Bert, curious, wonders, "You talking about BeachGrit?" Florence, without pause, says, "Yes." Rothman, the handsomest of his brothers adds, "They suck, they suck."

Hawaiian royalty Nathan Florence and Koa Rothman say very hurtful things about beloved surf tabloid: “(BeachGrit) sucks. They’re not even big either, they just talk sh*t about anyone!”

"It's crazy."

A dirge is currently playing this morning in Cardiff-by-the-Sea, California. Wafting through the witching hour air in Bondi, New South Wales. Sadness and hurt the dominant emotions in BeachGrit’s twin desks. Questions of “why?” hanging heavy between the principals Derek Rielly and Chas Smith, though unspoken. Days ago Hawaiian surf royalty Nathan Florence and Koa Rothman went on the very popular Bertcast to announce that they would be launching a podcast of their own.

Bertcast host, Bert Kreischer who is a stand-up comedian and inspiration behind National Lampoon’s Van Wilder, is sitting outside in that warm Hawaiian air, across from Florence and Rothman and begins the conversation thusly:

“Would you talk just about surfing?”

Florence, the handsomest of his brothers, responds, “I don’t think we would talk just about surfing…” though Bert interjects before he can finish. “Here’s my question, is surfing like comedy where the gossip is what would sell?”

Florence ponders for a moment before answering, “I don’t think it would. There are some platforms that do sell on gossip but I wouldn’t say they’re the biggest.”

Bert, curious, wonders, “You talking about BeachGrit?”

Florence, without pause, says, “Yes.”

Rothman, the handsomest of his brothers adds, “They suck, they suck.”

Bert, laughing, describes how the lovable surf tabloid pops into his feed. Florence tells him to “get it out of there.” Rothman interjects, “They’re not even big either. They talk shit about anyone.” At the same time Florence says, “They just make up stuff. They just straight make up stuff.”

Rothman ends with, “It’s crazy,” shaking his head.

Tears in Chas Smith’s coffee.

Tears on Derek Rielly’s pillow.

More as this story of woe develops.

But even as Steph wrote a dramatic sports story and celebrated her success, she acknowledged the long strange ride she took to get there. Steph started her season by missing Pipeline due to a positive Covid test. She bobbled at Sunset, where she has won in the past, and scraped into the final five, still several time zones from the rankings lead. This wasn’t supposed to be her year — until it was. | Photo: Beatriz Ryder/World Surf League

Surf fans join greatest female surfer ever Stephanie Gilmore in slamming controversial one-day Finals format, “The WSL has confused cruelty with drama. They assume the audience wants to see dreams crushed rather than fulfilled!”

It was hard to ignore how far ahead in the rankings Carissa Moore started the day and how much she lost by the end of it.

You have one shot and one opportunity.

There is always something compelling when an athlete shows up, really shows up, and does it on the day. All or nothing, for all the marbles.

On Thursday that’s exactly what Steph did to win her eighth world title. Making a run from the bottom of the draw straight through to the top, she used her trademark style sharpened with a progressive edge to win on the rights that suit her so well.

It should be a fairy tale story.

From fifth to first, after a rollercoaster season with more troughs than highs, Steph won the title. She also broke the record for women’s world title count that’s stood since 2006. Onshore winds turned the waves to shit, but Steph kept rolling. She only needed two heats to beat six-time world champion Carissa Moore. Steph once said that she expected to Carissa to be the next Kelly. Who’s chasing Kelly now?

But even as Steph wrote a dramatic sports story and celebrated her success, she acknowledged the long strange ride she took to get there. Steph started her season by missing Pipeline due to a positive Covid test. She bobbled at Sunset, where she has won in the past, and scraped into the final five, still several time zones from the rankings lead. This wasn’t supposed to be her year — until it was.

Carissa is the rightful world champion, Steph said from the podium with characteristic grace. It was hard to ignore how far ahead in the rankings Carissa started the day and how much she lost by the end of it. I doubt Carissa especially liked being reminded that she should have won. Surely that felt like salt in the wounds.

