"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?
Was it the greatest day in pro surfing history?
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?
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)