"This is sport at the highest level. Losing is part and parcel."
There was a low mist over the hills this morning as I made my way to work. I’d slept between the hours of 0600-0730, a brief sleep full of dreams, but more an attempt to quiet my restless mind.
The air was thick with a pre-summer sultriness, the greens vivid and alive. Did you know that the human eye can distinguish more shades of green than any other colour?
It’s a primordial lingering that allows us to identify growth, lushness and re-birth.
I saw them all today, in a way I haven’t for some days now. The reasons are a story for another time, perhaps.
But just as I am coming into the light again, with the lucidity that sleep deprivation sometimes brings, so some things must descend into the shadows. This is the way.
Many have gone to the shadow realm of the Challenger Series today. Some we will miss. Some we might see again. Some for whom neither statement is accurate.
I’ll return to them.
I was excited today, once again highlighting the value of sport with a guaranteed kick-off time. It was great to be certain of some action, and lots of it. With so little time left in the waiting period the WSL’s hand was forced.
It was surprising that they didn’t try to squeeze in anything after the round of 32. Finals day tomorrow will be a marathon. The victor will be the man with the stamina to surf four heats in a day. Is there a precedent for this?
As ever with WSL commentary there’s a breathless, chaotic and over-caffeinated excitement to begin each day, and many blunders. The drama was well-hyped, along with various things that were “best in the west”.
John Florence had a slow start to his match-up with deVault. He blew an end section on one of his early waves, disappearing in the whitewash.
“That’s a statement,” said Ronnie.
Richie Lovett could barely contain his laughter at the Surfline forecast, which seems to get more cartoonish every time we see it.
25ft faces…30ft…One million feet!
“It was a bit of a disjointed wave but he did join it together pretty nicely,” Ronnie said of another wave.
Interesting during this heat was Ronnie saying that Florence only had eight WCT victories to his name. I was surprised it was so few.
I make it seventeen victories for Medina, for those keeping score.
Imai’s post heat loser interview was sightly teary. As a human being you felt for him, but only briefly. This is sport at the highest level. Losing is part and parcel.
Those in the booth hyped up his surfing, obviously, as they continued to do throughout the day whenever someone was cut.
“One of the best on Tour…belongs here…will certainly be back…great style…” etc etc.
The fact remains deVault and others were no-where close to making it. Fuck it. Move on.
Ciblic lost too, as did Coffin. Neither really threatened to do much else.
Two of last year’s top five surfers cut in back to back heats.
Morgan had one good score but couldn’t find another. To be honest he seemed pretty chuffed to be going on the piss with his mates on the Challenger Series.
Conner went out with a fizzle. It was a slow heat, there was one beautiful turn (not The Turn) but it showed his potential if the wave had offered more. It was the story of his season.
You had to feel sympathy for the pathetic image of his final wave. He threw up an embarrassing half-claim in sheer desperation, but it lacked all conviction and seemed inappropriate, like the gently popping surface bubbles of a drowning man.
Oh well, plenty time for gardening, taking care of pets and strumming sad melodies. However, if I was a Rip Curl athlete at this juncture I might be casting an eye around the stable and re-negotiating my contract.
Kolohe negotiated his heat stress free as he claimed in his monotone post-heat presser. I did appreciate his Macgyver approach to equipment. In order to add weight to his board he’d glued a literal weight to it. 240g, he told us. If nothing else it’s an amusing contrast to those who finished the board spending hours squinting down rails in pursuit of perfect symmetry.
Matt McGillivray bucked today’s trend in his defeat of Kanoa, becoming the only surfer to save himself. (Aside from Sammy Pupo who might have been safe anyway). His final wave was a meaty choice with a dramatic late drop into a miraculous closing turn. He had no right to ride out. It was the first hint of real drama and the judges treated it as such.
Watching at home it seems obvious what’s rewarded here. You might get a seven or eight for a single turn if it’s critical enough. Easier said than done, of course, but I wonder what the surfer’s perception of this is.
This was exemplified in the Italo vs Joao Chianca heat. Ferreira got going early, as he does at his best, and seemed in control, before Chianca was given what seemed to me to be an outrageous overscore for one turn. It was a committed hack to tail slide off the top for a 7.77, a turn that may not have been possible had he not exchanged his board for a shorter one early in the heat.