It wasn’t Carissa’s best year. She told me at the beginning of the year that she didn’t get her usual time off because of Olympics obligations. She came into the season more tired than usual. Still, she was far and away the rankings leader by year end. After winning the one-day final at Trestles last year, she knows how to do this event. But not this year, not this time.

So, what do we make of this year’s format changes?

In her post-heat comments and later on Instagram, Johanne Defay was forthright about her dislike for the one-day final.

“Surfing as a sport is not an exact science,” she says on Instagram. “That 35 minutes in the water did not reflect my year or the competitor and surfer that I am.” It felt to her as though her whole season was lost in a single 30-minute heat. Finishing third in the world, of course, is hardly nothing.

Steph says it’s time to change the system. Presumably she means an end to the one-day final. If there’s anyone in position to change how the tour works on the women’s side, it’s Steph. Over time, she has quietly done just that, most notably in pushing for better conditions during the women’s heats.

And Steph is right.

While a one-day championship works for many sports, the sheer randomness of the ocean rules against it. Do we get the same results — mens or womens — if the conditions had stayed clean or the waves had been bigger?

Maybe, maybe not.

And it’s hard to argue that Trestles is the measure of what World Tour surfing should be. The year-long world title race mediates the judges’ weird quirks and the ocean’s wild ideas.

While Steph is changing the system, the mid-year cut also needs a rethink. A twelve-woman draw is a joke from a sports league that makes a lot of noise about equality. Prize money equity only goes so far when there are so few seats at the table. And, surely a heat draw where a win in round one sends surfers straight to the quarters doesn’t make a hell of a lot of sense. The cut and reduced draw should have raised the stakes; instead it highlighted how arbitrary a judged sport in ever-changing conditions can be.

What the mid-season cut and the one-day final have in common is a brutal finality.

Certainly, the point of competitive sport is to distinguish between winning and losing. There’s no sugar-coating that reality. But in the context of surfing, where so many variables fan out beyond the competitors’ control, the results felt almost arbitrary. The waves could stop. The judges could lose their minds. Oh hey, look, you’re out.

In creating both the cut and one-day final, the WSL has confused cruelty with drama. They’ve assumed that their audience — that’s us — wants to see dreams crushed rather than fulfilled. And it’s true, sometimes we do. Sometimes we’re assholes, and we watch heats to see someone lose.

But didn’t Margaret River feel the opposite of fun, as one after another, surfers got sent home? It didn’t feel like the kind of drama I look for in sports. It felt contrived and artificial, drama for drama’s sake.

So many of the younger generation of women — the women who are most likely to change the sport and push it into the future — were sent home at mid-year. Only Gabriela Bryan from the rookie class survived. It felt like a step backward rather than forward for women’s surfing.

At the end of the day, Steph won this one and it’s impossible to hate the idea of Steph holding the record of most world titles. Her contribution to women’s surfing is undisputed and her surfing in right points is unmatched. Who wouldn’t want to be able to surf J-Bay like Steph?

For her part, Carissa has all the pieces she needs to chase down Steph’s new record, if she wants it.

Carissa remains the most complete surfer in the women’s sport.

She has said she wants to improve her backside barrel riding, and there’s signs she’s starting to do it.

Now’s the time, Carissa. Go get it.

Slater (right) providing shade.

World’s greatest shade artist Kelly Slater paints masterful portrait as Filipe Toledo wins maiden title: “He didn’t need to go out and hurt himself at Teahupo’o on a big day. He’s No. 1 in the world. No matter what he’s coming to Trestles!”

150 shades of grey.

Filipe Toledo is your 2022 World Champion, on the men’s side, and bravo to he with much congratulations drizzled on top. His reputation as the greatest small wave surfer alive, maybe in history, cemented. He laid waste to a resurgent Italo Ferreira in the best of three final final, “putting his foot on his neck,” according to Joe Turpel, which seemed graphic coming out of such a sublimely positive mouth.

