Toledo, Florence, Robinson, Ewing, Ferreira. Tell me that a match-up between any two of these men, at any wave on Tour, would not be a spectacle worth watching?
I’ve got a loose approach to gardening. I keep the grass short, tend to some modest veg, and leave the rest be. There are young trees I’m protective of. Some are of uncertain origin and species, and my mind was to let them grow and see where we ended up.
Leave them alone, they’ll figure it out.
My dear mum has a very different approach. She relentlessly prunes and burns and weeds. She cuts to encourage growth.
Where my garden is charmingly unkempt and wild, hers is manicured within an inch of its life. She removes the weaker plants so that others might thrive and shine.
Lately, she turned her hand to my garden, nicking and snipping with her pruning shears. She pulled out some of my young trees by the roots. I complained. I argued. I told her not to cut that one, and just to leave that other. But she didn’t listen.
In the end she was right. It’s better for being cut back.
It was a lesson in growth.
You must consider diversity as well as beauty. Space used as well as space created. Nourish but don’t smother. Prune but don’t hack. Get rid of some things to stimulate others.
Watch them flourish.
If the top five surfers in the world today were those heading to Trestles to contend for the title, would you argue with it?
Filipe Toledo, John Florence, Jack Robinson, Ethan Ewing, Italo Ferreira.
Tell me that a match-up between any two of these men, at any wave on Tour, would not be a spectacle worth watching?
Within this group there is diversity of culture, approach, strength and character. There is no weakness.
There’s a long way to go, of course, and the return of one Gabriel Medina to consider, but this is a top five to tickle any tastes.
What began as a story about the losers became something very different. Margaret River had its own tale to tell.
It would not be a story of people hanging on by their fingernails, but instead of those showing their claws.
From dawn to dusk the entirety of the men’s competition was completed. A tantric discipline assured the best conditions of the window and we finished in the dying light of the final hours of the waiting period.
It wasn’t a particularly tricky call, given the forecast, but mark it down as a slippage of the hangman’s noose for Jessi Miley-Dyer nonetheless.
Let’s just cut to the business end and the flowers that bloomed amidst the West Australian dunescapes.
Filipe Toledo still holds a slender lead in the rankings despite losing a tight heat to Nat Young in the round of 16. The latter has buds burgeoning with as much promise as any point in the earlier iterations of his career.
However, a production disaster meant much of their heat went unseen in favour of a phone in with Medina. It was the best heat of the comp so far, with the man in the yellow jersey, no less, and we missed it.
Italo looked sparky at times, short of a little pizzazz at others. He was more like his old self, muted and relaxed in post heat pressers in a very deliberate way. He spoke about good energy with Jadson, with whom he was staying. But he’ll need to find the tipping point between vigour and rage going forward.
Barron Mamiya is a surfer I continue to admire. He has a tigerish power and poise that makes you believe he might attack a section with blinding ferocity at any given moment. He lost to Jack Robinson in one of two heats the eventual victor might have lost today. Robinson’s opening 8.93 was highly questionable, especially in context of Barron’s waves.
Just 0.13 pts separated the two at the end, and in this you might surmise that it was close enough to have gone either way, but this in itself is a problem. Several heats at Bells Beach were decided by fractions of a point. There were fewer at Margaret River, but there were incidents where the scoring range between the judges was an entire point or more.
This should be mitigated by dropping the high and low scores and taking the average, but on several occasions there were two judges with identical highest scores and two with identical lowest, therefore in the three counting scores there was still a point differential.
This isn’t just a major problem, it was decisive in the outcome of the event.
Jack Robinson had a scoring wave in his quarter, semi and final where there was a full point of difference between the judges.
In other words, for three of the six waves that won him the event, the judges couldn’t agree if the surfing was in the good or excellent range. In the case of his final with John where the differential between their heat totals was only 0.64 points, this judging discrepancy altered the outcome of the event.
See for yourself.
8.0 in the Quarter final vs Jordy – 8.5, 7.5, 8.0, 7.5, 8.5
8.10 in the semi against Ethan – 7.5, 7.5, 8.5, 8.5, 8.3
8.07 in the final against John – 7.3, 8.5, 8.5, 7.5, 8.2
To say this is simply not good enough would be a gross understatement.
How can heats be justifiably decided by fractions of points with this spread between judges?
It seems pedantic to constantly harp onto the judges, but this is a failure in basic competence.
We won’t get transparency or explanation, and I find it odd that surfers don’t demand it when careers and livelihoods are on the line. The rise of sports betting in America has led to stat corrections and in-depth referee reports. Could we see the same here?
Perhaps that way madness lies.
I’m beginning to think we should just throw the baby out with the bathwater and recalibrate how we think about professional surfing entirely.
Perhaps embracing the concept of entertainment is the way to make our peace with it. When we try to package it like sport it wriggles and squirms. So why bother? Let’s take it for what it is: a frivolous, watery dance predicated on rhythm, luck and mystical energies that none of us understand.
It’s entirely subjective. It’s simply entertainment.
And all said and done, the most entertaining surfers in the world are more or less the ones we ended up with in the finals at Margaret River.
A sagely nod to Matt McGillivray, the only surfer to step up to the plate and forge a lonely redemption arc.
Florence and Ewing were the standout surfers of the event, and it wasn’t particularly close.
I’ve fully fallen under Ethan Ewing’s spell. I’m almost compelled to go back and watch his previous stints on Tour to try and discern the differences between then and now. How did he conceal such power and talent?
He slices under the lip so precisely that his board might be an obsidian blade. His head, shoulders and arms are in perfect synchronicity. They do everything yet nothing. Watching him from a distance is like looking at clockwork. You can see that it works, but to appreciate it you need to examine it very, very closely. Even then you’ll still be baffled.
John Florence looked unbeatable even when he was eventually beaten. He seemed a victim of his own success at Margaret River. There was lots of chatter in the booth about his connection and his winning percentage of 85%. The speed he carried through transitions was unmatched. His carves buried the entire rail to within an inch of the nose.
The problem, however, was that we’d seen it before. It was still unique, but it felt familiar. Even the extraordinary can become mundane.
Perhaps John was conscious of this when he threw a hip-dislocatingly beautiful tail slide in the final. It was the most radical turn of the competition and although he was rewarded with the highest score of the match-up with an 8.5, really it should’ve been higher. Any other surfer attempting this successfully on their opening turn would surely have been given a high nine. If only anyone else could do it.
Regardless of the loss, Florence is now second in the rankings and that’s great for us and him.
But we’ll see Gabriel Medina in Indonesia.
“I see opportunity,” he said when asked how he felt about coming back. “It’s makeable. They are waves I like, they suit my surfing.”
I’d burn my whole garden to the ground just for him.