Filipe all smiles. Photo: Heff/WSL
Filipe all smiles. Photo: Heff/WSL

Sunset Beach final’s day so grand, so glorious as to kill the robot dead: “No algorithm can understand why this dumb, debatable sport we’re all obsessed with is worth poking, prodding and soliloquising!”

Long live Filipe Toledo!

As readers and fans of surfing, I want to thank you.

For the past few weeks I’ve suffered a bit of existential gloom.

Like I’m on a precipice. Pitching over the ledge with the realisation that I’m half a second too late, and what lies beneath is more air and rock than water.

It’s work, it’s addiction, it’s communication, it’s purpose, it’s ChatGPT.

All of which could shove me over at any second.

But Beachgrit, surfing, you…all of this has saved me.

I’ll spare you my extended thoughts about ChatGPT. I plan to write an essay about it elsewhere.

In summary, the arc of my thinking has now arrived at one, simple premise: human readers will always need human writers.

What would ChatGPT make of pro surfing?

It would take a very advanced (or malfunctioning) AI to describe a character like Derek can.

An algorithm would never describe Griffin Colapinto as having a heart-shaped face with dimples in his cheeks where viscous liquids might pool under virginal, thirsty eyes.

Nor could it mimic the style of Chas, wantonly turning noun into verb and back again.


So when I go off on tangents like this, that are little to do with surfing, it’s not contrived, nor self indulgent (it’s a bit self indulgent – all writing is), but rather it’s my attempt to communicate on a simple, human level.
We belong in small groups, reading each other’s body language, looking into eyes, seeing the humanity laid before us. Yet so much of our communication is behind a screen.

So we find little niches where we search for our kin. Places where we can communicate with people we understand, people we could read face-to-face.

That’s what Beachgrit is.

We’re all here. Not because of me or because of you, but because of what we’re doing together. This frivolous, pointless joy of watching men pit themselves against the ocean and wiggle watery, pretty patterns for us to ooh and ahh and spit and howl at.

The words we exchange become bridges to this experience.

And today, at Sunset Beach, was as good a finals’ day experience as we might hope for. A day unimpeded by wave quality, questionable judging, or bland commentary.

Just pure surfing.

Ok, ok. There were some lully heats early on. Dave Prodan appeared via video link at some point and delivered some grey word sludge. Kaipo referred to the shaper rankings as “a really powerful storyline”.

And the “Stay Tuned” screens and ad breaks IN THE MIDDLE OF TIGHT HEATS were infuriating.

But apart from all that.

Jack Robinson trounced Nat Young in the first quarter final of the day, before eventually falling to a sparkling Colapinto.

Ethan Ewing went with a whimper, caught in the eye of a lull. It would have been good to see him in the later heats.

He sat for twenty-two minutes before attempting a wave. For once, his timing was off, and in comparison to Colapinto it looked like he had seaweed on his fins. Griffin surfed like he’d had a whole bag of Skittles.

I noted Colapinto exchanging some dialogue with coach Tom Whittaker as he paddled back to the peak. I’ll need to scan the rulebook, but I didn’t think that was allowed mid-heat.

On the other side of the draw, God downed tools and went out for a fag to leave Caio Ibelli and Filipe Toledo to sort things out themselves.

Toledo was ruthless and incisive.

Laying down a glorious top to bottom arc which was the turn of the day to this stage, he paddled in with over a minute to go. Contrary to how it might appear, there was no arrogance in this, only a justified certainty that Caio didn’t have anything like that in his locker.

This set-up a tantalising match-up with Joao Chianca, who had carried his brutal form of the previous day of competition to dispatch Matt McGillivray.

Both semi-finals were high quality affairs, in terms of the match-ups and the resulting performances.

This might seem like the kind of trite observation you get from the booth, but today each man truly seemed at the peak of his powers.

Griffin Colapinto had risen fierce this morning, writing in his journal, “I am calm. I am confident. I am powerful. I am fearless. I am present.”

Regardless of how you feel about this, or the fact he chooses to share it, you can’t deny he was all of these things.

Rhythm is vital in surfing, and Griffin was feeling it today. Against Robinson, he had one of those performances where his competitor seemed to fade into the background, leaving just him and a perfect canvas for a silky forehand blitz.

