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.
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.