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).
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.