Kelly Slater revealed recently that one of his tactics was always to surf against the man, not the waves. I can see how this works, but today Colapinto was in a headspace where the man hardly mattered.

And when the man is Jack Robinson, that’s worth extra kudos.

Robinson, for his part, did very little wrong. There’s no shame in losing with a 16.33 heat total, nor in having a nose for barrels like a pig hunting truffles. I eagerly await the day Robinson, Medina and Florence can go toe-to-toe in a pure tube slug fest.

Given the 6/1 odds the bookies were offering on Griffin prior to this semi, they clearly hadn’t read his journal.

Their favourite was now Filipe Toledo, but a match-up against Joao Chianca, arguably the most on-form surfer of the event by the numbers and the eye-test, was far from given.

Just a note on these numbers: 13.64 for his opening (the second highest score of the entire round); then 16.67, 16.83, 15.23, 15.54.

And you wouldn’t debate any of it.

Strider mentioned the “intensity” of Chianca’s surfing, and for once he was spot on.

It’s not hard to see how it fits the criteria. Every turn he does looks critical, like he’s trying to force the very core of his being through the soles of his feet.

Pre-heat, Toledo prayed on the beach. You’d be forgiven for wondering if he was simply pleading that Chianca didn’t strangle him to death.

After the first exchange, it looked like a real possibility, even if just in the figurative sense.

Both men paddled furiously towards an approaching peak, but it was Chianca that managed to turn and go, a transition that would’ve sent mortal men tumbling over the falls.

He had bullied Toledo to the wave, and his opening score of a 6.50 was followed swiftly by an 8.17 for a ferocity that is becoming his trademark. His turns cause me to utter involuntary ppffoooooooo noises.

But where Chianca was barbaric, Toledo was rapier-like.

The 9.10 awarded to his fourth wave seemed high on first impression, but like the finest rail technicians in the game, it was fully justified in slo-mo.

The aesthetic beauty of these carves was seared into the judges eyes, and there followed an overwhelming sense that Filipe Toledo had a capacity for turns that Joao Chianca does not (yet) possess.

Toledo’s match-up in the final with Griffin Colapinto was mouth watering. From the opening seconds it looked set-up for a banger.

Toledo opened with a 7.83, but right behind him Colapinto dropped a 9.17 after a miraculous end section that he had no right to make.

It was a spectacular finish, but I did question the score, given the only reason he finished in such fashion was because he was late to the section. Surely, when fine waves are on offer, near perfect scores should follow near perfect timing?

The joy in this final were the two wave sets that allowed us direct comparison between rides. The second wave in each set was always a little better, and those went to Filipe.

Griffin was excellent, but Toledo was magnificent. He locked in victory with an 8.27, then added a 9.47 for the highest single wave score of the event. A fitting end to a quality day of professional surf competition.

It was a final between two men unafraid to show some vulnerability, and as fans we should respect that. This sense of shared humanity is really what we’re searching for in live sport.

Toledo was surprisingly emotional in a lengthy post victory interview. Surprising in the sense that he’s already a world champion with many event wins under his belt.

Whatever your qualms about him, on days like today he deserves nothing but respect. Not just for his skill, but for his humanity.

And this is why I thank you.

Because I realise an algorithm could never communicate that.

I realise it could never consider you, a faceless reader, somehow also a friend.

Nor could it understand why this dumb, debatable sport we’re all obsessed with is worth poking, prodding and soliloquising.

And that, to me, makes it more important than ever.

Despite what Apple watch wearing, pool devotees might have you believe, surfing is still a place where both perfection and imperfection can co-exist with glorious unpredictability. A real thing, with real fear and real joy.

I don’t mean to go all Sarah Connor on you, but cling to this, friends. Cling to these dying embers of a life shaped by people.

Algorithms don’t surf.

Pip Toledo, Sunset champ!

Small-wave king and reigning world champ Filipe Toledo storms to victory at the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach in perfect tropical conditions, “He just keeps turning up the volume!”

Brave Filipe Toledo grows riper each year!

