This Outerknown Tahiti Pro has been nothing if not one surprise after another. From Surfline describing the swell forecast, lightly early, in cartoonish fashion to the women being tossed into trash to the aforementioned cartoonish swell materializing, contest owner Kelly Slater pushing pause just so the waves would fill and he could deeply shame current world number one Filipe Toledo by trading barrels with an elder employee while Toledo sat scared to…
Local mana, I suppose.
Too much surprise to appropriately distill but semifinal heat number one is worth an attempt.
Here we have Kelly Slater, aforementioned, the world’s greatest surfer who has won eleven world titles and put on an absolute show in yesterday’s cartoon, getting annihilated by local wildcard, trials winner, Kauli Vaast.
There were barrels.
There were deeper barrels.
There were turns, switch stances, “hula hooping” in what Peter Mel described as “the best surfing” he’s “ever seen done in Tahiti.”
Zero by Slater.
Only by Vaast.
A performance so extreme, so carnal, that it caused WSL commenters Mel and Kaipo G to openly mock the judges for underscoring the local Vaast on his circus surfing.
Strider, an admitted Slater fan, declared, “Kelly’s putting on his glasses out here, trying to find his keys.”
An utter spit roast of the GOAT.
Echoes of when pro juniors Slater and Shane Dorian, decades ago, humiliated their Australian elders by surfing switch, having fun, doing what comes easy to the youth.
Slater, on the other hand, reprised Filipe Toledo by almost not catching a wave. Oh, he certainly wasn’t scared but also certainly stunned. A bolt to the head.
The GOAT is dead.
Long live the GOAT.
Surf inspiration Jonah Hill wows adoring public by following Filipe Toledo’s lead and bravely refusing to work: “You won’t see me out there promoting this film, or any of my upcoming films, while I take this important step to protect myself.”
The Outerknown Tahiti Pro certainly has been a very fine ride. From Surfline’s early cartoonish wave height calls to terror clawing at Filipe Toledo’s mind, moving to his lion-adorned heart, to that same terror paralyzing him in the lineup and creating a beautiful reprise of brave cowardice. From Kelly Slater and Nathan Hedge, elders, owning the narrative, Jack Robinson throwing a potential asterisks upon the 2022 season if things pan out certain ways at Trestles, Matthew McGillivray defying physics, Chopu, Te-a-hu-po’o, Chopu’u’u, Tea’ho’p’u’u.
Wonderful and still not over but let us not forget surf inspiration and and iconoclast Jonah Hill making sweet news, yesterday, by boldly refusing to work, much like the aforementioned Filipe Toledo and his future asterickses.
In a tersely worded statement, Hill penned:
I have finished directing my second film, a documentary about me and my therapist which explores mental health in general called “Stutz.” The whole purpose of making this film is to give therapy and the tools I’ve learned in therapy to a wide audience for private use through an entertaining film.
Through this journey of self-discovery within the film, I have come to the understanding that I have spent nearly 20 years experiencing anxiety attacks, which are exacerbated by media appearances and public facing events.
I am so grateful that the film will make its world premiere at a prestigious film festival this fall, and I can’t wait to share it with audiences around the world in the hope that it will help those struggling. However, you won’t see me out there promoting this film, or any of my upcoming films, while I take this important step to protect myself. If I made myself sicker by going out there and promoting it, I wouldn’t be acting true to myself or to the film.
I usually cringe at letters or statements like this but I understand that I am of the privileged few who can afford to take time off. I won’t lose my job while working on my anxiety. With this letter and with “Stutz,” I’m hoping to make it more normal for people to talk and act on this stuff. So they can take steps towards feeling better and so that the people in their lives might understand their issues more clearly.
I hope the work will speak for itself and I’m grateful to my collaborators, my business partners and to all reading this for your understanding and support.
Are you inspired?
Will you, also, refuse to go to work today?
Wild scenes at Outerknown Pro in Tahiti as two middle-aged men, one long retired, dominate day of days, “threading masterful tubes after death defying drops, while the alleged best surfer in the world floats idly by and refuses to paddle into a wave!”
This, boys and girls, is our reward for the hours we spent paying attention to this shit.
Was that the best day of contest surfing this year? A big call, perhaps, given Pipe and J-Bay, but in some moments it seemed like it might be.
There was a frenetic start, a lully, slightly onshore middle, then an explosive end. It was a day with a pace that was hard to keep up with at times.
Storylines abound, but I only have so many words and so many hours to wrangle them. It would be a dereliction of duty, say, like being a professional athlete unfit to perform, if we did not first address the little elephant in the room.
You know, the one in the yellow jersey, bobbing on the shoulder.
