I just, moments ago, hopped off a best pal’s sailboat after two days offshore, no phone coverage, savages paddling themselves everywhere on an ocean kayak found floating miles from anywhere, entirely disconnected from external reality.
Little did I know, back home, that the world’s second greatest surfer and newly minted champion Stephanie Gilmore was being forced to stagger through the public square under the weight of a linguistic disaster hung around her neck by none other than World Surf League CEO Erik Logan.
Gilmore, who is known for her effortless style, not one hitch, zero awkward, won her eighth title last week, the most ever by a female, bested only by Kelly Slater pansexually.
She roared all the way from the fifth spot to hoist the cup there on Lower Trestles’ cobbled stones, thrilling fans everywhere including, but not limited to, the aforementioned Logan. After her victory, he stood onstage with neatly trimmed beard, overly-aggressive sunglasses, black company polo and said, “Stephanie, I want to be the first to say this to you and to the world. You are the greatest and we will spell “great” with “eight.”
There were crickets and so he repeated, “great with an eight.”
As hideous as it gets. Ke11y a visual masterpiece by comparison.
Unbefitting and sad.
Surfing hall-of-famer Barton Lynch on his beloved surf culture’s ongoing destruction, “We have our spiritual leader selling soft-tops at Costco, the world’s best surfer choosing not to go to Teahupoo and the WSL turning its back on Pipeline and choosing Lowers as a finals venue!”
“What is the loopiest concept for you to understand?”
The world champ and former WSL broadcaster Barton Lynch, who won his crown at perfect eight-to-twelve-foot Pipeline in one of pro surfing’s greatest days, has never been one to pull a punch, as they say.
Lynch, who is fifty-eight, was the sport’s most popular broadcaster before being dumped by the WSL for, it is rumoured, his role in the activist group Voices4Choices, which questioned vaccine mandates and the role of government during the COVID pandemic.
Lynch has since poured his considerable skill and insight into a podcast called The Stoked Bloke Show, which he operates with Peter King, the musician, pro surfer and former bandmate of Kelly Slater.
In the latest episode, Lynch lists four reasons why surf culture is “upside down.”
“It’s the craziest thing,” says Lynch. “We have our spiritual leader selling soft-tops at Costco, the world’s best surfer choosing not to go to Teahupoo and instead go on a sailing trip with his family and friends (co-host Peter King posits that since John John had an eighty percent chance at winning Teahupoo, which would’ve propelled him into the top five, if Finals Day was at Pipe, he probs would’ve showed in Tahiti), we have the number one surfer in the world (Stephanie Gilmore) with less points than two, three, four five and we have WSL turning its back on Pipeline as a finals venue and choosing Lowers.”
Lynch takes a breath and asks the listener,
“What is the loopiest concept for you to understand?”
Acclaimed surf historian weighs in on world-title showdown furore, “The WSL continues to shoot bullets into its own foot, which at this point is hardly even a foot, just a pulpy mash atop a mound of spent ammunition”
"I cannot imagine another example, in pro-level sports history, where the finale is so likely to fall short of what it could and should be."
WSL Finals Day 2022 is a wrap, and we won’t dwell too long, but I watched the entire damn event and need to get a couple of things off my chest.
First, I’m okay with the ten-surfer one-day title shootout format.
Yes, it means that the best performer over the course of the year—the surfer who, in the old aggregate-points format would have been the champ—might get kicked down to runner-up. Carissa Moore being Exhibit A.
But if the shootout is a bit less fair to the pros, it is way more entertaining to us viewers. A tidy half-day of competition, no throwaway heats, guaranteed drama start to finish.
So far, so good.
Yet the WSL continues to shoot bullets into its own foot, which at this point is hardly even a foot, just a pulpy mash atop a mound of spent ammunition, and building up to a “historic” Finals Day climax held in wind-chopped shoulder-high Lowers when just three weeks ago the pros were slaying green-blue dragons at Teahupoo (or not slaying; both our new champs barely drew their swords in Tahiti) is a level of corporate sporting mismanagement so extreme that, ironically, it circles all the way back to historic.
As in—I cannot imagine another example, in pro-level sports history, where the finale is so likely to fall short of what it could and should be.
Finals Day at Pipeline. Problem solved.
But how did this become a problem in the first place?
The pain in your head goes away when you stop hitting it with a hammer. The mediocrity of Lower Trestles being the hammer.
Am I wrong? WSL decision-making is so bad it feels like performance art, in which case maybe I am in fact missing the point.
It would not be the first time.
Before moving on, and even though I have taken a small dig at him above, I’d like to say that Filipe Toledo is a fully deserving world champion.
Toledo does not ride big heavy reef waves, in fact he doesn’t even really try, and this is not ideal. But he was so much better than everybody else this year in high-performance surf, so much faster and cleaner and ahead of the performance curve—note, by the way, that he didn’t go to the air once in his Finals Day heats against Italo—that the bigger crime would have been for the title to go anybody but Filipe.