And just as the chronic craving for the sundown drink begins, Filipe Toledo, one of the sport’s most delicate organisms, has been hoisted up the soft sand of Sunset Beach, Oahu, following a conclusive win at the Hurley Pro.

The almost twenty-eight-year-old father of two who seems to be growing riper with each year was untroubled throughout the event torpedoing Liam O’Brien, Kai Lenny, Eli Hanneman, Seth Moniz, Caio Ibelli, the fancied Joao Chianca and Griffin Colapinto to take the 10k championship points and the one hundred thousand dollars.

The win, his twelfth since he joined the tour ten years ago, ain’t enough to steal him the yellow jersey from Jackie Robinson, but it does propel the pint-sized Brazilian into second place on the tour rankings.

Although lightly ravished in the high-scoring final, Colapinto, who was in seventeenth place after a catastrophic Pipe contest, now moves into sixth position and world title contention game with 7800 tour points.

JP Currie’s analysis of Finals Day to follow.

Open Thread: Comment Live on Final’s Day of the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach where self-interest is immutable, but its dictates vary daily!

Aloha also means goodbye!

Holmes (left) and Robach enjoying new lives. Photo: GMA3
Holmes (left) and Robach enjoying new lives. Photo: GMA3

Illicit lovers TJ Holmes and Amy Robach shake off job loss with sexy jaunt to ultra-deadly wave dubbed the “Mexican Pipeline” after likely inspiration from surf journalist!

An affair to remember.

If there is one story that you have been following, outside of surfing, I am certain it is the sexual tale of television morning hosts TJ Holmes, Amy Robach their illicit tryst and subsequent job loss. The two, who co-anchored the third hour of Good Morning, America, and both seemingly happily married to others, were caught out in New York City, last fall, with each other’s hands on each other’s bum bums.


They were both taken off air while the business was “investigated,” became separated from their respective husband and wife, were snapped much by enterprising photographers in flagrante delicato and then informed that it would “be best” if they found work elsewhere.

But how does one celebrate such a crescendo?

With a trip to Mexico’s deadliest wave, of course.

Puerto Escondido, or the Mexican Pipeline, is truly something to behold. I wrote about the place for Lonely Planet’s Epic Surf Breaks of the World and would you like a taste?

There is likely no better feeling than sitting on a sweltering beachfront patio in Mexico, languid fan spinning overhead, sipping a still cold margarita, salt, rocks, nibbling shrimp tacos garnished with fresh pico de gallo while gallons of saltwater pour all over them from a sunburned nose. So why are my knees pulled to my chest like a frightened little kitty cat right now? Why is my heart pounding so hard that I swear it might leap right out of my throat on that next margarita sip?

The chair underneath me quakes and my senses return. Because this sweltering patio fronts Puerto Escondido and Mexico’s most notorious, dangerous, biggest, famous, superlative wave is just 500 yards away, thundering on the sand. Snapping boards in half, eating grown surfers whole.

I’d come to the Mexican Pipeline, as it’s called, to test myself. To push beyond what had become my comfort zone, namely soft southern California reef breaks, groomed Australian point breaks and warm, shoulder high tropical barrels. Becoming a surf journalist had opened up a world of ease and, as I looked myself square in the mirror one day, was disappointed with the tanned but softened visage looking back.

You can finish the exciting tale by purchasing here and I have to think that Holmes and Robach read, themselves, and decided an act of derring-do is exactly what they, themselves, needed. Something to chase the disappointment of blowing up marriages and families for a workplace affair with.

Feels pretty cool to be the inspiration behind the journey.

Oh shoot.

I just realized they went to Puerto Vallarta not Puerto Escondido.

Well, next time.

New season of Apple TV+ docuseries Make or Break lifts the veil on horror of mid-season cut finding a “vulnerable” Owen Wright “struggling after his brain injury. Especially now as he reveals he’s a live-in carer for his sick father”

"If nothing else, you can put it on at home and your significant other won’t immediately whinge about it. That’s not nothing."

As of yesterday, the first four episodes of Make Or Break, Season 2, are available on Apple TV.

The series begins with Pipe and Kelly’s victory, which seems logical. Thereafter it roughly follows the course of the season, but does jump about a bit which can be odd for the seasoned WCT fan.

