Florence (pictured) no longer with us. Photo: WSL
Florence (pictured) no longer with us. Photo: WSL

Better-than-predicted Sunset does fine job highlighting great surfing on Hurley Pro Day Three: “Timing had to be perfect. Commitment to sections was rewarded, hesitation was punished!”

"You might say it’s indicative of WSL failure when a 51 year old is still centre stage, but if they play their cards right, there’s a crop of athletes with both the talent and the character to change that."

You realise as you get older, that despite your best efforts, you can’t change who you are.

Where personality comes from is a mix of nature and nurture, but if you have children, or have observed the world for long enough, you’ll realise the terrible, fascinating truth.

Despite common sense and science, nature prevails.

We’re all searching for that sense of who we really are.

Some of us might find it through the medium of surfing, in our own and in those we admire.

In surfing, authenticity is both revealed and discovered. Done properly, it’s a way of silently expressing who you are without having to explain it.

That’s what we’re looking for in the pros. It’s not just their surfing we aspire to, it’s their character. We revere in others the deficiencies in ourselves. And those we love the most are those who lay it all bare, whose performances on a wave convey an authentic sense of themselves.

Your power comes from what you make.

For the athletes on the WCT, surfing is their power.

Today, Sunset Beach revealed some of their character, providing a solid day of men’s surfing in waves far better than anyone predicted.

The entirety of the Round of 32 and Round of 16 was completed using the overlapping heat format. Once again it was clear that this should be utilised more often than not.

Aside from the efficiency, the added priority wrinkles keep things interesting. Most importantly, it leads to more action, and in turn a better quality of broadcast that doesn’t fill the dead air with meaningless noise.

Kaipo tried his best to provide some irrelevance. My favourite moment was his attempted recollection of a folktale about a Hawaiian woman who is collecting octopus and is punished for taking too many.

Kaipo, bless him, informed us the Hawaiian word for waves was the same as the word for octopus. Maybe she was taking too many waves, he suggested to no-one in particular.

“Think about it”, he implored the dead air.

But whereas some men need meaningless noise, others thrive in silence.

John Florence’s character is not new to us. We know, given the time and space to perform, that he’s likely the most gifted surfer in the world. (Though it should be acknowledged that this distinction is not quite as clear cut as it once was.)

Pete Mel noted the demeanour of both John and Ian Gentil before their Round of 32 match-up as being very similar, relaxed, easy-going. Just cruising.

Of course this is something we can admire. And it’s a headspace that can lead to peak performance, as we’ve so often seen with John.

It worked this morning against Gentil, the tight final scoreline belying the distance between the men.

At his best, Florence operates in a flow state. Sometimes this happens for a whole heat, sometimes several in a row. But if you want to win, you can’t rely on it. Sheer force of talent is often not enough in pro surfing.

In his surprising defeat to Nat Young, he just couldn’t get going.

Young flared and deserved the win. The “young man from North America”, as Strider referred to him, bizarrely.

Meanwhile, Florence looked entirely out of sorts. He’d already lost by the time he snapped his board and ended up swimming. The board that had looked so red and vibrant in the early rounds now floated in two pieces, desolate and distant from its commander.

The tone in the booth was sombre.

At least we still have Ethan Ewing, everyone was no doubt thinking.

It takes a slow motion replay to highlight how different the turns performed by Ethan and John are. It’s too fast in real time, too seamless to really appreciate the perfection of form and depth of rail.

Sunset Beach did a fine job today of highlighting great surfing. Timing had to be perfect. Commitment to sections was rewarded, hesitation was punished.

Judges seemed to struggle in the early rounds, uncertain of whether to score barrels or turns highest. This led to differentials in some heats that didn’t seem to create enough separation for those who passed the eye test.

I noted some very strange scoring of non-makes. Slater, Miguel Pupo and Yago all scored mid-fives in the Round of 32 for waves that weren’t close to being made.

No explanation was offered as to this judging quirk that was a stark contradiction to all we know about how waves must be finished.

Some controversy was teased in the Round of 32 heat between Ryan Callinan and Caio Ibelli. Ibelli’s 8.17 for two turns seemed inflated. God given, even. Especially when it was compared directly alongside a 6.17 for Ryan Callinan which was almost identical.

