The Outerknown Tahiti Pro is now, officially, in the rearview mirror and what a show, at the end. Young wildcards wowed, elders shined, an unlikely champion, but wonderful, was crowned. And now we have, cemented, our final five who will fly from Teahupo’o to Southern California’s timid shore to compete for the entire season’s jewel, best surfer in the world, 2022.
When the World Surf League envisioned this final day, winner take all, and rolled it out for the first time last season, it was an attempt to reprise the excitement of the 2019’s showdown between number one and number two Italo Ferreira and Gabriel Medina at very fine Pipeline.
But this year, the oft used WSL-ism may have a different meaning. As you know, current world number one Filipe Toledo put on a very memorable performance at Teahupo’o’s day of days. Memorable in that he bravely refused to paddle while two geriatrics swapped absolute bombs underneath his priority.
As you also know, current world number two Jack Robinson put on memorable performance too, weaving through the blue maw, sliding vertically down, though less memorable because conquering beasts is part of his repertoire.
Now, at Trestles, the two may come up against each other, assuming Robinson gets through his penultimate heat. There they will bob in 2 – 3 foot surf, swapping snaps and air reverses, the world’s best small wave surfer Filipe Toledo a heavy favorite but, herein, lies a problem.
The King of Saquarema’s Cho-e-hu-p’o’o act will be all too fresh in the spectator’s mind and will he or she be able to accept him as master, carried high above the cobbled stones on Brazilian shoulders, or will the sheer weight of rage break the World Surf League apart?
Banners hastily spray painted “NOT MY CHAMPION!”
What do you think about that?
The best case scenario, likely, for the League is that someone other than Toledo wins at Trestles, even though that is very harsh. The Brazilian flyboy put together an incredible season save one glaring moment of cowardice.
The problem, I suppose, is that surf fans place courage high on the list of desirable traits, maybe even equal to skill.
Many years ago, I bobbed in a boat in Te-ay-cho-p’u’u’s channel with Robinson, Leo Fioravanti and Kanoa Igarashi. It was not a big day but those around claimed at that size it was more terrifying than extra large because it broke directly upon the reef or something. Robinson and Firoravanti were right into it, hooting and laughing. Igarashi got out of the boat slow, paddled to the shoulder, paddled back without catching a wave. The team manager, also aboard, told him he had to go back and charge. The young boy did want to, did not want to at all, but did paddle back and try.
Many years later, Igarashi has found his heart and is unafraid of the big and though many don’t like his claims or his chains, his courage is not questioned and, thus, neither would a crown if he were to win instead of Toledo or Robinson at Trestles. Ethan Ewing charges and Italo Ferreira does too.
The question at the end, I suppose, can a champion, our champion, be a shrinking violet?
Miguel Pupo delivers the coupe de grace to Tahitian wildcard Kauli Vaast. WSL
Little-known Brazilian Miguel Pupo stuns world at Outerknown Tahiti Pro with “sheer wizardry… as good as anyone could have surfed!”
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.
Brazilian journeyman Miguel Pupo delivers astonishing coupe de grace to “unbeatable” wildcard Kauli Vaast at Outerknown Tahiti Pro! “That was a clinic in tuberiding!”
Roman Catholic Pupo thanked God and told of a gruelling training regime, which included workouts in a gymnasium.
The Brazilian journeyman Miguel Pupo, a surfer who has long struggled to keep his place on the world tour, has done what Kelly Slater couldn’t do, defeat the “unbeatable” local wildcard Kauli Vaast to win the Outerknown Tahiti Pro.
In a dying, but still significant swell, Pupo delivered what surfing hall-of-famer Peter Mel described as a “tuberiding clinic”.
“Take note kids,” said the storied big-wave surfer from Santa Cruz.
Roman Catholic Pupo thanked God, said he’d been waiting ten years for his first tour win and told of a gruelling training regime, which included workouts in a gymnasium.
Until meeting Pupo in the final, Vaast, who is twenty, was untroubled throughout the event, beating world title contender Ethan Ewing twice, and humiliating five-time Tahiti Pro winner and greatest surfer of all time, Kelly Slater, in a wildly one-sided semi final.
As Chas Smith wrote earlier, “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.
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.