But then, it’s not really designed for us.

What MOB aims to do is communicate the humanity of professional sport. It’s a blueprint of character driven narratives established by Drive To Survive, the Netflix juggernaut that spearheaded the craze for reality sports documentaries.

Whether you understand the sport in question or not should hardly matter. If anything, it might impair your enjoyment if you do.

I loved Drive To Survive, despite the fact I knew almost nothing about F1. That’s pretty much the whole point.

The hope is that casual observers of the documentaries are converted to fans of the sport. Whether this is realistic or not, I’m not sure. I still haven’t watched an F1 race for years. Stranger still, I don’t even look up the results for fear I’ll spoil the next season of DTS.

So, can this type of production work for surfing?

It should, given we know surfing attracts rich characters. Capturing the interest of fans by digging out these personalities is one of the many ways in which the WSL has spectacularly failed over the years.

But let’s do the flat bits first.

(It wouldn’t be accurate to call them bad.)

Disappointingly, Kelly’s victory at Pipe didn’t quite pop the way I expected it to.

Pipe 2022 was one of the best surf contests in living memory, but there was no sense of that.

There was no context for how historically good the waves were, nor any footage of most of the incredible barrels that were ridden by competitors other than Kelly.

I get it. There’s only so much footage you can use, and Kelly was the subject of the episode.

But there were so many reasons why Kelly winning that comp was both special and incredibly unlikely: his age, the level of competition, the quality of waves, and the fact that he hadn’t won in years. They touch on some of this in the episode, but ultimately it looked like the victory was a little too easy.

Remember how emotional and raw he was? The real reasons for that were not excavated in the way I’d hoped they might be.

Box To Box tweeted that the Slater episode was one of the best pieces of TV they’d ever produced, so it could be that my perspective is too much of a niche surf fan. It’ll be interesting to see the response from the wider audience.

Episode Two switches to Tatiana Weston Webb as the main character. It’s fine, Tatiana seems lovely as always. But that doesn’t necessarily mean she’s engaging as a subject, especially when most of the episode is still at Pipe, but focused on the women’s comp, which wasn’t great.

The minor fracas and resulting Instagram furore that happened after Tati dropped in on Moanna Jones Wong prior to the event is acknowledged, but it doesn’t add as much spice as hoped.

And there’s far too much Jesse Mendes, who ironically seems to be more visible than ever given his stints in the booth at Sunset.

The third episode shifts focus to the Wright family, framed around the Bells event that Tyler won and where Owen was left in a precarious situation with the Cut looming.

There’s a good overview of the Bells event and some interesting archival footage of the Wright family. But mostly it’s about Owen’s shortcomings vs Tyler’s success, and that does make for engaging TV.

Owen is both likeable and vulnerable. You do get a sense of what competing means to him, and how much of a struggle it’s been after his brain injury. Especially now as he reveals he’s a live-in carer for his sick father.

There’s definitely some value in this episode.

The following episode, “The Cut”, should be more exciting than it is.

The petition that most of the surfers signed and took to ELo in protest of the implementation of the Cut is conspicuous by its absence.

Just as Logan smacked it down at the time, I’m sure it was dispatched down his Memory Hole long ago.

In this episode we return to two favourite characters from Season 1 in Morgan Ciblic and Matt McGillivray, charting their divergent futures at Margaret River. Maybe if you don’t already know what happens here it’ll grab you more than it did for me.

There is an interesting insight into Jack Robinson behind the scenes. I’ll admit to being a little sceptical of his zen schtick last season. After watching Make Or Break, I was perhaps wrong to think that way.

So is it worth your time as a whole?

In short, yes.

I suspect if you’re reading this you won’t learn anything new from Make Or Break, but it will give you glimpses into some more personal elements of the surfers you know and love. And if you’re relatively new to the game, you’ll probably like it even more.

If nothing else, you can put it on at home and your significant other won’t immediately whinge about it. That’s not nothing.

The first four episodes didn’t set the heather on fire for me, and reviews for the next four are currently under embargo until they’re released on Feb 23rd.

However, what I will say is that two of these remaining episodes are the strongest in the series.