And what to make of Joao Chianca? There are elements of his personality that might grate on some, like Kelly Slater, irked by his energy and exuberance. He’s hyper aggressive in man-on-man heats, often sitting so close to his opponents that he might as well have his face nuzzled into the nape of their neck. And he takes public and performative praying to whole new levels, even for a Brazilian. But his skills are without question, as demonstrated by two semi-finals and a victory in the first three comps. Remember, he’s more or less a rookie. | Photo: WSL

“Hyper-aggressive” Brazilian Joao Chianca who takes “performative praying to whole new levels” shocks surf fans with wildly dominant win at Rip Curl Pro Portugal!

If Portugal was a character in a novel, today completed its redemption arc. A wildly exciting day of surfing eclipsed all the mediocrity that led to this point.

If Portugal was a character in a novel, today completed its redemption arc.

A wildly exciting day of surfing eclipsed all the mediocrity that led to this point.

The last few days had been a slog.

I thought of this today, trying to engage my bottom set 12 year olds – reluctant readers, to put it mildly – with a graphic novel about John Muir.

We all need beauty as well as bread, I told them.

Blank stares.

Think about something you love, I implored. Is that not what makes all the boring stuff worthwhile? You know, like school? Like this?


Have you tasted Prime, sir? Someone eventually offered.

And that’s the problem. You can’t take for granted that people know what beauty is, much less desire it. Some people don’t have anything to love. Others can’t understand that sometimes life is mostly bread.

But today, there was some beauty. The swell was “honking through” said Paul Evans. It was still a bit unpredictable, and the rips remained vicious, but there was plenty of opportunity.

The barrels were thick and the sections begged commitment, with scores rewarding those who answered this call. Judging was based on technical barrel riding, choosing the meatiest waves, and single, cock-and-balls-swinging manoeuvres.

Standard fayre for exciting competition surfing.

By the time we reached finals, it had even cleaned up and gone offshore.

Once again, the overlapping heat format proved its worth.

At times, it was a frantic pace. A day when anything seemed possible. There were all types of waves, all flavours of surfing. Italo, Griffin, Yago and Medina were all in the water together. Each man obliterating sections and spelunking through deep, sandy caverns. It was hard to keep up.

A colleague came to talk to me at some point, something about having to go to the hospital unexpectedly, and would I do this or that or something or other for her?

Sure, sure, of course, I said, not looking up. Then Griffin was getting sandblasted from a tube for a 9.5 and I was yeeewwwwing and might even have put my hand up to stop her talking, which is immensely rude, of course, and I should apologise tomorrow, but it seemed like the only possible response at the time.

“Was that…good?” she asked tentatively.

“The spit!” I stuttered. “Look at the spit!”

There was no way to explain it quickly. And she had to get to the hospital anyway.

Off you go, I said, flapping my hand in her general direction. Yeah, yeah, no worries, yeah.

I was frazzled all day, in the sort of manic way that addiction can bring. It was a day when I very nearly made a lot of money. Story of my life. If not for the unstoppable force of the eventual champion, Joao Chianca.

But before we get to him, a note or two on the men he beat on the objectively easy side of the draw.

Connor O’Leary and Callum Robson are two surfers I admire, but never fancy. But O’Leary’s backhand in critical sections is undeniable, as is Robson’s ability to perform in serious, hollow waves.

The ten awarded to Robson in the elimination round remains the best wave of the event by some margin. There wasn’t another like it on offer for the rest of the comp. It should be remembered and replayed. Unless there are heats at The Box, we won’t see a better right hand barrel for the rest of the year.

Surfers with a little more flair who are not yet getting the rub of the green are Gabriel Medina and Italo Ferreira. Neither are far off, and one (or both) will have a serious run of form at some point. There’s no venue where they can’t win.

However, Italo’s early brilliance and late brittleness in competitions is an ongoing trend. His loss to Dora was a perfect microcosm of this.

As a lucid Jack Robinson was announcing “Yago. Me and Yago” in response to who he wanted to face in the quarter, Italo was spat out of a deep left for a 9.33. He emerged in a low crouch with his patented point for the ski which has become his trademark claim in these darker, more introverted days.

Robinson turned in response to the cheers, and it looked like Italo would sew up the heat. But Yago was to come back strongly, leaving Ferreira needing a 5.60 with time ticking away. He threaded a deep left on the buzzer which looked all the score and more, making what appeared to be a clean exit before getting clipped.

The judges weren’t having it, giving him a 1.77 for what was deemed to be a non-completion. I felt it was harsh at the time. Looking again, I still do.

But the day belonged to the two men who made the final, who now sit deservedly at one and two in the overall rankings, Jack Robinson and Joao Chianca.

