Kelly Slater “masterfully shames” Jack Robinson as Corona Pro J-Bay winner Ethan Ewing drowns in praise, “There is no other surfer on Tour whose style and technical gifts are so universally admired by pundits and fans alike!”

"But although he’s flavour of the month right now, there’s a sense that his smoothness and perfect positioning often masks the difficulty of what he’s doing, and that presents a problem we’ve seen before."

The culmination of things is so often a let down.

Christmas days, birthdays. Eventual coupling after intense flirtation. Childbirth.

Surf competitions, especially.

How many times have we been tantiised, tickled and teased through the early rounds, only for Finals Day to fizzle limply to a close?

Not so this time. J-Bay delivered from beginning to end in a three-day blitz and without a lull.

Yesterday’s critique about lack of drama and true sporting tension remains valid, but that’s a problem of a structural and perhaps philosophical nature to chew on another time.

Viewed simply as a standalone contest, we’d have to consider J-Bay an unqualified success.

Beyond the quality and consistency of the waves, the best heats occurred on Finals Day, including the final itself, and that’s a rare bird.

If there’s a clear-eyed surfer alive who doesn’t consider Ethan Ewing to be a just and worthy winner, I’d invite you to stand up and state your case.

The first superb battle today was fought between Kanoa and Italo in the second quarter final.

With just over twelve minutes on the clock and holding a slender lead, Kanoa broke his leash. Whilst he was on the beach, Italo dropped a well-deserved nine.

Fewer than four minutes remained by the time Kanoa made it back into position, and only two when he spun on a wave significantly smaller than that of Italo’s high score.

From the start, it didn’t look like having the potential for the 7.91 he needed, but somehow he turned an average looking wave into an excellent score that was impossible to disagree with.

If you didn’t see it, I invite you to watch the three turns performed in the mid-section of the wave, after his lip-line carve and before his brief cover up. All critical, and not a pump to be seen.

It was smooth, beautiful surfing, and although the finish after the tube was a little safe, he certainly deserved the 8.33 he was given that turned the heat.

Lost in the drama was how Italo sustained the injury that saw him limping up the beach in the aftermath. Luke Egan reported from outside the treatment room in hushed tones that suggested Ferreira was fighting for his life. Fortunately, he wasn’t.

Kanoa was typically complimentary of himself in his post heat interview, remarking on his “grit”, among other attributes. This might be grating if it weren’t for the fact that everyone else seems to be adopting Jack Robinson’s patented blandness and being “in the moment”.

Fuck that, Kanoa seemed to say. I’m the present and the future.

Two of the best backhands of the event were up next in O’Leary and Dora, but really it wasn’t much of a contest.

The clear difference was illustrated not just through Dora’s turns, which were a little more critical and varied, but through his criminally underscored 6.5 for a backside rotation that I’d doubt O’Leary has in his locker.

UNDERSCORED, it reads in my notes in block capitals.

The rotation was high, clean and explosive. One of the best we’ve seen all year.

It was one move on a wave of lesser quality when scores were being awarded for multiple turns, but here’s the thing: it was the best possible surfing that could have been done on that wave. Not only that, but perhaps only three or four other men on Tour could have done it.

When you can do manoeuvres no-one else can, especially the surfer you’re competing against, you should be appropriately rewarded for it.

Jordy vs Ethan to round out the quarters was predictably disappointing for a heat so hotly anticipated.

Ewing won with a paltry heat total of 11.50, but Jordy more or less gave it to him by pulling into three closeout barrels in a row. It was a strange tactic for someone who professes to know the wave so well. He couldn’t manage a score over four points, a significant comedown from yesterday.

Over at Swellnet, Steve Shearer lauded Smith as the best surfer never to win a world title. For someone who’s never made any impact in hollow lefts especially, I think that’s a stretch.

Much as I appreciate Jordy’s talent, in the modern era I might put Taj Burrow, Julian Wilson and even Dane Reynolds ahead of him.

Shit, I might even throw Jeremy Flores and Owen Wright in contention, too.

What do you reckon?

Despite being out of the water for Finals Day, Kelly Slater had his say in the booth.

We were reminded once again just how superb he is in this role. Aside from his encyclopaedic memory, and his authoritative knowledge, there’s little flubber. He can dissect performances and give context without wandering too far from the action at hand. Best of all, he’s completely direct and not afraid to criticise decisions or performances.

