On a tour of transplants and weeds, the best is always next to the worst!
Nothing of consequence has happened on tour since the last time I wrote except for Gabriel Medina’s knee injury. Which didn’t matter anyway ‘cause unless Gabriel won G-Land or El Sal, and he didn’t, the defending champ wasn’t going to Lowers.
After seven events, five of ‘em in slightly poor to terrible surf, the waves worked away like billy goats at J-Bay and at Teahupoo.
Did that make professional surfing more fascinating to watch?
Absent any drama outside which of the seven surfers were going to make the top five and Finals Day, the back half of the tour was near-dead and ice cold.
Still, here we are.
Honorable mention. Griffin Colapinto
What are the biggest chokes in sport? Greg Norman at the Masters in ’96? The Sacramento Kings ref-aided loss to the Lakers in the 2002 Western Conference Finals? Griffin Colapinto failing to make the Final 5 in back-to-back years after flopping at the last event both years?
No, certainly not that last one, mostly due the fact that surfing isn’t really a sport and it’s not really the biggest deal for anyone not named Griffin Colapinto, who I fear will be encouraged too strongly to continue being stuck living within the colorless framework of self-helpism that he has been this past year, an approach I suspect is being pushed by charlatan coaches who might be looking to justify their existence on the payroll.
Left to publicly express that he is “feeling and leaning into the pain” or emptily “treating it as an experience to grow from” without fully acknowledging that he absolutely choked, twice now, seems like a great strategy… must work well enough, him able to take out two events this year and whatnot.
And saying he choked two years in a row is a little misleading as last year he was supposed to have Tahiti to redeem himself, instead getting cut off after Mexico due to circumstances completely out of his control, which left him outside the five.
No matter, the narrative has been set!
6. Ethan Ewing
Ethan Ewing. What to say about young E-Dawg? No, really, what do you say about him? Whenever I try to write these things, I always struggle to come up with anything of substance or marginally funny to say about him, which is probably why I have always had him high but not very high up on my list, instead using his WSL rankings as almost the sole basis for rating him.
You would think that surfing reasonably well with good style and looking like a skinnier Nat Young (Santa Cruz variety) would provide a fount of inspiration for making casual, stupid remarks about him, which would then allow my mind the room to play with his ranking in a way that I do others, but it just hasn’t been.
How then should he be ranked? Winning Jeffery’s must also count for something… hmmm… Being the final contest and all, I guess that after balancing his official place in the standings (third going into the contest) with what there is to say about him other than he is stylish?.
I should then incorporate the likelihood that he has to win the World Title into the calculation. For that last part, it would seem he has somewhat of a chance, based largely on the fact that Mick Fanning, someone I’ve compared Ethan to in the past, has won multiple contests at Trestles without so much as thinking of aerials.
Not so, I say, unless he all of a sudden started boosting, which I cannot recall him doing once this year. Entering the data into the ever so complex super algorithm (third + nothing + zero), we end up here.
5. Italo Ferreira
Was a weird year for our electrically energetic Brazilian satyr. Dude never made it past the semis in any contest this year, yet still made the Final 5.
While that should be enough to show how stupid the whole concept of this Finals Day extravaganza is (how do you not win or runner-up a single event and still make it?), the fact is that is the framework he’s working under, where consistency, or at least avoiding turds, is premium to success at the expense of short runs of brilliance, which theoretically Ike could provide at Trestles.
With a repertoire or airs, skatey hacks, and standard backside lippers, even though he’d potentially have to surf six heats, winning five, one would think that he had a chance to take Title.
Problem is, success at Trestles is largely dictated by one’s performance on rights, especially for goofyfooters, who can keep doing the same 12 o’clock top turn to results. The only goofy to blow the doors off the left has been Gabby, who is not in the contest.
Italo, while having a decent enough backhand attack (with airs even!), the likelihood that he could get through all the heats he needs to seems not great.
At some point, he’d have to start boosting recklessly. The worst thing for him would be to land a gnarly air in his first heat against Kanoa. With that one taste, he wouldn’t be able to resist going bigger, which will eventually lead to his downfall.
Also, it’s worth mentioning, he got absolutely destroyed by Fil last year, so…
4. Jack Robinson
Quite a last thirteen or so months for Jackie boy. In that time, he won three events and transformed himself into the Great Brazilified White Aussie Surfing Hope, shedding and destroying destiny’s plans of becoming a reincarnated Bruce and winning the favor of the judges on his way to a second-place seeding going into Trestles.
