"While you were watching Grajagan climax live, I was on a grim death march along the Trotternish Ridge on the Isle of Skye…"
Apologies for the delay. While you were no doubt at your leisure, prone or proud, watching Grajagan climax, I was on a grim death march along the Trotternish Ridge on the Isle of Skye, wishing I was anywhere else in the world.
Much like G-Land, it’s a dream location that can descend into a nightmare driven by a weather forecast.
In low visibility or with the most innocuous of missteps, a tired stumble, a caught toe on a rock, you might find yourself plunging over sheer cliffs to the east and dashed to pieces on the rocks below.
To the west the slopes are rough and boggy. Too far that way and you’ll find yourself slogging for arduous hours over difficult, featureless terrain.
In clear weather, it’s a landscape difficult not to be awed by. Real Lord of the Rings stuff. The ridge, stretching twenty miles south from the northern end of Skye, is the product of geological oddities. There are deep, grassy valleys, dizzying cliffs, and lanceolate pinnacles of rock. It’s the product of a post-glacial landslip, the largest in Britain.
In 1865, Scottish poet and essayist, Alexander Smith, called it “a nightmare of nature”.
Yesterday, for those who like running in mountains, it should’ve been a dream. And that’s how it started, at least. As part of the Scottish Hill Running Championship this year, nearly two hundred of Scotland’s finest hill runners (and me) gathered in dazzling sunshine at the start line. It was a brightly coloured, slim and taut thrum of fitness.
But it went bad. Really bad.
The heat crippled me. I searched desperately for water, drinking from stagnant pools in peat bogs, heated by the sun to the temperature of blood. Whether that or the initial dehydration caused my stomach cramps I don’t know.
It was the longest five hours I’ve ever experienced. In that way, it was very similar to what we’ve just seen at Grajagan. Somehow, a reduced field turned into an event that felt like the longest yet.
I’ve done my due diligence and watched the replays.
Nothing stood out in the quarter-finals bar Kanoa’s surprisingly twitchy and off-the-pace backhand. It seemed choppy, forever behind the section. Perhaps it was just in contrast to Robinson, whose turns were far more composed and drawn out with a calmness that was to bear more fruit as the day progressed.
Robinson’s semi against Medina was an odd affair that probably should’ve been the final.
It was a battle of divine proportions. God got busy early, gifting Medina multiple scoring waves for more than forty minutes while Buddha kept his powder dry.
Even watching the replay, knowing the result, I couldn’t fathom how Robinson was going to come away with the victory. He’d only attempted four waves, and still needed a score when Medina used his priority on a set wave with just seventeen seconds left. He surfed it well for a deserved seven and his best score of a heat in which he’d never been threatened.
There can’t have been more than two seconds on the clock when Buddha instructed Jack to go on the next wave. He made two critical backhand snaps, the second worthy of comment, then finished with the briefest of cover-ups. He fist pumped and pointed at the judging tower as he kicked out. Buddha, having been impressed with his composure up til now, surely shook his head and tutted.
But the judges bought it, 7.83. In a comp lacking any drama, they were certainly doing their best to manufacture it.
Toledo surfed to a solid but not entirely convincing semi victory against O’Leary, who’s cannon fodder, really. I’m not sold on Filipe’s backhand either. It seems an odd thing to say, given he made the final, and he surfs so fast that it’s still more exciting than most, but it’s not a patch on his forehand.
This event brought home again how unjust the calendar is. It was interesting here to see some lefts that required turns, and it did highlight some strengths and weaknesses.
We ended up with two regular-footers in the final, regardless, and the world champion is goofy, both of which might make my argument seem null and void, but in my eyes there’s a necessity to have a down-the-line left as a regular Tour feature.
God and Buddha faced off once again in the final. God had a different strategy for Toledo this time. Borrowing from Buddha’s playbook, he instructed Filipe to catch only three waves. Right until the final seconds they were enough.
Really, the final was a pretty dull affair. The waves were slow, the rides uneventful. Toledo and Robinson sat apart like distant satellites, each searching for signs of life in the Grajagan line-up.
“All that intense-cipation,” said Joe.
Jack Robinson does not feel intensecipation. If you believe him, he doesn’t feel anything.
Buddha instructed that he should remain still until the very last moments once again. With three seconds on the clock and needing a 6.67, he scratched into a smaller inside wave, surfing it with a competency that was immediately forgettable. Judges in the tower by this point were clearly blissed out and levitating with crossed legs. He got a seven. Another overscore at the buzzer.
Robinson the victor for the second event in a row, up to number two in the world, Buddha the new Glen Micro Hall.
How do we feel about this? Has he been a standout? I’m sure the bulk audience for the WSL in Australia are loving it, but in my eyes every decision has gone his way, including some that shouldn’t have. Nothing about his performances have struck me.
In his post-heat interview with Strider there was some “thanking the ocean…trusting the ocean…etc” before, mercifully, the sound cut out. We saw Jack talking, but heard nothing. I’m almost certain we missed nothing but more cosmic mumbo-jumbo.
You very much can script this.
What do we make of Jackie Robinson’s act? Maybe I’m just cynical and unenlightened, but personally I’d call it a schtick rather than an act. His “I’m not thinking about anything” trip is wearing me down. I’m sure he believes in it. I suppose, in a sport based on fleeting moments of chance you to have faith in something, even if it’s nothingness.
Speaking of empty minds, Joe Turpel is even more painful when you’re not watching live. It’s because you could put a stop to it at any moment, but you have to keep going.
I had a dig at the tone of Luke Egan’s voice in my last wrap, but listening to the contrast between his considered delivery vs Joe or Strider is incomparable. Often he brought Turpel’s unfocused wandering back to sensible commentary, and that’s something I deeply appreciated.
Strider, Joe and Kaipo remain a scourge, albeit a smiling one. Disposing of them would be like killing puppies, but sometimes harsh actions are needed. In Seamus Heaney’s poem, “The Early Purges”, the speaker is six years old, and watches in horror as a farmhand drowns unwanted kittens. But over the course of the poem he grows. “On well-run farms, pests have to be kept down,” he instructs us conclusively at the end.
What to take away from G-Land? Despite the location, despite the promise, it was, at times exactly like my race yesterday, a grim death march to the finish.
Up there on the ridge, as the sun beat down, my heart rate spiked to nearly 200, and I ached for water, I swore I was never racing in heat like that again. It was misery. Misery I had subjected myself to. Faced with no choice but to keep going, I began to understand jungle fever. Time slowed, and there was no escape once I was in it.
That’s how it goes sometimes. Pressure and pain is good for you.
Today, things look brighter. I know what I did wrong. I know what I can do better.
Thinking about surfing got me through. The blue of the sea to the east and west has never looked so inviting. I should be down there, I thought. Not up here.
I thought of G-Land. What it once was, what it is now, and what it’s been this week.
I wondered what bonds have been forged in the lazy jungle heat? What rivalries may have festered in the moist air? No doubt we’ll find out in a future installment of Make Or Break.
I wondered if the MOB crew can remain objective in their ensconcement. When do they simply become part of the bandwagon? The shiny, happy caravan of professional surfing where nary a negative word is said, lest the spell be broken and they need to wake up and live normal lives like the rest of us.
El Salvador next. Do you know it?
“J-Bay in boardshorts,” was what Luke Egan called it. Let’s hope it delivers.
Toledo, still in the yellow jersey, must see the stars aligning.