At this stage, I’d rather listen to Kelly commentate than watch him compete.

Uncle Goat, as Robinson referred to him yesterday, got his own back on the whippersnapper by saying he’d asked Jack who he was pointing at in his continual, over-the-top claiming style. There was no response, apparently. Jack seemed to have been caught a little off guard with the question, said Kelly.

Of course, it was less a question than a masterful shaming.

Chalk that one down as a Slater victory.

The second best heat of the day was Yago and Ethan’s semi final.

A mere 0.17 points separated the two men when the horn sounded. The definitive blow was Ewing’s opening wave.

The surfing was clean, incisive and powerful.

(In a hushed tone I might suggest there was a little wiggle in some of the bottom turns, but just a little.)

“I don’t know how you surf that wave better,” said Slater, matter-of-factly. “Give him a nine.”

The score came in at 9.07.

It was surprising to note this was his first “excellent” score of the event.

Yago responded by going to work on his backhand with the same arresting style he had for the past two days. A mid seven followed by a mid eight gave him an early lead, but Ewing was always going to overturn it.

Yago threw everything into his turns to try and regain the lead. Needing an 8.77, he launched an inverted rotation to finish a solidly surfed wave. It was another example of a repertoire his opponent didn’t possess.

Slater said no, then yes after examining the replays.

The judges took their time.

Eventually, three of the five gave him the score he needed. The average somehow came shy of the requirement by the slimmest of margins. 8.70.

And so to the final, and possibly the most entertaining heat of the event. An ideal scenario seldom realised.

Jack Robinson began ominously with an 8.83, despite pumping down the line for some distance on a foamy part of the wave then kicking out. There was no dynamic exclamation point we might expect to warrant a high eight.

Some of the waves today required a bit of nursing through the middle section. One of Ewing’s advantages is that he makes going straight look good.

In addition to his patience and poise, he makes few mistakes and rarely falls. This was evidenced again in the final. Beyond his first score of 0.50, which I didn’t see but presume was a kick out, his other four waves in the final all scored over seven.

As in his semi, a nine was decisive. It was punctuated by a significant claim, perhaps not the first time Ewing has ever claimed a wave in competition, but certainly the first we’ve seen.

Perhaps it was a genuine and unconscious expression of emotion, as all good claims should be, or perhaps he was succumbing to peer pressure and the zeitgeist of this current crop of WCT surfers.

Or perhaps, as I’d like to believe, it was a combination of genuine emotion plus tongue-in-cheek mockery of Robinson’s habitual and overused pointing claims.

Robinson fought hard to get the 7.98 he needed to turn it, even displaying tactical nous of the highest order to sneak a wave under Ewing’s priority. It was a move that peeled back the vicious competitive layer underneath the zen facade, and I for one enjoyed it immensely.

But in the end, the people’s choice won, and when he did it seemed both satisfactory and correct.

It’s just a shame that an all-but-assured place on Finals Day will not be at a location that does justice to Ewing’s surfing.

Expectation is a heavy burden. No-one knows this more than Ethan Ewing.

In 2016, at just 17 years old, he finished second on the QS and won the World Junior Championships. Super-stardom seemed assured, and people weren’t shy of saying it. But his first year at WCT level in 2017 was an abject disaster.

Despite being compared to Andy Irons at every turn, Ewing barely won a heat. He exited nearly every comp in last place and silence, finishing the year in 34th position.

Back to the QS he went, eventually finding his way to the main Tour again for the shortened 2021 season. He was better, but still burdened with the weight of Australian expectation and AI comparisons that had transitioned from bizarre, to ludicrous, to simply embarrassing.

But comparisons are no longer necessary. This season we’ve finally seen the Ethan Ewing that was prophesied.

J-Bay might be his first victory, but the carpet has been rolled out all season. There is no other surfer on Tour whose style and technical gifts are so universally admired by pundits and fans alike.

But although he’s flavour of the month right now, there’s a sense that his smoothness and perfect positioning often masks the difficulty of what he’s doing, and that presents a problem we’ve seen before.

A problem that looks a bit like Joel Parkinson.

Parko eventually won a title, of course, but it seemed so overdue it was almost too late. His surfing never evolved, the surfing around him did.

In some ways Ethan Ewing seems to fit in a different era. It remains to be seen if he can compromise his aesthetic to fit the competition mold.

Really, it’s an impossible transition. If you had inch perfect technique and flow like Ewing or Parko, why would you change?