The anchor in the room, of course, the one Toledo dropped on an exceptional day in Tahiti, refusing to paddle while jaw-droopingly epic waves pumped, two elderly gentlemen trading them with looks of sheer joy spreading across their wizened faces. JP Currie wrote, in typically fine form, “Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that our world champion should be a surfer we believe has the capacity to win at any stop on Tour. Filipe Toledo is not that surfer, and yet here we are. I’ve no wish to belabour this point. Toledo’s history and sub-par performances at some of the world’s most iconic waves are well documented by now, to the point that it’s become trite to point it out. If he hasn’t progressed, that’s on him.”

And true.

Toledo is champion fair and square, playing to the rules of the game if not its spirit.

It is unnecessary to continually revisit, now that it’s over, rude even and boring except both the World Surf League and brown-nosed surf media seem extra sore about it. The WSL went out of its way to declare him the “undisputed” champion. Has any previous victor necessitated the preamble? Stab added the caveat that Toledo is finally and “deservedly” so while quoting the great Kelly Slater, who just so happened to be in the booth calling the action alongside Turpel and Mick Fanning.

Speaking of Toledo’s Tahiti lack of performance, Slater declared, “I don’t know if he was nervous or worried about the World Title ahead, who knows what’s going on in your mind in that position. He didn’t need to go out and hurt himself at Teahupo’o on a big day. He’s No. 1 in the world. No matter what he’s coming to Trestles. He looked really down on himself after that heat. I said ‘Dude, you’re going for a World Title. Don’t worry about this week at all. Go have fun, go win the title at Trestles.’”

Kelly, it must be noted, was one of the aforementioned elderly gentlemen with look of joy.

Now, the World Surf League team had refused to mention Toledo’s Tahiti crumble while it was happening, refused to mention it in the lead up to Final’s Day, refused to mention it until Slater did but Slater, lest anyone forget, is an absolutely masterful shade artist, the best to ever paint in shadows of grey. While Toledo was about to win it all, Slater planted this right back in the surf fan’s head.

He and his employee having fun while the soon-to-be World Champ trembled.

Kelly Slater the undisputed and deserved back-hander of all-time putting Novak Djokovic to shame.

David Lee Scales and I broke down the Final’s Day action, format, feeling from the cobbled stone and behind the screen. It’s a long time until Pipeline. Relive once more here.

Rip Curl Final’s Day wrap: “Do you accept the brittle Brazilian as your champion? His skills are not in doubt. His technical mastery of a surfboard is second to none. His commitment is not so certain!”

So long, 2022.

As above, so below.

Spin it how you will, Mr Logan, but that was not an end befitting all that has gone before.

Wave quality for Finals Day at Trestles was average.

Worse, it was soft.

The result? Two soft world champions.

Stephanie Gilmore just made the cut at Margaret River. She didn’t even surf Pipe. She barely surfed Teahupo’o.

Convince me she deserves this world title. Convince me this is progress.

Carissa Moore had a lead of more than 11,000 points. A full event win, plus extra.

Moore should have another title this morning, and she’s within her rights to feel damn sore that she doesn’t. All that work, all that effort over a season, wasted. The result is not representative of what we have witnessed, a fact pointed out by Johanne Defay in reference to her own flaccid ending.

Gilmore seemed confused in the aftermath. She didn’t like the format, she said. Now she thinks it’s the greatest thing ever. At least she had the good grace to recognise that Carissa was the superior surfer over the season. In my mind she’s far better over a lifetime.

Except that’s not what history will say.

As for the men, Toledo’s maiden title was a predictable outcome you’d have been foolish to bet against. Luckily I didn’t in the end.

Do you accept the brittle Brazilian as your champion? His skills are not in doubt, of course. In certain conditions he’s unparalleled. His technical mastery of a surfboard is second to none.

His commitment is not so certain.