What is so interesting about his rise to becoming WSL Judge Overlord Pritamo’s Golden Boy of the Year has been that unlike champions of the past, he doesn’t really seem to exhibit an otherworldly level of any of the usual qualities that these winners have possessed.
He rips and appears to do everything pretty well, but does he have an especially great, effortless style like Parko or John John; or machine-like consistency of exceptional technique and/or approach and insane tactical adroitness and appetite for blood like Adriano or Mick; or a general freakishness that allows for the suspension of disbelief like Slater or Gabe?
Being a former child prodigy, who is comfortable in big waves, some might argue for him in the third category, but that seems like a stretch. Does he need to possess these qualities? At some other venue, I would say, no.
At Lowers, though, there is one person in the field who possesses a larger portion or degree of these qualities in select circumstances: Fil, whose technique, approach, and freakishness in small waves will be too much to overcome.
To beat him would require a major mental collapse on his part and/or better story/intentionally manipulated narrative used to justify the event’s existence and how theoretically awesome it is, like someone battling from the fifth position all the way to a Title.
Excluded from the second condition, Jack would need the first to happen on a monumental scale to prevail.
3. Miguel Pupo
A sick win in Tahiti, where he charged and threaded deep tubes in style on his forehand, Miguel made for a truly feel-good story this year, finishing sixth in the world, only a scant 85 points off a Finals Day appearance.
All developments likely to be career highlights, which could have only been made better if his doppelgänger hadn’t been felled by Slater in the Quarters and he could have faced him in the finals.
Miguel was a joy to watch, razor straight back standing up and all. Despite not able to participate in the final contest a, therefore, out of the running, he’s ranked here because I wanted to give him props before Thing 2 overtook his spot next year and because he’s as much of a chance of winning the Title as the people above.
2. Kanoa Igarashi
Riding that Samurai Mentality™ all year, Kanoa was able to produce just enough good results and sneak, all ninja like, into the Final 5.
Wait, “samurai” and “ninja” referenced in the same sentence about a “Japanese” person seems a little racist, right?
Whoa, before I get off track and idiotically try to defend myself, let me just say that Kanoa is the only person with a legitimate chance of upending Filipe’s coronation. His twitchy surf style, in which he’s able to fit in multiple tight maneuvers (*sigh* “Pottz”), is particularly suited for the soft walls of Lowers, as him just looking like he’s doing a lot could lure judges into thinking he’s ripping harder than he is in comparison to the non-Italo others who might be more cruisey.
If he were to make his way past the other three to get to face Toledo, he might be able to sow enough doubt in Fil’s allegedly fragile mind to get him to surf wonky.
Not likely that’d happen, as the only person who had the power to strike any fear in him would be Medina. More powerfully, though, getting to the end could help him build the momentum in the judges’ and a certain CEO’s, one who badly wishes he could be a Dana White, mind that could persuade them into thinking it be his destiny, tipping the scales ever so slightly towards him.
If he surfs outside his body, that little extra boost could carry him over the line to victory and contribute to the legitimization of the spectacle.
1. Filipe Toledo
The overwhelming favorite to win this year at Trestles, Filipe is a fascinating character to contemplate within the surf world.
Coming up with something to write about him on the eve of his all but assured Title, I had a few not totally unrelated thoughts about him that I considered focusing on, including: the dismissal of Fil for being a pussy at Chopes, and the questions over the legitimacy of a Title for him would be; saying that Fil is the modern day Damien Hardman, someone who will no matter what not be respected despite simply winning his Title playing by the rules placed in front of him, dismissed for not winning on others’ terms (not winning in Hawaii); and the contrast between him and Griffin, being that Griff has actually choked, whereas Fil, besides not living up to our expectations of what a pro surfer should be doing in big waves (charging), has never actually failed in a situation where the results actually mattered.
While those are certainly worth exploring, I’d rather not. Instead, I will compare him to an animal.
Unlike the previously mentioned Dooma, who I’d compare to a guinea pig purely based on the fact that his face looks like one without hair, I would say that Fil is a maneless lion.
Why no mane? Depends on who you ask. For people who hold it against him that he doesn’t have a mane, it can represent his lack of testosterone, which would be required for him to grow one.
For others, it can mean that based on the competitive environment of the WSL (the simply too hot theory), he doesn’t have a mane because there is no reason have one, as it is not required to charge to win.
Finally, for the completely psychotic Toledo fan, he is without mane because he is a Tsavo Man-Eater. If all this sounds ridiculous and from the mind of a person who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, it is!
Anyway, Mr. Toledo should end up your 2022 World Champ. Long live our little Tsavo Man-Eater!