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?
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?