Call me old-fashioned, but I feel that our world champion should be a surfer we believe has the capacity to win at any stop on Tour. Filipe Toledo is not that surfer, and yet here we are.

I’ve no wish to belabour this point. Toledo’s history and sub-par performances at some of the world’s most iconic waves are well documented by now, to the point that it’s become trite to point it out. If he hasn’t progressed, that’s on him.

Maybe there’s still time.

I don’t grudge him his title. I’ve no doubt he’s worked for it. But I just can’t bring myself to fully endorse it. At least, I suppose, he was the points leader, therefore if Trestles had been the final stop under the normal format he would still likely have won.

But consider this – if the waves had been good all year, where would he be? His best finishes were: Portugal (middling to poor), Bells (decent to good), G-Land (junk), El Salvador (junk), Rio (junk).

Moving on.

The WSL pulled out all the production stops for Finals Day. The whole team were there, each assigned roles that I’d assume were meant to play to their strengths. But the overall quality was reminiscent of a travelling fair.

Much ado was made of the colours of the jerseys. Granted, they were quite lovely (if entirely unnecessary), and I’m sure the result of many, many enthusiastic meetings. Unfortunately, it was all undermined by the stunningly amateur job of stitching athletes’ bio shots onto mock-up jerseys, giving the whole thing a sheen of amateurism.

Who on earth buys the merch they were spruiking anyway?

Luckily, Chris Cote was note-perfect in his WWE-style announcing the surfers as they came on stage, visibly cringing. I hope and presume he was deliberately hamming this up.

At any rate, zero cheers were elicited from a seemingly absent crowd.

It was a bit hard to get excited about, especially given recent memories of Teahupo’o and the clips of pumping Pipe in the ad breaks. Both provided comical juxtaposition to the annointed Day-of-Days we were witnessing. It seemed almost like deliberate mockery.

Kanoa limped out against an unsettlingly twitchy Italo, who continued to vibrate throughout the day. The most memorable moment of their heat came in the opening minutes as they both tried to paddle into the same wave. Allegedly, priority had not been established. No drama, no tension. The theme of the day.

Catching up with Connor Coffin in the booth (a surfer, if you remember, no longer on Tour after dropping off at mid-season cut) instead of excavating the tension between Kanoa and Italo was peak WSL.

Ethan was next to fall to Italo’s silent rage, then Jack.

Honestly, I don’t recall a single moment from these heats worth recounting here.

Two captivating surfers who emerged as contenders this year, Ethan in his beauty and Jack in his mysticism, vaporised by Italo’s relentless wave-catching and tail high reverses, as if they weren’t worthy of being there in the first place.

What a waste of everything they did to get there. What a waste of their artistry.

It wasn’t their fault, but the canvas they were given.

Trestles was always going to be a venue that punished Ethan and Jack, two men raised on a steady diet of real waves. Their surfing has been honed by power and consequence. To see them stunted by Californian dribble fizzling over cobblestones felt a bit like trapping their nature, squeezing it into some environment in which it didn’t belong.

Ewing was an albatross in an aviary, wings clipped and saddened. To see him force his back foot through turns on weak sections was not only demoralising but borderline offensive.

Robinson was a caged lion. His great power was in there somewhere, but he was doomed to pace back and forth, back and forth, whilst the steel bars abraded his flanks and blood ran freely onto the floor. We watched his season bleed out in that Trestles cage, and it felt tragic to me.

This is a man whose surfing can be transcendent in waves that most of us might only dream of. He has a capacity for power far beyond ordinary.

That’s what it means to be the best in the world.

Critics of the format can feel armed and vindicated in citing both Robinson’s and Ewing’s performances this year vs the way they exited the conversation.

Both were extinguished by Italo’s sheer energy. Fifteen turns and a few spins to the beach. Impressive in a way, but I couldn’t help feeling pro surfing had taken a backwards step.

Filipe took the final match-up with Italo 2-0. Hardly a surprise.