Robinson showcased a masterclass in poise and momentum building, as have become his trademarks. Jack always seems in control. He builds throughout the comps, often not a standout in the early rounds, but inevitably peaking when it matters. He finds barrels where no-one else can, racking up pit after pit whilst his opponents sit stunned, as if blind to the waves he’s seeing.

By the final, it seemed impossible that Robinson would lose, let alone be combo’d by Chianca until the final minutes. I’d nearly dropped a very large wad of cash on him. For once, I’d hesitated and was glad of it.

And what to make of Joao Chianca?

There are elements of his personality that might grate on some, like Kelly Slater, irked by his energy and exuberance. He’s hyper -aggressive in man-on-man heats, often sitting so close to his opponents that he might as well have his face nuzzled into the nape of their neck. And he takes public and performative praying to whole new levels, even for a Brazilian.


But his skills are without question, as demonstrated by two semi-finals and a victory in the first three comps. Remember, he’s more or less a rookie.

If you believe the mid-season cut has the capacity to set competitors ablaze, in fury or desire, then Chianca could be its poster-boy. He may well have evolved by nature rather than nurture, but he might not. Sometimes you need to lose to win.

Joao Chianca fears no-one, and even in spite of the Trestles situation, he might be a bonafide world title threat this year.

So Portugal’s arc came to a fulfilling close. In moments it was both frenzied and thrilling, and a couple of days ago this seemed impossible. We might have questioned why we were bothering. As a competition, it was symbolic of what surfing so often is. And depending on how far down the tracks you are, you may or may not realise that in the end, the chase is the best of it.

There’s no joy in life without tension. If you’re not standing on the precipice, the fibres of your being don’t tingle with anticipation of what might be. Chance, fortune, dumb luck, these are reasons for living. Surfing’s as good a metaphor as anything else. We’ll suffer days and weeks of nothingness and disappointment just to luck into one. And when we do, the cycle begins again.

Once you start chasing, you can never stop. There will always be some part of you that’s still committed to the pursuit, red-eyed and slavering, with a raw, wild energy that might mean salvation or end.

This is what life is for.

Beauty and bread, but mostly just the pursuit of beauty.

Caitlin Simmers bashes Courtney Conlogue in final to cement “youth brigade” dominance of MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal!

The future so bright!

Fans of professional surfing are still rubbing their eyes in disbelief as the future arrived in a Portuguese flurry. After witnessing Joao “Chumbawamba” Chianca dispatch Jack Robinson for his first World Surf League Championship Tour event victory, after falling off tour in his maiden voyage last year, the aforementioned watched 17-year-old Caitlin Simmers send veteran Courtney Conlogue to the showers.

The surf, tide filling in, was still thick and square though groomed by pleasant offshore winds. Conlogue scored a 9.00 on her very first wave and appeared to be in control of the proceedings but fate intervened, Simmers “building a house” made from a 7.17 and 6.33.

Enough for victory.

It was the young phenom’s third Championship Tour event, ever, and her first win. If the pace keeps up might she supplant one Kelly Slater as the greatest surfer of all time or at least winningest?

Very probably.

World Surf League twin Chiefs Erik Logan and Jessi Miley-Dyer were, in any case, not present and maybe still in Austin, Texas dropping quarters into an old jukebox playing Right Said Fred’s 1992 hit “I’m Too Sexy” while pointing at themselves and each other before breaking into giggles.


The future of professional surfing arrives in Portugal as Joao “Chumbawamba” Chianca curb stomps Jack Robinson to hoist MEO Rip Curl Pro cup above handsome head!


A new day has dawned, both literally and metaphorically, in competitive professional surfing. A figurative turning of the page but maybe also a literal one there, too, if you so happened to print out the MEO Rip Curl Portugal Pro’s heat sheets on real paper in order to parse what actually transpired during the finals.

Conditions? The water was “heavy” according to Peter Mel, “six to eight foot full on crazy beachbreak,” and did not look particularly inviting, many rips, much sand filtering through square barrels, though the sun shone and the beach crowd made happy noises, packed shoulder to shoulder, dreams of caldeirada dancing in their heads.

Griffin stunned Gabriel in their round of 16 heat, bagging a spicy meatball with minutes left on the clock to send the former champion to his exit though couldn’t muster the same magic in the quarters, including a .97 in his score line against Yago Dora. Dora, who had axed Italo Ferreira in his round of 16 showing then took Colapinto’s mangy scalp could not stand against the self-realized Jack Robinson, who arrived into the finals all calm and collected.

