to reveal he was on the side of the under appreciated lower-ranked surfer.

“Wow, that escalated quickly…Elon gets it!” wrote King. “Looks like we’ve got our new billionaire.”

A prank, of course, from the clever and always funny Mr King.

But plenty to think about.

As in, what would Kelly Slater say, do, if Elon worked the levers?

Long-time readers will recall the pair’s savage blood feud from one year ago when Kelly put Elon to the sword for suggesting that Tesla might sell its store of Bitcoin, a decision that would probs send the price of the crypto-buck spiralling downward.

“So a guy who owns an energy company doesn’t understand this stuff before he buys it?” wrote Kelly. “Has no problem taking the profits. Does he have an issue with kids mining cobalt in the Democratic Republic of Congo to build batteries? He could probably address and potentially help solve the real energy issues (68 per cent of the energy produced in the US, for instance, is wasted … seems like a bigger issue to me which would solve any BTC problem).

“I think Elon’s board and backers hate crypto and what it’s doing for the average investor and pressured him to put out a statement which they knew would inevitably tank bitcoin. I hope the SEC is taking a good look at this (and all of them who might be buying the dip today and this week in their private accounts). Interesting times. But Elon is bad for crypto.”

Also, what would a tour, propelled by Elon’s cash reserves, look like?

Eight surfers, each with private jet?

One-day events at Cloudbreak, Teahupoo, J-Bay, Namibia, Pipe etc?


Toledo wins! Seizes tour lead!

World’s best small-wave surfer Filipe Toledo unracks machine-gun to win prestigious Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach in dying swell; seizes tour lead! “You would have faith in my strength!”

On-fire rookie surfer Callum Robson ratcheted into silence by Brazilian champ.

The world’s best surfer in waves three feet and under, Filipe Toledo, has confirmed his reputation, whistling the wrench down on the head of Australian rookie Callum Robson in a dying three-foot swell at Bells Beach. 

The just-turned twenty seven year old from Brazil now leads the world tour, snatching the number one slot, and the right to compete in a yellow coloured nylon jersey, from Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi. 

Toledo growled velocity throughout the events, his Sharp Eye surfboard flashing fire, his frontside turns better than anything seen at the Bells Beach contest in its storied history, comparable, even, to the backhand work of Mark Occhilupo in the 1997 Super Skins event.

Australian rookie Callum Robson, meanwhile, utilised a heavy back foot to cut a swathe through the field, although unable to beat Toledo in their death duel. 

 

Full story to come! 


Comment live, Finals Day, Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach, “It’s a fabulous cabaret!”

Substance and meaning!