When we think of the Brazilian Storm, no-one mentions Miguel Pupo.
The eternal problem with good waves is that they must die.
Casual surfers can mourn the end of a run of swell but look forward to the next. It’s just part of the staccato rhythm of life.
For competitors there’s no next time. Each day you paddle into a different arena. Often in surf competitions, we face finals that have little relevance to all that has preceded them.
Finals Day at Teahupoo did build momentum towards a climactic ending and worthy final, but the beginning felt a little flat.
The canvas for the heroic artists of yesterday was gone. Good waves still appeared, but they were of a different nature. Today was about positioning, not pluckiness.
And so heroes fell in the quarters.
Matt McGilivray was convincingly vanquished by Kauli Vaast.
Nathan Hedge looked like he might have retained the flow of yesterday when he opened with an 8.83, but then couldn’t find a 2.17 to overcome Ibelli, despite having thirty minutes to do so.
“Those couple of millimetres and moments went my way yesterday,” Hedge said in his post-heat interview, referencing a couple of waves he never made that would unquestionably have sealed victory.
Yesterday was not about millimetres or moments for Hedge, it was about sheer force of will and experience.
Where does he go from here, I wondered? It seems a strange question to be asking of a man of forty-three, and I certainly don’t expect him in more CT comps, but I do wonder how you come down.
Slater was fortunate to overcome Yago Dora. Needing a seven-something in the dying minutes he found a wave that looked solid, but had commentators humming and hawing about whether it was enough. It came in well above the requirement at 8.10, and the event sponsor progressed.
Miguel Pupo defeated Kanoa convincingly, but not yet with the panache that would eventually lead him to overall victory.
While the swell continued to lull and ebb, some women’s heats were run.
When we came back, it was to the unlikely spectacle of local wildcard, twenty-year-old Kauli Vaast, decimating Kelly Slater in a manner that might never have been done before.
Much was made of this in comment sections, claims that Slater choked etc. This was absolutely not the case. What did transpire was Vaast racking up rapid fire scores for threading tubes on the inside ledge, whilst Slater waited for bigger outside waves that just weren’t there.
You might put it down to a tactical error, a mis-read of conditions, but really Slater was probably resigned to the fact that the swell was dying and with it his chances of winning. I’m sure he sat outside hoping to will the waves that might allow him to work his magic.
In the end he only caught one wave for a 1.17, simply so he didn’t end the heat on zero, which he admitted later he had considered.
Vaast, by contrast, had five solid scores on the way to a 17.33 total.
Noteworthy was his switch-stance barrel, a skill we’d seen him foreshadow yesterday. The judges didn’t really buy it or award the supreme difficulty, causing much consternation among pundits and fans.
“I do believe the future is utilising both directions,” said Pete Mel later.
In the comment section, Matt Warshaw took a more artistic view. “That’s the most Slater thing I’ve ever seen,” he noted.
In the second semi, Miguel Pupo caught fire.
You’d never know it looking at his 13.50 final heat total, but in reality he weaved tube after tube on the inside, negotiating foamballs and falling sections here, planting arms in the face to control his speed there. It was sheer wizardry, and as good as anyone could have surfed the waves on offer.
For some reason, the judges appeared to be waiting for something more. In my view, Miguel’s high sixes were more like eights. His mastery of the conditions was absolutely on a par with Vaast in the preceding heat.
The flow for both Vaast and Pupo carried over into a highly entertaining final match-up, blessed with solid waves.
The two men were unquestionably the best surfers on this day, as evidenced by their trading of technical barrel riding in the final.
There was vociferous support from the channel for both men. The local boy enjoyed a partisan crowd, of course, but Miggy Pupo seems an enduringly popular figure among fellow professionals, none more so than his brother, Sammy, who was overjoyed to witness his big brother’s first final in ten years at the culmination of his own wildly successful rookie season.
In the end, it was Pupo’s day. He had tapped into a rare rhythm that you might recognise from your own good sessions, in your own meagre context, of course. It’s also something you can spot if you watch enough pro surfing.
It finally came together for Miguel Pupo, and ardent fans of professional surfing should celebrate that.
He’s been on and off Tour since 2011. Not only had he not won a competition until today, but his only previous semi-final appearances were Snapper in 2015 and Pipe this year. That’s scant encouragement to keep plugging away at a professional surf career. Especially in the face of more heralded countrymen.
When we think of the Brazilian Storm, no-one mentions Miguel Pupo.
He’s of a different mould, of course. He’s less likely to explode above the lip with waving arms and more inclined to keep his rails set and arms low. His is an aesthetic that the purists can admire, a blend of fundamentals and style.
He harnessed a flow state today, catching endless waves and seeming to make everything he went for, even hunting them down under priority. It was a masterclass in tuberiding, physical fitness, and flow. A relentless flurry that rendered Ibelli catatonic and pushed Vaast harder than anyone else had.
And although the majority of today was just slightly overhead, not perhaps the Teahupoo we revere, he can wrangle the heavy ones as well as anyone. He did it yesterday. He did it at Pipe to kick off the year.
Pupo, if you’ll believe it, is only thirty. On evidence of Hedge and Slater, he could be contending for comps in hollow waves for a decade or more to come.
How dogged are you?
It’s a quality that can’t but be admired. The ability to stick to a task or goal until you achieve success, to keep getting back up, keep battling against all adversity.
I consider this to be one of my short-term strengths yet long-term flaws.
I’m prone to reverie. Always have been. I love things intensely then let them go. My life is filled with washed-out ghosts of things I once adored. Like an egg collection. Some I should’ve loved more, some far less.
Amidst these flaccid husks I wander, searching for the next thing to love fiercely.
It’s an autistic-type tendency that would almost certainly have been diagnosed if I were born a decade or two later. I’ve got my coping strategies, destructive as they may be, and I cope.
In many ways I don’t want to change. I feel waves of ecstasy in moments you might never imagine, in situations I least expect. Paradise lost then found.
What would I be if not for chasing these feelings?
But I’m always searching for a higher high. My mind never rests. I’ve a tendency to quit things with a melodramatic flourish.
The ability to focus on what you perceive to be your one true purpose is to be revered. I reserve deep admiration for those who can find contentment, and eventual success, in simply chipping away.
As you progress through life, you might begin to realise that it’s steadiness that brings reward.
We could all do a lot worse than being a little more like Miguel Pupo or Nathan Hedge.