A swell that has been forecast for what feels like months, a swell wrapped in gilded cloth.
Historic. Perfect. Pumping. Or any other superlative from the WSL word bank.
What size? Eight foot? Ten? Fifteen? Who even knows anymore. Certainly not Surfline.
No matter, we can see for ourselves that it’s good.
Kelly Slater, fifty years young. Your eleven-time world champ. Lord, master and Lucifer. (And, not to forget, the title sponsor of the event. Hence the reason he was competing this morning and not in the junk of yesterday.)
Finally, Filipe Toledo, twenty-seven years old. Our incumbent world number one. Yellow jersey wearer. World champ in the wings. The best surfer in the world!
These are our characters. We know their history. We know their minds.
This, boys and girls, is our reward for the hours we spent paying attention to this shit. It is only us, the self-identifying sour-faced locals, the keyboard shredders, the pithy commenting, casual upvoting kings and queens of surf fandom, who can really appreciate the nuance of what happened here.
So, when we watch the two older men take control of Teahupoo’s throaty power, threading masterful tube after death defying drop, while the alleged best surfer in the world floats idly by and refuses to paddle into a wave, we are not surprised.
And yet, we are no less perplexed by the sheer oddity of it.
This is not a new problem, of course.
It’s not the first time he’s refused to paddle at Teahupoo. He sees the smoke of our online commentary, tastes it, breathes it thick and deep into his lungs, and it continues to choke him.
It was pure pantomime. Toledo, sat on the shoulder. Toledo, pretending to paddle and giving up priority. Toledo, drenched in bathos.
How can a man with such technical mastery of a surfboard, a man who routinely dazzles us with a preternatural skill in waves up to four feet, simply refuse to paddle when the waves get big?
Fear is the only possible answer.
For Filipe Toledo, Teahupoo is an unassailable mental barrier. It grips him with a deep-rooted terror that will not be budged.
We understand this, of course. We all experience fear, naturally. And of course the accusation will be levelled that the majority of us wouldn’t heave ourselves over the ledge at Teahupo’o on a day like yesterday.
Although this is certainly true, we are not professional surfers. Much less professional surfers who might soon lay claim to a world title, yet cannot perform the basic and fundamental act of surfing in waves of a certain type.
The end of the road, indeed. A dead end for Toledo.
I tried to think of context for this today, something from another sport, perhaps. The best I could come up with is the imperfect comparison of an NBA player who routinely airballs free throws. Blake Griffin at his peak, perhaps.
But a better one, if we take the fear and anxiety factor into account, is perhaps Ben Simmons, once of the Philadelphia 76ers, refusing to shoot in the playoffs for fear of missing. For those of you who follow such things, you’ll know that Simmons hasn’t suited up since, for no discernible reason other than sheer terror.
It would take a stony heart not to have some sympathy for Filipe Toledo. Watching him left me with a feeling of uncomfortable glee. It makes for a wonderful story, but I would hope not at the expense of his mental health.
Regardless of any empathy we might feel for his humanity, as fans of surfing we have a right to question him.
Will you accept him as your world champion, if that comes to pass?
Some dignity was restored later, perhaps, when he did make a few waves in his elimination round loss to Hedge, but his 14.83 heat total flattered to deceive. Far greater waves and deeper barrels were awarded lesser scores than those of Filipe Toledo today, sympathetic as the judges were to his plight and clearly relieved that he was actually going.
Such is the lottery of pro surfing. California’s Jake Marshall advanced to the round of 16 with a cumulative total, over two heats, four scoring waves, of just 9.03.
Italo Ferreira, by contrast, was eliminated despite a 16.60 heat total in the elimination round alone.
Consolation for Italo came in the form of Yago Dora, squeezing by Griffin Colapinto in the round of 16 by the narrowest of margins and despite what could, on another day, have been buzzer-beater magic from Colapinto.
Just as this assured Ferreira’s place at Trestles, so it cast doubt on Colapinto’s. His place now depends on the quarterfinal match-up between Kanoa Igarashi and Miguel Pupo, both of whom could clinch the fifth spot.
Just a note on Yago Dora. If I were able to bet on such an outcome, I would be placing a healthy wager on him to finish in the top five next season. There is no weakness in his game. If not for the foot injury that ruled him out for most of the season, I’m sure he’d be there already.
But today, above all, was owned by two men: Kelly Slater and Nathan Hedge.
I’ll spare my word count on Kelly, except to say that once again when the waves get hollow and serious, he remains one of the best in the world. It was a performance certainly worthy of more analysis, but his mastery of barrel riding is so evident it seems almost trite to continually point it out.