But although beautiful surfing wins hearts, dirty surfing more often wins heats.

Let’s forget that for now, though.

Forget that it’s all a bit pointless because we’re going to Trestles regardless.

And forget that style doesn’t win world titles.

Let’s just stay in the moment, as they say.

Beautiful surfing won J-Bay, and today we can celebrate that.

Famously non-binary Cara Delevinge (pictured) surfing.
Famously non-binary Cara Delevinge (pictured) surfing.

Lesbian/feminist, activist, novelist, poet, playwright utilizes wonderful surfing metaphor to describe gender fluidity: “Like surfing, we balance ourselves in the curl as we perceive that wavy space between the binaries.”

So hot right now.

Our sport of kings/queens is, as you know, ripe-to-bursting with metaphorical juice. The control, patience, skill it requires. The forever long learning curve. The elements beyond human control that must be navigated. Waves, man. Waves. Surfing has been used to paint richly poetic pictures in business, medicine, relationships, science, internet technology, etc. but this morning I stumbled upon its most fabulous employment yet.

To describe gender fluidity.

For the dull and dense, gender fluidity, as defined by Harvard Health, “refers to change over time in a person’s gender expression or gender identity, or both. That change might be in expression, but not identity, or in identity, but not expression. Or both expression and identity might change together.”

Very hot right now and recently written about by Jewelle Gomez, a lesbian/feminist, activist, novelist, poet and playwright in the San Francisco Bay Times using our surfing as expressive vehicle.

Shall we read together?

Since I was a kid, I’ve always loved people and screen characters whose gender was somehow undetermined. The popular terms now are “gender fluid” or “non-binary.” Finally, we have words for thinking about the exciting tension that is aroused (and I use that word deliberately) when male and female genders seem to overlap and refuse determination. Like surfing, we balance ourselves in the curl as we perceive that wavy space between the binaries.

That wavy space between the binaries.


The piece continues, examining various television/movie characters who exhibit gender fluidity and the tension that society can feel when “things are not presented in a box” before ending thusly:

Many people feel uncomfortable “not knowing” when all the expectations are subverted. My feeling drawn to that “not knowing” doesn’t mean I would rid the world of other gender presentations. I just think it’s valuable to allow yourself to feel what it takes to stand on uncertain ground and make evaluations based on only what you learn from a person in the moment and not based on societal preconceptions. It’s a kind of balance, again like surfing, but without fear of drowning.

And there you are.

Something to think about today while you are out grom abusing.

World number three Ethan Ewing, J-Bay king.

“Emotional” Ethan Ewing crushes world’s best under heel, including former child prodigy Jack Robinson, to win Corona Pro, J-Bay, in epic conditions, “What a beautiful display of surfing!”

Ewing rarely looked troubled on his road to victory, delivering the death blow to Matthew McGillivray, Jordy Smith, Yago Dora and Jack Robinson.

In very good, but less than perfect, four-to-six-foot waves, the Australian Ethan Ewing has won the first event of his career, solidifying the twenty three year old’s position in the coveted top five. 

Ewing was untroubled on his road to victory, delivering the death blow to Matthew McGillivray, Jordy Smith, Yago Dora and Jack Robinson. 

His season has been transformative, career-wise, including three third-place finishes, at Sunset, Bells and Margaret River. 

This medium-sized boy with perfectly even little teeth that sparkle like mother-of-pearl and with a blue glint and who surfs as if he was on a tight rope, leaves South Africa rated third in the world and with a one hundred-thousand dollar cheque and ten-thousand tour points. 

Full report from JP Currie to come.

Open thread, comment live, Finals Day, Corona Open J-Bay, “What have you tasted of perfection? Can it really exist, or is the concept paradoxical?”

Oh it's good, now, but wind threatens!

Intentional or not, Robinson made a comment about Slater in his post-heat interview that seemed a little like a sly knife to the old man’s gut. The victory was all the sweeter because he’d seen Kelly getting barrelled in Indo recently. | Photo: WSL

Kelly Slater eliminated by buzzer beater at Corona Open, Jeffreys Bay, “Is this how it ends? The old man in the club with the glowsticks who just can’t stop dancing whilst everyone moves around him, respectful, yet also a little sad?”

"The figure of Jack Robinson, surfing and claiming faster and harder, seemed to grow in stature behind, like a shadow of inevitability looming over the older man."

Could we ask for more in terms of wave quality or consistency?