It struck me that Italo was at a significant disadvantage. He’d surfed and been scored on three heats already. By the time of his fourth and fifth, what else could he do to create a point of difference?

You might reasonably point to Gilmore’s victory as a counter-argument, but the repertoire of skills among women is less diverse.

And, well, that was that. Season end.

I don’t have the good fortune, like Charlie Smith, to take the temperature from Trestles’ famed cobblestones. Such is the pity, for I would surely do sterling work on the ground.

I was where I’ve been all season for Finals Day, behind a screen, with you. In many ways I suppose this is the real experience. We’re the real fans.

But I’d be lying if I said I haven’t entertained waking reveries over the course of this season, between classes, walking the dog, in the midst of domestic squabbles…dreams of following the Tour from stop to stop, Pipe to Portugal, Tahiti to Trestles, soaking it all in, understanding what really happens.

That would be real reporting. I feel sure that observing the machinations up close would result in wild and prolific stories. And I would not be caught up in the bliss like WSL employees and surf journos of old, wandering blinkered and salty from comp to comp, doing half a job.

I would hold Kelly Slater’s steely gaze whilst justifying my criticism.

I would count the beads of sweat on Filipe Toledo’s forehead as Surfline issued event forecasts.

I would rap on Dave Prodan’s door and ask directly, face-to-face, “Has Italo Ferreira been drug tested this season? When and how often?”.

Are you listening, Eric Logan? If the WSL is such a burgeoning success, with audiences swelling, revenues spiking, growth, growth, growth, then where’s the money?

Real sports leagues have full-time, independent media to satiate the desires of fans. The WSL has me, Shearer, a couple of podcasters, and whatever Stab monkey is tasked to fill in the pro-forma.

Pro surfing, ladies and gentlemen.

Irrelevant as it ever was.

But still, I can’t help feeling it could be better. Instead of rolling out a list of pro surfing-adjacent hangers on – Tom Carroll (god love him), Bethany Hamilton, Parker Coffin, Lisa Anderson, etc – Rip Curl and the WSL could make a much better investment by funding some independent voices rather than the same old WSL employees and half-baked pros simply mailing it in.

I can’t for the life of me understand why most of them are still in the fold.

They offer nothing.

Rosie’s flat. Joe is Joe. Even Ronnie’s lost his shine.

The new blood, Laura and Dimity, flashed then fizzled.

Did you listen to Laura yesterday? Absolutely nothing to say.

And Kaipo. Man, Kaipo…

Once again – what hold does he have over the WSL brass? I’ve rarely seen a more inept media personality.

The BBC were at my school yesterday to promote storytelling. They had a small production team and a couple of media personalities. When they invited audience questions, the majority of 13 year-olds in the room did a better job than Kaipo. His equivalency were the kids in the back row who kept sticking up their hands to ask “what football team do you support?”, even though their mates had already asked the same question, twice, and even though the answer had been “I’m sorry, but I don’t really follow football.”

The success of the new format can be debated, but the WSL product as a whole is still failing even its most ardent supporters.

Whilst the result was ultimately reasonable for the men, and the weather fine enough, to paraphrase Joseph Conrad in Heart of Darkness, for me there was a black bank of clouds and my feelings flowed sombre and unrequited under an overcast sky.

And whilst this might not exactly lead into the heart of an immense darkness, and no matter how Logan’s hype machine might spin it, professional surfing, as a product, remains in a gathering dusk.

Regardless, it’s been fun to share it with you, loyal Beachgritters. Real people with real opinions. I hope you value this place, as I do, as a place where individual voices can always be heard.

In a world of spin, that’s truly worth something.

Thanks for sharing a few with me.

Pip (pictured) on top of the world* (*world excludes waves of consequence).

Surf Journalist braves soaring temperatures, forlorn looks from legends to throw cobblestones at devil and experience state of modern competitive surfing!

It was all yellow.