For a minute it looked like a masterstroke, or that the narrative of Chianca being hard done by had seeped into the judge’s tower.
Rabbit was so animated it seemed he might need oxygen.
But the momentary drama and burgeoning hero story was soon soused when the judges corrected with a high-looking 6.93 for an Italo wave with one critical opening turn but a shaky completion.
Both men wore sets on the head at the end. Italo’s leash snapped. The camera cut away just as he was waving frantically as if drowning.
There was emotion for Chianca in the aftermath and an overlong interview where initial sympathies began to ebb. We can’t give points for tears. It’s not the world sympathy league. It’ll no doubt make great TV, though.
What are they all whinging for anyway? I started to think. They’re probably headed to Snapper to surf in the Challenger series. I’ve not been to sleep and I’ll have a classroom of kids in front of me in a couple of hours.
I squeezed in an hour and a half, then woke to find Jadson (predictably) beating Kelly in a swell that had jumped up a few feet.
Slater can have no real complaints this year. The waves so far have played to his strengths, or at least have been of the type where he can remain competitive. No comp has yet been defined by the sort of aerial surfing or athleticism that’s beyond him now.
Just as I wrote that he threw a clean rotation on the inside on his way to the sled.
If Kelly did a post-heat interview I missed it and I’m sorry I did.
I’ve wanted more from Kelly recently. I want to bask in both his genius and madness and absorb it like delicious summer rain. But beyond Hawaii he’s been quiet in what seems a very deliberate way, as of course it will be.
Nat Young continued his stellar run of form. Leo and Federico were sent packing by Ethan and Caio respectively, and in doing so they’d missed the cut. No drama, we’ll barely notice.
More upsetting for me personally was that Caio’s defeat of Federico had bust the last leg of a 3k multi. I really thought that Morais might pull out a victory in waves requiring big turns, especially when his back was against the wall. Plus I hate Caio.
But it was not to be, it never is.
Ethan’s scores looked impressive, but I didn’t see the heat, nor Jordy’s defeat of Zeke. Please let me know if I missed anything of note.
In the end it was disappointing how many cut line surfers never pulled through. There were disappointingly few redemption narratives, Matt McGilivray excepted. Those who’ve faltered all year faltered again.
Leaving the Tour now carries the sense of being forcibly ejected from a party just as the girl/boy you’ve been waiting for walks in. Or perhaps being kicked out of the Big Brother house. Gone is the chance to be a reality star.
Worse: everyone’s off to Indo without you.
So who has been confirmed as lost to the shadow realm and what did they leave us?
Imaikalani deVault. Gained a modicum of sympathy in the end but was forgotten midway through the next heat. Could double for Connor O’Leary if there were a multiverse where two Connor O’Learys were necessary. The least likely part of that is the necessity of two Connor O’Learys.
Morgan Ciblic. A face that would either stump a street caricature artist or make his day. Forgettable if it wasn’t for “Make or Break”. He’s looking forward to a piss up with his mates but I’d guess he’ll be back.
Conner Coffin. No Secret Turn, not even any semi-secret ones.
Joao Chianca. Damn shame. Highly likeable personality and skill set. Come back anytime, son.
Owen Wright. Still a chance he makes it based on what happens today. Chronically underscored for his season opener at Pipe and has never recovered. Early retirement to family life and Search trips?
Ryan Callinan. From being a past favourite to having a season where I can’t remember a single one of his waves nevermind a heat. Didn’t make it past the round of 32 in any event.
Frederico Morais. Tall, Portuguese. So poor this season that’s all I can think of.
Leo Fioravanti. Middling height, Italian. Ciao!
Zeke Lau. Ultimate Surfer.
Lucca Messinas. Thankfully should go and we’ll never see him again. The most forgettable surfer (previously) on Tour.
Deivid Silva. Oh Deivid, I thought we had something. Then you went and got a 0.13 heat total and shamed me and anyone who’s ever said a kind word about you. His natural environment is scrappy QS style surfing, so he’ll no doubt thrive and return.
So the cut drama’s mostly over, in mostly limp fashion. If you’re looking for a symbol or a poster boy it’s Conner Coffin on his final wave.
But there’s a big, Big day ahead.
Once again: today’s champion of the Margaret River Pro will surf four heats to claim victory and will certainly deserve it.