Two full points? Kaipo hoisted. But no-one took the lead.

What of Ibelli? Do you believe in him?

His surfing can be radical, and barring the score against Callinan, was more or less undeniable today. But for me it never looks assured, despite the scores. He wields a skin-of-your-teeth style that can be exciting, but is the antithesis of men like Florence, Ewing, Medina, Robinson.

Jack Robinson, by contrast, seems to have grown further into his Alpha role in the yellow jersey.

Today he transitioned from barrels into seamless carves perhaps better than anyone. He’s far more lucid in post heat interviews, or “on the glass” as seems the de rigueur phrase.

Gone is the thousand yard stare and quasi-spiritual platitudes about being “in the moment”. It has been replaced with a self-assuredness that should send chills down the spines of all who will chase him for the remainder of the year.

If anyone can traverse this psychological chasm between flow states and hard graft, it’s Jack Robinson.

There’s an intriguing mix of grafters and masters in the quarter finals.

It might seem a disservice to the talents of Matt McGillivray, Caio Ibelli and Nat Young to class them in the former group, but it should be taken as a nod to the fact that at Sunset Beach they’ve found the centre of the Venn Diagram that leads to winning heats. Somewhere between effort, commitment, supreme skill, abundant confidence, and sheer force of will.

One man who might have all of this and more is Joao Chianca.

The best adjective I can think of to describe the surfing he did today is “frightening”.

There’s a simmering violence in the way Chianca approaches heats. A latent power that seems to border on the psychopathic.

His laissez faire post heat interviews seem like a mask concealing the fact that riding waves is a thin tissue preventing him from stabbing something to death.

There’s no discernible weakness in Chianca’s make-up, and a ridiculously high ceiling. As a fan of professional surfing, you should be enthralled and terrified by this potential.

But though we might admire the qualities of skill and character that could elevate some men to the top of this game, there are only two who have consistently proven that they have everything. They are out of this competition, but this watery theatre still depends on them: Gabriel Medina and Kelly Slater.

I can’t dwell on Medina being out. Suffice to say it caused great personal trauma. Colapinto deserved the score that won him the heat, but somehow Medina always seems unlucky to lose.

His opening barrel today would have been a closeout for anyone else. He’s still the man to beat, barring acts of god or the creeping shadow of issues that kept him out last season

Right now I’m pulling for Kelly Slater to be around as long as possible, too.

Resplendent in unusually bright red shorts, he vanquished some of his Sunset demons today but eventually fell to Ethan Ewing in the Round of 16.

He hunted barrels when turns were scoring higher, a fact he should have known given he hung around between heats, scrutinising the line-up.

I wondered if it was less of a tactical error than a tacit acknowledgement of his limitations. Going turn for turn against Ewing would never work.

Tell that to those in the booth. Respect for the GOAT is more than appropriate, but at some point they need to stop talking about him like he’s still 25.

For better or worse, he’s still the best post-heat interview. Notably, he’s the only man gracious enough (or the only one approached) to give an interview when he loses. Whatever happened to that production flash in the pan?

You might say it’s indicative of WSL failure when a 51 year old is still centre stage, but if they play their cards right, there’s a crop of athletes with both the talent and the character to change that.

Bethany Hamilton, left, and transgender superstar Sasha Jane Lowerson.

In raw new interview, world’s only transgender pro surfer blames “far right going mental” following Kelly Slater and Bethany Hamilton’s opposition to WSL’s new trans-inclusive policies!

"It's pretty noisy in the surf world this week. I’m just weathering out the storm."

A little over two weeks since the WSL tentatively opened the door for transgender gals to compete at the highest level and Kelly Slater and Bethany Hamilton responded with a call for a “trans-only division”, the sport’s only transgender surfer has responded in a candid new interview. 

You’ll rememberer the arrival of Sasha Jane Lowerson, a forty five year old as full of juice as warm ripe fruit, on the women’s longboard scene last year when she dominated the women’s div, adding trophy upon trophy to her groaning mantelpiece.