I asked my young daughter, if she wanted to accompany me to Trestles, in the early morning, for the World Surf League’s Final’s Day. “It’s the five best male and five best female surfers on earth battling it out for a winner-take-title,” I emphasized with an important nod.

She looked at me all snotty-like and said, “Ugh. No. Unless I can surf.”

“Unlikely,” I shook my head sorrowfully. “We’ll be too busy getting yelled at by members of Filipe Toledo’s extended family.”

“Then no for sure,” she answered definitively.

Her loss, I suppose.

And so I woke up early, by myself, prepared a French press coffee and headed north just as the sun was poking over the horizon, painting the sky pastel.

“Pink in the morning, surfers take warning,” I thought, though which surfers? Steph Gilmore, certainly, for she had already been counted out by the “Kelly Slater of surf journalism” Nick Carroll. So her but who else?

Italo Ferreira?

Johanne Defay?

Kanoa Igarashi?

Time would tell.

I opted to park above that iconic (to me) Carl’s Jr. and its oft-eaten (by me) Western Bacon Cheeseburgers, walk slowly across the freeway, down the path and toward San Diego County. Signs hung on the fence read “We Back Jack.” Not one reading “Filipe Would Go.”

It was already hot and already shockingly crowded, e-bikes piloted by proto-wealthy pre-teens zipped by at 60 mph, families dragging wagons filled with towels and aerosol sunscreen almost becoming roadkill before their atmosphere killing spray could be released into the ethers.

Sweaty hot by the time I reached the sands fronting Uppers, reminding me of the moment during Hajj when the faithful walk through the swelter from Mecca to Mina, or the city of tents, to throw stones at the devil.

I could see the Rip Curl Final’s Day tents shimmering in the distance and followed a photographer lugging long lens camera and tripod toward our destination and soon we were there in the bustle, or at least I was. The photographer was forced to set up in a bush somewhere, suffering under the heavy yolk of the world’s worst job.

I couldn’t believe there was a throng, already, before the first heat (Gilmore v. Hennessy). Chris Cote, lounging on some odd stage, must have caught my shock and blew me a kiss. He did look good, handsome and confident. An almost perfect ambassador of life behind The Wall of Positive Noise. I air kissed him back and continued, slack-jawed, staring at the hot sun until I realized I was accidentally staring into Mike “Snips” Parsons’ face.

He was in the coaching area and maybe looking back at me, maybe just looking into the scrub but seemed sad at me.


It was hot and I wandered back and forth, back and forth, from one end of the venue to the other hot as Lowers pumped early punctuated by long lulls, chatting with various surf industry bros from time gone by, doing my job, keeping half an eye on that lineup as Stephanie Gilmore beat Hennessy, Italo Ferreira beat Kanoa Igarashi, Gilmore beat Tatiana Weston-Webb, Ferreira beat Ethan Ewing etc.

Half an eye out for yellow 77s which were not in abundance early. The crowd, thick, did not really seem to understand what was happening. Good waves were met with polite applause while Todd Kline, back from the grave, beach narrated while shutting down his bawdy partner but even though it was sudden death at the very highest level, professional surfing’s crown at stake, there seemed to be no real tension.

Brazilians holding açaí bowls lined up for Volcom Jack giveaways. A fat boy, shirtless, asked his father, “Who’s Jack?” while snatching a cap.

His father didn’t know.

“Why am I watching this instead of doing this?” kept pumping through my head. It was, truly, hot and Uppers and Middles were both relatively uncrowded.

I should have listened to my young daughter, brought our boards, surfed as those wearing Filipe Toledo gear seemed as disinterested as anyone in castigation. Not caring that he bravely coward-ed Teahupoo, not caring that he had been called out. Maybe not even aware.

The heats dragged on and I found myself chatting with a great new friend from Box-to-Box films, the production company responsible for Make or Break, telling him that I cannot wait for the Teahupoo episode, then shuffled off to take my young daughter to ballet and surf myself.

The World Surf League is doing something, up an astonishing 14.6 percent, packed beach in confus-ed swag but what?