"These three men are the WCT."
Often, at my work desk, I’ll lean back in my chair and stare at the white polystyrene ceiling tiles.
And there’ll be a moment or two, glassy-eyed, with a long exhaling of breath.
It happens in the pockets of free air that sometimes occur between classes. It’s a gesture that contains an inherent question.
Is this all?
It’s not always a rewarding job, teaching.
Most of the time it’s a jousting match between bureaucracy, personal workload, and the helter-skelter emotions of teenagers and those trying to corral or care for them.
But I can handle all that.
It’s difficult, but I can do it.
The thing I can’t handle, the thing I really struggle with, the thing that leaves me glassy-eyed and staring at ceilings, is the crushing mundanity of it all.
Apart from occasional conversations with some of my sharper colleagues, or the handful of pupils you connect with on a human level, the ones who don’t just listen, but actually hear you. Apart from all that.
And apart from the moments that make you laugh. Like today as a girl I taught last year was walking towards me down the corridor.
She must be 13 or 14 now.
“You’re always out wandering the corridors,” I said.
She half-shut her eyes as she approached, gently shaking her head.
“I’ll tell you, my throat’s really fuckin’ sore,” she replied, before looking at me, wide-eyed and shocked at forgetting herself for a moment.
I just laughed and walked on. It was a human moment. One she’ll no doubt recount to her friends and be mortified about, but have no idea how much that glimpse of normality makes my day feel less constrained.
Mostly, work makes me feel nullified. Like I’m dumbing myself down to fit in, socially, intellectually.
And I thought of all this because I’ve been thinking about Pipe, and about surf contests, and about how often we’re forced into situations that fail to recognise our potential or skills. Life’s full of compromise, I realise that. And if you’re a professional surfer and waves don’t appear in the event window, that’s your lot.
So on one hand I’ve been champing at the bit for Pipe to get underway again, as a release from the blandness of my own existence. That’s one of the great joys of sports fandom, of course. It gives a sense of purpose, even if it’s a vicarious one.
But on the other hand I was saddened by a lacklustre forecast and the prospect of the world’s best surfers compromising everything they’ve trained for.
The waves at Pipe were less than perfect today, but there were some, and momentum built through the day until we were blessed with a gratifying ending, courtesy of raw talent and desire.
Aside from a deep Backdoor tube by Jordy Smith, the day had started slowly. It wasn’t nearly as shocking as the conditions the women were forced to endure, but it was lully and inconsistent.
There were mild shocks in the early departures of Italo, Ethan, Kanoa and Griffin. Though mild only, given the conditions. None of them broke into double figures for their heat totals.
Griffin barely managed single figures and looked deeply out of sorts.
Of course he did. I’d bet on him.
One might imagine that the fluorescent yellow object on his wrist was causing him some distress. This New Thing was probably cognitive overload. Like placing a mirror in front of a kitten.
Less surprising was Slater’s loss to Yago Dora. On paper, in these conditions, it was always Dora’s heat to lose.
Confounding for Slater was the flurry of solid waves that appeared as soon as his heat ended. His post-match analysis was conducted in the water. He couldn’t bring himself to paddle in. He cited a fever a couple of days ago, though assured us he felt fine today.
Really, he sat slack-jawed as Joao Chianca and Rio Waida both scored Pipe waves that he would’ve murdered.
“I knew I had to be at my best,” said Yago to Dimity on the beach. The 5.66 heat total on the screen said otherwise.
One man who was at his divine best today was Caio Ibelli.
In his round of 32 heat against Zeke Lau, in the very first event of the season, he prayed.
His prayers were somewhat justified (though once again we might question god’s interest in pro surfing) as he looked to be absolved of an interference.
Miraculously, they were answered, and he went through with a single wave score of 7.00.
On the beach, as the result was announced, dressed curiously in a red wetsuit that suggested he might have sold his soul rather than devoted it, he pointed to the sky, spun round and staggered, ripping off his leash. His movements were not altogether his own, or perhaps not altogether of this world.
He recovered to deliver a sermon in his post-heat interview. Though one would be within one’s rights to question his assertions. There’s some contradiction between God’s will and training harder than anyone else in the offseason etc.
Nevertheless, he clearly didn’t blow all his god dollars too early as he dispatched a spicy looking Ryan Callinan in the round of 16.
The lord clearly had a hand in the draw, too. Ibelli will face rookie Liam O’Brien in the quarters (a likeable rookie, but there by virtue of 10.17 and 7.53 heat totals) and won’t see any real talent til the final, should he make it.
Really, why would you doubt him?
He’ll be a study in divinity all year. On his current trajectory, he’ll either be world champion or burst into flames.
On the opposite side of the draw, Chianca will match up against Toledo. You’d have to say both deserve to be there.
Toledo has already matched his best finish here, which, if you were a betting man, was somewhat profitable given the forecast. However, his round of 32 match-up with Dora was far from assured, with both surfers rendered catatonic by priority. Toledo sat for 25 minutes before paddling for a wave, then Dora for 15 more before a last gasp attempt.
With low heat totals on the whole, several surfers were caught in the trap of waiting for set waves that never appeared. The safer option was to stay busy and gamble under priority.
Joao Chianca kept very busy enroute to the quarters. Most significant was the paddling of literal circles round poor Rio Waida. “Sharking,” Laura called it.
It was a highly aggressive tactic designed to intimidate. It seemed harsh to do it to a kid like Waida, but far be it from me to condemn brutal tactics. I’m here for it. Bend every rule to the point before it breaks.
Chianca is clearly taking no prisoners this year. Motivated, I suspect, by the fear of losing his place at the mid-season cut again.
Between Fioravanti’s claim to be fighting for his career, Chianca’s sharking, and Caio’s incantations, you’d have to say that the looming threat of the mid-season cut is a Tour wrinkle that works.
But if these men rely on tactics and faith, there are some who will conquer through sheer force of talent.
The triumvirate of Gabriel Medina, John Florence and Jack Robinson stand head and shoulders above all others.
Though equal in almost all facets of skill, they are broadly separated in character, in demeanour, and in style.
Together, they make as tantalising a rivalry as I can imagine in pro surfing. The very best of Brazil, Australia and Hawaii. A three-way battle that could set the Tour alight.
A simmering tension between Medina and Robinson was evident today. I was reminded again just why Gabriel Medina is the elixir that makes this Tour work. Not only does his surfing push the likes of Robinson and Florence to their full capacity, but something about his energy brings out the worst in people.
These three men are the WCT.
It’s criminal they’re all crammed into one corner of the draw. Robinson acknowledged as much after his narrow victory over Medina. It was a shame they had to meet so early, he noted.
He’ll face Florence next. The latter’s 19.33 heat total to end the day was a staggering performance. It was the kind of mastery we all expect from Florence, but don’t always see in heats.
As he dropped late into a deep Backdoor tube, Laura and Joe dismissed the wave as not made. When he somehow emerged, they gulped about time travel.
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Today, through sheer force of talent, the inconsistency of the waves was overshadowed. There were shimmers of hope among the mundanity. A sense that this group, in this year, might just produce something special.
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I’ll stare at the ceiling and cling to this hope.