Lowerson bloomed into womanhood in 2020 shortly after winning the men’s longboard div as Ryan Egan and didn’t look back.

“Trans-girls aren’t going to take over the world, we just want to be included, we’re humans too,” Lowerson said. “I’ve been hiding in this male shell up… for 42 years. To still be made to be that guy that I’m not, it’s shattering,”

The WSL officially allows trans-women to compete so long as they’ve been a gal for at least twelve months and their hormone levels are less than 5 nanomoles per liter continuously for the previous 12 months (biological men hover between 10 and 35, bio-gals under three).

“The WSL is working hard to balance equity and fairness and it’s important for a policy to be in place,” the WSL’s newly anointed Chief of Sport Jessi Miley-Dyer told the oft-controversial adult learner surfer website The Inertia. “We recognize that the policy may need to evolve over time as we get feedback and see new research in the field.”

The world’s most inspirational surfer Bethany Hamilton opened a Pandora’s Box, however, when she recorded a piece to camera damning the policy.

Hamilton said she was speaking for tour surfers who felt muzzled, agreed with Kelly Slater who called for a trans-only div and said she’d boycott events if it went ahead.

“Speak your truth!” wrote the big-wave legend Shane Dorian. “Thank you for being brave enough to stand up for what you believe. Don’t listen to people who hurl the word transphobic at anyone who’s beliefs don’t align perfectly with theirs. These are complicated problems with no clear solution. Regardless, there are many people who love and support the trans community who agree with you on these issues…Less than 1% of people think this policy reflects fairness. Quite the opposite.”

Since the middle-aged logger Lowerson is the only transgender surfer doin’ the contest rounds and good as she is on the nine-footers she ain’t exactly a threat to Carissa Moore it does make opposition about it all feel a little confected. 

In an interview with LGBTQ+ website Them Lowerson responded, 

“It’s pretty noisy in the surf world this week. We’ve got a lot of the far right just going mental. I’m just weathering out the storm. The positive side of it is the number of allies that have popped their head up just in the past 24 hours for me. The women who have stood up and said, ‘We’ve surfed against Sasha, and she’s awesome’ and ‘regardless of gender, she’s an amazing surfer.’ One girl said, ‘She smashed me in one final, and then I got her in the next, and it’s no different than surfing with any other girl.; It’s just weathering the storm of bigotry at the moment, and having good allies who are willing to stand up with us.”

The main culprits, the bigots, said Lowerson are, “middle-aged men. It’s all the same as it was a year ago, and ten months ago. I‘m sure it’s gonna get pretty loud in a month when I actually have a world surf league jersey on at the start of March.”

Speaking of trannies, is Valentina Sampaio, who appeared in Sports Illustrated’s Swimsuit Issue and on the VS catwalk, your favourite crossover trans-model ? 

Or are you  team Geena Rocero, a Playboy centrefold in 2019?  

Outdoor giant North Face brutally appropriates plucky li’l surf label Rip Curl’s iconic logo!


I hope, and trust, at this very moment that you are enjoying the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach. At time of writing, the waves are “spicy” and/or “crispy” as are some of the performances, particularly from Team Rip Curl. Gabriel Medina easily handled the Indonesian upstart Rio Waida and… well, I guess that’s it. Sammy Pupo got stung by an interference and ushered out as well as Jackson Baker who became eliminated in the round dedicated to it.

So not great for plucky Australian brand billing itself as “the ultimate surfing company,” on second thought. Not great at all and very much worse today as it was revealed that outdoor giant North Face has blatantly borrowing Rip Curl’s label with not one mention of Mason Ho nor Mick Fanning.



And compare.

And a major shot across bow.

North Face, valued at some $5.6 billion, is both popular and well-loved, putting men and women on top of Mt. Everest and collaborating with Gucci.

Rip Curl, recently purchased for $350 million (Australian), hosts a lightly-appreciated Bells Beach surf contest and collaborating with Mick Fanning.

A tough punch to take, having logo just swiped with no appreciation given.

Just appropriation.


I just realized the aforementioned Jackson Baker did not, in fact, get eliminated in the round dedicated to it but just lost to Kanoa Igarashi in a wildly close one to get dropped. Igarashi, to be fair, is “tired of being a great surfer” but tough for Rip Curl nonetheless.