The comparisons now being made between Toledo and two-time world champion Damien Hardman are, for me, off base. I’m okay with Hardman’s world titles as well, even though, like Filipe, he had no interest in big surf. But Damien got to the podium by way of calculation and dead nerves and bottomless poise. Heat after heat, contest after contest, he did not put a foot wrong. Damien beat you with overwhelming proficiency.
Filipe, on the other hand, motored into those soft dishwater rights at Lowers last week and rode like someone we will meet and love in the next Incredibles movie. Scroll to 5:19 on this clip and see if you agree—although the point I’m trying to make may not work out of context with how everybody was performing, and while I know you non-CT folks will tolerate this contest hoo-haw up to a point, I will not ask you to go back and watch earlier heats and risk breaking the trust we have thus far built up.
Filipe Toledo and Stephanie Gilmore are both righteous champions atop a glitzy, flimsy, hapless professional organization. They should be better served, and who knows, maybe things will improve CT-wise in 2023.
But right now they deserve to be simply and loudly celebrated.
Vicki Williams, who in her surfing heyday went by Vicki Flaxman, looked like Steph Gilmore but with 25 added pounds of lean muscle in her arms, shoulders, back, and thighs. She out-surfed all of the women and most of the men at First Point Malibu during the early 1950s, and if Finals Day (or my possibly-too-lengthy recap of Finals Day) has left you wanting to get your feet back into the earthbound and slightly delinquent foundation upon which our non-sport sport was built—Vicki Williams, 90 years old and serving for the win at this moment on some godforsaken heat-blasted pickleball court in Sun Valley, Idaho, is here for you. New Encyclopedia Of Surfing hire Ella Boyd talked with Williams at length, and you won’t regret setting aside 20 minutes to read the whole thing, but for the moment let’s enjoy this short excerpt.
Did you know pretty much everyone who surfed Malibu?
Yes, pretty much. Unless they were from the Valley. You know, we weren’t even supposed to be on the beach at Malibu. There had originally been a big wire fence because of that estate right on the point. They’d fenced everything off but we tore the fence down, and that’s how we got to the beach.
How was it being around celebrities [from nearby Malibu Colony]?
We kind of thought they were weird. They were older and they didn’t surf. The Malibu scene was local, very local.
Do you think people even knew about you guys surfing or did they just not pay much attention?
Nobody paid any attention. They didn’t know what it was, or what we were doing. They’d see the surfboards on the car, but they didn’t really know.
Did you go to San Onofre?
We did, and everybody laughed at our boards!
‘Cause we had these new balsa boards, which were smaller, and the guys down at Sano laughed and said, “Oh my God, how do you ride those potato chips? How do you ride the soup?” And we said, “We don’t ride the soup; we’re in the curl, honey!”
I’ve often said that I love surfing, not surfers. But sometimes I really love surfers.
World’s hottest surfboard shaper shocks fans with wild online harangue at Californian governor Gavin Newsom and World Surf League, “Come on WSL, keep the creepy, lying two-faced fascist politicians out of surfing!”
"Surfing is California's state sport. And while no one… no-one… controls the ocean, it looks like she's delivered," says Newsom in message to surf fans.
Two years ago, you may remember, beaches were closed, as was all commerce, and people were locked inside their hovels with threat of jail and wildly punitive fines if they tried to get a little sand between their toes, over a virus that had leaked out of a US-funded lab in China.
San Clemente’s shaper to the stars, Matt Biolos, who shuttered his biz at the behest of California’s extreme-left governor Gavin Newsom, made regular mention of Newsom’s “communist” bona fides in a series of posts.
Now, following a promo video to excite fans for Finals Day at Biolos’ home break Lowers from Newsom, and perhaps a little sore his client Carissa Moore was shafted for her sixth world title, “Bear Jew” Biolos has, again, shucked all politesse.
“I think you all know this better than I do. Surfing is California’s state sport. And while no one… no-one… controls the ocean, it looks like she’s delivered,” says Newsom, apparently unaware he’s burying himself under a tsunami of irony.
A Vero Beach man is in critical condition after being pulled from the water on Thursday morning. The man was found “slumped over his surfboard” on Wabasso Beach, in front of Disney’s Vero Beach Resort on Florida’s central coast.
The man was found to have a gunshot wound to the mouth.
Police are now investigating it as an attempted suicide.
According to Indian River County Sheriff’s Office records, the man, believed to be in sixties, was seen drifting on his board near third reef (about 500 feet out) at approximately 10 a.m. Lifeguards and resort workers brought him to the beach where he was taken to Lawnwood Florida Hospital.
Interviews of people on the beach reveal no one heard a gunshot, and no weapon has been recovered.
It’s a bit of a mystery. The whole of it, I mean.
We can’t divine why this guy put a gun to his face and shouldn’t try. But we can understand his intended place of rest, the offshore refuge, the field where Dora described as all the pains of life―the screaming parents, police, priests, politicians, etc.― being thrown over the falls and leaving us free.
Or maybe Dora’s hyperbolic description is wrong as our attempted suicide victim knew what still awaited back on the sand.
Maybe he was just full and was ready to get up from the life’s table.
I think more of the Stoic philosopher Seneca who asked, “what difference it makes how soon you depart from a place which you must depart from sooner or later?”