On the other side, Joao “Chumbawamba” Chianca drank a whisky drink in beating “Mr. 10” Connor O’Leary in the quarters then drank a lager drink in beating Callum Robson in the semis to arrive, chin to chin, with Robinson in the aforementioned ender. Let us recall, as well, that it was Chianca who put an early finish to Kelly Slater, pushing the world’s greatest surfer to the dreaded midseason cut line.

Portugal’s president Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa showed up to witness the finals live and in person no doubt infuriating World Surf League twin Chiefs Erik Logan and Jessi Miley-Dyer as they had decided to forego the event in order to fete themselves in Austin, Texas. Imagine how much social media praise the two could have heaped upon themselves, shoulder to shoulder with elected sovereignty. Imagine the tight shakas and tighter smiles.

Those finals, in any case, kicked off in the “best surf of the whole competition.” Mel announced that “it seems we are witnessing the future of professional surfing right here” in the form of Chumbawamba and Robbo and it didn’t seem patently ludicrous.

Robinson struck first, a small-ish barrel to floater. Chianca one-upped him directly with an air drop to a square pit. Neither looked exhausted even though they had each surfed multiple hours in shifting chilly peaks. Three forty minute heats. Back and forth they went as the tide filled in, Jesse Mendes surprising with a warm tone and fine insight alongside Mel and Kaipo Guerrero in the booth.

With eighteen minutes and change, Chianca had Robinson combinationed, living in combolandia, needing two scores in order to overcome and win.

Chianca kept the pedal to the medal, providing no quarter, building a score total including a nine plus rides plus eights etc. too and with ten minutes left, Robinson was all but finished.

Robinson bagged a solid right, near the end, just after yet another Chianca left, who sat out the back claiming his to be a ten.

With Chianca’s win, the stage is set perfectly for him and other all-around greats, surfers who both charge the big and fly in the little, to become undone by Filipe Toledo at Lower Trestles Final’s Day even though they will have him beat, badly, point-wise and even though he will refuse to paddle Teahupo’o.


Live stream! Comment in real time as thrice world champ Gabriel Medina makes title contention loud and clear at Rip Curl Portugal Pro, “Like the twitch before the switch of a dynamo!”

The world is a theatre!

Slater (pictured) hoisting a weary nation on his strong shoulders. Photo: WSL

Heavy Puerto Rican left to host ISA World Surfing Games 2024, decide which surfers will head to mighty Teahupo’o for a shot at Olympic glory!

Kelly Slater for Syria, anyone?

The 2020 Olympic Games, which just so happened to take place in 2021, marked surfing’s grand five ring debut. Oh host Japan is one of the finer countries on earth and if you have never been, I highly recommend, though maybe leave the surfboard at home. While the mountains horde powder like vintage Elton John, the beaches are gorgeously inconsistent, wave-wise. Brazil’s Italo Ferreira and Hawaii’s Carissa Moore, thus, won gold in gutless knee-high dribblers.

Paris 2024, however, will be played at the Place of Broken Skulls.


And glory be, though which surfers shall have the opportunity to huck over ledge and into legend? As you know, the top two surfers from each nation on the World Surf League’s Championship Tour will be selected. Currently that means Jackie Robinson + Ethan Ewing for Australia, Filipe Toledo + Joao Chianca for Brazil, Griffin Colapinto + John John Florence for the United States, Jordy Smith + Matt McGillivray for South Africa.

Now, of course, that will all change and maybe has changed already. As you know, Toledo lost yesterday in heavy beachbreak, “heavy” being his great chink, but image he does qualify and is forced to not paddle for waves, due sheer terror, while the world watches.

Do you think the small wave maestro knows he’s afraid or do you think he chooses to believe the various excuses that are floated?

Interesting question.

Far down the list for Team America is one Kelly Slater, which leads us directly to the just-announced International Surfing Games 2024, which will take place February 22nd through March 2nd in Puerto Rico at the twin peaks El Pico and Rastrial. Described as “thick” and the “perfect proving ground for Tahiti,” the competition will decide 12 other surfers who will, forthwith, stamp their ticket to Papeete.


There is little chance he will make the cut for his home country via the WSL but beefy barrels suit his style and imagine he does the inspirational thing and competes for Syria.

The Middle Eastern country, devastated by civil war and recent earthquake, sure could use the fairy tale and what better way for Slater, who happens to be Syrian, to finish off an illustrious career.

I have spent much time in Syria and can speak to wonder. From the oldest continually inhabited city on earth to fine cuisine to warm people, Syria is a gem and worth Slater’s effort.

But will he give it?

A rare win-win, if we’re all being honest.

Can this sort of thing be crowd funded?

More as the story develops.