More as the story develops.

Open Thread: Comment Live on Day Three of the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach where the obvious merits utterance!

Who will rise and shine?

Balinese surfer Rio Waida, on the inside, and Zeke Lau's potentially career-ending interference.

Poor “beachbreak” waves at iconic Sunset Beach shine spotlight on sport’s inherent cruelty, “Talent be damned. This is pro surfing. Not everyone is built for it!”

The fundamental requirement for success in this game lies between your ears. This rarefied power manifests in different guises.

It’s a human failing to dwell on the vagaries of the universe, things like weather or luck.

Given days like this, and there will be more, I’ll endeavor not to harp on about how poor the waves are.

When the Grand Dame of Aquatic Jiggery Pokery, or whatever JMD is calling herself this week, is faced with an event window like this, without promise nor hope, there seems little point in complaining.

What we have is what we have. Make the best of it or go home.

Make or break.

Poor pro surfers sent out to duel for their careers in an arena not fit for purpose.

Just when I was starting to believe that God had a peculiar kink for professional surfing.

Really, what he (or she or they) love more is a trier. Today, and perhaps for the remainder of the event window, it is the surfers with the greatest mental fortitude who will triumph.

Talent be damned. This is pro surfing.

And it’s a cruel game.

Not everyone is built for it.

Maxime Huscenot is likely not built for it. Not from what we’ve seen in two events. And not if you can’t catch two waves in an elimination heat.

In a very different way, Ultimate Surfer Zeke Lau is not built for it. Tonight he will question the universe and the WSL.

He will question the rotten luck of a terrible forecast for an event that should be his strongest in the whole calendar.

He will question the priority rules that led to his second scoring wave being struck off in his elimination heat.

And not for the first time, he will question his short tenure on the WCT.

The fundamental requirement for success in this game lies between your ears. This rarefied power manifests in different guises.

You could be calculating and analytical, like Slater.

Or on the path to Zen, like Jack Robinson.

Or perhaps just have the sort of dogged determination revered by Australians yet characterised best by Brazilians.

A trio of the latter, Gabriel Medina, Sammy Pupo and Yago Dora made the best of what was on offer today and advanced through their heats in first position.

It strikes me that these are three men you might bet on in any conditions, a judgement based on their heads as well as their talent.

“It’s not Sunset, it’s just an ordinary beachbreak,” said Dora after his win and in reference to his pre-heat mindset.

It was a statement that might be construed as criticism if taken out of context. But what it demonstrated was his flexibility when it comes to performing with a vest on. Who cares what the waves are doing, we’re here to compete.

One man you should never bet on is Kolohe Andino. Yet today you’d have been handsomely rewarded.

Andino surfed with a looseness that hasn’t been evident in quite some time in defeating Jordy and Leo in his Round 1 heat.

What caught my attention was the cognitive dissonance I felt at seeing Andino win a heat. The idea of a Kolohe Andino event win, let alone a world title run, seems like an impossible scenario in 2023.

How far our faith has drifted in ten years from America’s favourite son.

Strider brought his own, peculiar brand of idiom mangling to the booth. Some of it goes down like a brick shit sandwich, the rest can be quite endearing.

According to him, Calum Robson is “a steak and potatoes guy who lays bricks”.

Translation: good fundamentals.

Regardless, this sort of mumbo jumbo is preferable to some others.

Is it curious that Joe Turpel isn’t here, given they’ve moved just down the road a couple of days after Pipe?

Changes from last year’s programming are also evident in the fact that the Make Or Break crew have been less conspicuous. They’re certainly on the North Shore, or at least were, according to two of the producers I spoke with recently.

It seems there might be a glimpse of an ok forecast to look forward to tomorrow, and likely a very full day of overlapping heats.

Look forward to Filipe Toledo vs Eli Hanneman in Heat 9 as a battle between two of the fastest surfers in the water. And Heat 14, where Joao Chianca meets Yago Dora, is sure to be a treat.

Winning surfers don’t dwell on the weather. This game’s about more than that.