Not really.

Was it the greatest day in pro surfing history?

Not nearly.

I contend that “perfection” is something best held at arm’s length. It’s a concept that can and should only exist in abstraction, for as soon as we try to claim it, we realise it’s not all we hoped for.

Once you’ve reached it, what then?

The WSL broadcast team are at their worst when the waves are good. All we get is endless repetition telling us so. Everyone becomes Strider.

The problem with superlatives is they run out pretty quickly.

Unbelievable. Incredible. Pumping. As good as it gets. Amazing.

Layers and layers of superfluous superlatives.

Yes, the waves looked great today, and yes, there was no shortage of them. Nor was there a shortage of quality surfing.

So why, then, did it occasionally feel a little flat? Like the 48 minute heats were just a bit too long. Like everything was a bit…slow.

Or like we were just waiting for it to start.

Ask yourself what’s changed after today? What world title scenarios or wrinkles have been introduced after a marathon day of professional surfing, in waves as good as we could ask for, at the business end of the season?

Precisely none.

To emphasise the point, world number one Filipe Toledo went out, losing to the superb Yago Dora in the round of 16.

But who really cares?

He’s already confirmed as being in the Top 5. And since it’s not actually a world title battle, none of the men remaining in the draw within striking distance can actually damage his chances.

There was talk of a potential shoulder injury sustained in his early heat today, but again, does it matter?

Toledo can sit out the rest of this event, and the next at Teahupo’o, and he’ll still be there on Finals Day at Trestles. To be number one is the mildest of advantages, especially for Filipe. Can you honestly say it matters much where he ends up in positions one through five?

And if, according to YouTube, there are only 20k fans watching (give or take a couple of thousand more on the WSL app) at this stage of the season, when Erik Logan prophesied it would be the greatest surfing competition of all time, then what does that say about the future?

But let’s concentrate on the present for a moment.

And just by the way, “staying in the moment” is the most zeitgeisty and overrated move in pro surfing in 2022.

Even Jordy’s at it now, according to his post heat pressers, and he’s about the least zen guy in any room.

At least he reclaimed some of his dignity today. Victory over Andino in the elimination round is nothing to shout about, but he was deliberate and precise in his surfing and wave selection, taking off on just three waves to Kolohe’s ten.

A heat total in the excellent range was repeated against stiffer opposition in Griffin Colapinto in the round of 16. I missed what happened with Griffin’s interference, but the surfing I saw leading up to that would suggest it hardly mattered. After being slightly undercooked throughout the event, Colapinto was knocked off rhythm just as Smith was finding his. His quarter final berth is deserved and a match-up against Ethan Ewing is one to look forward to.

Kelly Slater found a little more old man flow today, aided by very different and clearly better equipment choice than yesterday.

His match-up against Barron Mamiya in the elimination round seemed impassable, especially given it was morning heat and we know he’s a creature who likes to warm up throughout the day.

The point was cloaked in mist as Slater appeared spookily on the stones, like he had brought the fog with him.

His performance was better than yesterday, but advancing past Mamiya with a heat total of just 12.26 says more about the latter being a little off than Slater snatching back any of his youth.

The commentators, as usual, were not to be deterred.

“Classic Kelly, classic J-Bay,” they kept saying. At least one of those things had very loose relevance to objective truth.

Slater was “riding on top of the water beautifully on this board,”said Ronnie, stretching for compliments.

The juxtaposition of the ad breaks was appropriately symbolic. On one hand, there he was, live, in black and white, stumbling through a heat; and on the other we saw glossy, colourful ads for his “Lost Tapes” web series, with its jazzy tune and talk of dreams and movies.

He looked better again in his round of 16 heat against Jack Robinson, the latter looking more Terminator-like by the day.

Slater needed a mid-six as the heat was winding down. A wave came. He rode it admirably, verging on dynamically. It seemed enough, but Robinson had taken off on the wave behind.

Watching the two ride their waves simultaneously, it was clear they were operating on different planes. The figure of Robinson, surfing and claiming faster and harder, seemed to grow in stature behind, like a shadow of inevitability looming over the older man.

This is how it ends, isn’t it? The old man in the club with the glowsticks who just can’t stop dancing whilst everyone moves around him, respectful, yet also a little sad.

Intentional or not, Robinson made a comment about Slater in his post-heat interview that seemed a little like a sly knife to the old man’s gut. The victory was all the sweeter because he’d seen Kelly getting barrelled in Indo recently.