Now, almost more than ever, I feel sure I need to keep some superlatives in reserve for when he’s still doing it five years down the line, ten even.
But Kelly is Kelly, he never really went away. The real miracle renaissance man today was Nathan Hedge. A middling pro through the early 00s who hasn’t competed at this level since 2014. There were yowls of derision across the airwaves when he was awarded this wildcard slot.
What about the locals? What about the young guys?
What about them.
Hedge is through to the quarter-finals and was unquestionably one of the three best surfers in the water today. His victory over the seemingly unbeatable Jack Robinson in the round of 16 was a joy to witness. It was a win conjured in two waves after being comboed by Robinson, who seemed to have a stranglehold on both the heat and Teahupoo as a whole.
I maintain justification in screaming “TEN! TEN!” sometime around three am and waking my four-year-old (co-incidentally also called Nathan, and from this day forward named in honour of Hedge) for a wave with an untethered ferocity that Hedge had no right to make.
It seemed to spit from take-off as he dropped from the sky, somehow engaging his rail as he compressed on landing then vanished. When he reappeared it was nothing short of miraculous. After watching multiple times on replay, I’m still not sure how he made it, and I still don’t expect him to come out.
Two judges agreed with me, 9.87.
An 8.43 on his next wave iced the heat and an improbable victory.
Robinson has the right to feel unlucky, in the sense that it was only magic that could defeat him. His composure is as evident as Toledo’s brittleness. On evidence of the season, yet contradiction to the ratings, he’s the right and proper world champion this year.
I’d invite you to watch his 9.10 against Hedge, the moment the Slater vs O’Leary heat ended and priority shifted. His movement inside the tube can only be explained by clairvoyance.
In fact, watch the back-to-back heats in the round of 16 between O’Leary and Slater then Robinson and Hedge.
Heroes, all four of them. A clinic of technical, ballsy tuberiding in the world’s most spectacular wave.
The swell will fade tomorrow, of course, as will the magic.
Today held the sorts of moments that can’t be repeated, otherwise they wouldn’t be so special.
But Slater and Hedge are on opposite sides of the draw going into the quarters.
Just imagine the swell did hold. Imagine the magic could last.
For very different reasons, the day belonged to the three men that started it.
At the end of the road, not all men reach the same destination.
Open Thread: Comment Live, Finals Day at the Outerknown Tahiti Pro where youth is a gift of nature but age is a work of art!
Toledo belts his board after humiliating round one performance.
Shock new theory emerges following world #1 surfer’s stunning choke at Outerknown Tahiti Pro, “I’m wondering if he’s actually being smart and playing the long game… not risking injury when he’s already locked in to the final five?”
Maybe world number one not scared of Teahupoo but smarter than you think!
Earlier today, surf fans were shocked, but not surprised, I suppose, by the world number one surfer Filipe Toledo’s stunning choke at four-to-eight-foot Teahupoo, a reprise of his “stunning act of cowardice” from 2105 when he failed to catch even one wave in a heat there.
Seven years is a long time and it might’ve been expected that Toledo, now twenty-seven and a favourite to win the world title at Lowers in September, would’ve become a little more comfortable at this difficult wave.
What value does a world title hold if you can’t surf the tour’s most demanding wave?
With fifty seconds left, Toledo found a small wave on the inside, riding it to the channel for a 1.87.
But while fans and the press called it a fear-induced choke and as Toledo punched his board in the channel, at least one surfing notable, the commentator Chris Coté, theorised Toledo didn’t catch a wave worth a damn because he was keeping himself in cotton wool for Finals Day in September.
“I’m wondering if he’s actually being smart and playing the long game,” tweeted Coté. “Not risking injury in a non-elimination round heat when he’s already locked in to the final five? I respect that.”
Holes were quickly jabbed into the theory by surf fans,.
“Why even show up at Chopes then??” tweeted one. “Could have been at home training at Lowers this whole time. Imagine if no Finals day was taking place, he would lose his title to Jack today in the water. IMO – if he does win the title this year, it’s not as valid if he can’t send it at Chopes.”
Toledo salvaged some pride in his elimination heat against Nathan Hedge. Although he lost, Toledo scraped into a couple of medium-sized waves and rode ‘em beautifully for a pair of sevens.
A few years back, BeachGrit worked with a Toledo on his battle with fear, the film, we hoped, climaxing with Toledo paddling into a ten-footer at Teahupoo, emerging to indelicate screaming and a besmirched reputation wiped clean.
It was a project that had so many false starts, trips to Tahiti, missing swells and back and forthing that it was eventually shelved.
We cut the original feature back, stripped it to the original interview and sprinkled a little fairy dust here and there for a treatise on fear never conquered.