And two-time champ Florence scores highest heat total of the day!
Eight heats of men’s professional surfing were completed today at an unruly Sunset Beach.
It always seems a difficult beast to wrangle. More often than not it looks like surfers are scrabbling for position, or in the wrong place entirely. Heavy use of drone footage in the broadcast exemplified this and showcased the “huge playing field…lot of water…” we’re continually reminded of.
If you’re a proponent of Sunset, you’ll argue it’s a good test of well-rounded skills. You’ll enjoy the variety in the waves that might reward both creativity in terms of equipment or approach, or just dumb luck.
If you’re a non-believer you won’t be alone.
And you might question the value of holding a top-tier surf competition at a wave that doesn’t facilitate nor showcase the evolution of surfing.
But it’s iconic, you might argue.
So was the queen, you might respond. And she dead.
I can see both arguments, but I err on the side of seeing something different, and that’s what Sunset provides in the context of this Tour.
There seemed little beyond luck as a strategy of identifying the really good ones at Sunset Beach today. Three Hawaiian surfers headed to the elimination round are evidence of that point, including Sunset aficionado Zeke Lau.
In a change of programming, the women were sent out first this morning, meaning a long night for me. As JMD made the call on the YouTube stream she was bluntly cut off mid-sentence by an advert for some sleep product. I couldn’t help feeling the algorithms were mocking me.
Commentators today couldn’t seem to agree if long or short boards were the way forward. The majority on longer equipment were praised for their inferred understanding that drawn out turns and lack of chatter in the board was desirable.
Yet concurrently, the likes of John Florence and Barron Mamiya were venerated for not deviating from their standard sizes. Their surfing was said to be sharp and, of course, “spicy”.
Florence’s choice of a standard 6’2” Ghost, the very same board he rode at Pipe, made silent mockery of our amateur and unending desires for new surfboards.
Commentary fell back into the house-style of broad agreement and positive noise, even in the face of clear contradictions like this.
Megan Abubo fell victim to the machine, as was inevitable. Spending so much time that close to Kaipo would cause anyone to start glitching.
By my scoring, she blotted her copybook twice today. Offence number one was getting stuck on the word “spicy”, a habit she picked up at Pipe and seems to have morphed into something akin to Tourette’s.
Offence number two was comparing Ethan Ewing to an Irons brother.
Minor offences, perhaps, but certainly the beginning of the end. They all run out of vocabulary eventually.
The Ewing comparisons, as ever, did a disservice to his surfing. His elbow posture having little to do with how razor sharp yet fluid his turns are. There were echoes of last year as this photographic perfection emerged again. How quickly we forget. Or at least I’d forgotten that every accentuation he performs on a wave is simply beautiful.
He’ll never win a world title at Trestles, of course. But we’re not talking about that.
Echoes of last year were also present in the yellow jersey wearer being sent to elimination, but reversed in that Kelly Slater won his first round heat and Jack Robinson did not.
Slater didn’t dazzle and there wasn’t a lot to shout about, but a five-fin 6’3″ which outdueled all but Kai Lenny in radical equipment choice got the job done.
“Real rakey,” said Pete Mel of his fins.
Jack Robinson could not get the job done. Suffering an early and unlikely blitz of competency from Jake Marshall and wildcard Eli Hanneman, he looked down and out.
However, with five mins to go, he found a wave from which he elicited a 7.33, the highest score of the heat. Normal service resumed, you’d have been forgiven for thinking.
But Hanneman, now in third position, was not deterred. Needing a low five he took off on his final wave and rode it with youthful, gay abandon to turn in a 5.17 and bump an apoplectic Robinson and his yellow jersey to his first losers round in some time.
Hanneman’s surfing has a lightness that requires a little more muscle in waves like Sunset, but it’s blisteringly quick. The eye test says he was the fastest man in the water today.
Wildcards were good value. Kai Lenny might have the ugliest boards on the beach and the weirdest fins you’ve ever seen, but he was harshly penialised by the judges for what was deemed to be a non-completion after one of the best exclamation points we saw all day. He didn’t get through, but he certainly doesn’t look out of place.
The best turn of the day, according to both this reporter (how do you like this style, btw?) and Peter Mel, belonged to Filipe Toledo, but the best heat score was once again John Florence.
In Florence’s heat, Joao Chianca turned in a score that would have won any of the other seven heats today. Unfortunately, as has been his curse on Tour thus far, he was matched up with John.
For the former, you’d better believe the rivalry is real in his mind.
For the latter, well, he’s just surfing. On current form, everyone else should be very afraid.
However, my money’s on Medina, who we’re yet to see. And I do mean that literally. He’s an unpopular backhand choice at a wave like Sunset, so say the experts and the bookies.
But, well…he’s also Gabriel Medina.
Let’s get it.