The rest of the Tour professionals had been slogging it out in Brazil at this time, of course.

At least Kelly’s sensibilities prevent the sort of egregious claiming that seems de-rigueur right now.

It’s no longer poor etiquette, apparently. Even mid-ride claims are acceptable. Jack and Italo are voracious.

The claim is now part of a scoring repertoire. But actually, it might be losing impact.

Look to Italo’s opening wave against Nat Young in the round of 16. It’s without question the hardest 3.83 claim you’ll ever see. Inherent distrust of the officiating suggests a point or two was deducted for the ferocity, but the balance was corrected in the latter part of the heat. The 9.17 Italo got seemed high in the context of some of the other backhand surfing we saw today.

No-one, backhand or fore, has impressed more than Yago Dora. There’s a spark in his surfing that reminds me of peak Italo, before the jewels and the attitude. To my eyes it doesn’t look possible to turn in a more critical part of the wave than he does. He never looks like falling, and he flows from one move to another with a style that’s not second best to Ethan Ewing, but just a little different.

If you’re partial to a little flow, as I am, Ewing and Dora are the best two surfers at J-Bay this year.

Few days in competitive surfing history will have been as consistent as today, but for me it wasn’t perfect.

There’s a line of thought that says all we need at any given event is for the waves to turn on. I’m not sure that’s true. If nothing else, Kelly’s pool taught us that perfect waves weren’t really what we were looking for.

What we do need are stakes, rivalries and consequences. Today held little, if any, of these elements.

There was lots of talk of flawlessness and perfection, but where was the drama? We can watch perfect waves any time we like. If we’re going to tune into nine hours straight of live sport I think we need something more.

Perhaps you disagree.

Did today make all your pro surf dreams come true?

What have you tasted of perfection? Can it really exist, or is the concept paradoxical?

If realised, then where do we go? What’s left to pursue?

Life, and surfing, is about striving. That’s what keeps us going. The promise, not the reality.

Today I watched hours of professional surfing in what many people – not least the WSL production team – would have you believe was perfect conditions.

Was I rapt and satiated?

Not quite yet.

Corona Open J-Bay Men’s Elimination Round 2 Results: 
HEAT 1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.33 DEF. Joshe Faulkner (ZAF) 6.76
HEAT 2: Miguel Pupo (BRA) 12.30 DEF. Seth Moniz (HAW) 11.66
HEAT 3: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 13.34 DEF. Luke Thompson (ZAF) 11.84
HEAT 4: Caio Ibelli (BRA) 14.07 DEF. Jake Marshall (USA) 11.83
HEAT 5: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 15.00 DEF. Jadson Andre (BRA) 11.03
HEAT 6: Kelly Slater (USA) 12.26 DEF. Barron Mamiya (HAW) 9.23
HEAT 7: Callum Robson (AUS) 12.93 DEF. Jackson Baker (AUS) 10.40
HEAT 8: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.93 DEF. Kolohe Andino (USA) 14.80

Corona Open J-Bay Men’s Round of 16 Results: 
HEAT 1: Yago Dora (BRA) 15.17 DEF. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 12.83
HEAT 2: Jack Robinson (AUS) 15.77 DEF. Kelly Slater (USA) 12.87
HEAT 3: Samuel Pupo (BRA) 16.94 DEF. Callum Robson (AUS) 11.00
HEAT 4: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 17.64 DEF. Nat Young (USA) 14.74
HEAT 5: Kanoa Igarashi (JPN) 16.26 DEF. Caio Ibelli (BRA) 11.77
HEAT 6: Connor O’Leary (AUS) 12.77 DEF. Miguel Pupo (BRA) 11.97
HEAT 7: Jordy Smith (ZAF) 16.77 DEF. Griffin Colapinto (USA) 7.27
HEAT 8: Ethan Ewing (AUS) 15.76 DEF. Matthew McGillivray (ZAF) 14.00

Corona Open J-Bay Men’s Quarterfinal Matchups: 
HEAT 1: Jack Robinson (AUS) vs. Samuel Pupo (BRA)
HEAT 2: Italo Ferreira (BRA) vs. Kanoa Igarashi (JPN)
HEAT 3: Yago Dora (BRA) vs. Connor O’Leary (AUS)
HEAT 4: Jordy Smith (ZAF) vs. Ethan Ewing (AUS)