President of Portugal attends MEO Rip Curl Pro, makes universal face of “person watching competitive professional surfing for the very first time!”

"This isn't real, is it?"

There is much that divides us, seemingly more all the time. Language, left/right positioning, opinion regarding transgendered athletes and their participation in sport which makes the just-wrapped MEO Rip Curl Portugal Pro that much more endearing. Oh, the third event on the World Surf League Championship Tour schedule was not without alienation. Absurd crowd size was viciously argued over as well as the commentary value of Jesse Mendes.

One moment, though, united everyone.

Portugal’s President Marcelo Nuno Duarte Rebelo de Sousa taking in the action, live, from the stands.

While his politics certainly cause some to frown, his face was the universal visage of “person watching competitive professional surfing for the very first time.”

The same face made by grandmas in Chicago, co-workers in London, nieces in Timbuktu and nephews in Shangai.

Squinty eyes, mouth lightly agape, utter confusion spreading from ear to ear.

One silent thought repeating in a mind quickly draining.

“This isn’t real, is it?”

Yes, for one brief and glorious moment, President Rebelo de Sousa was all of our mothers.

Viva Portugal.

Hamilton (pictured) with jeering WSL Chiefs (insert).
Hamilton (pictured) with jeering WSL Chiefs (insert).

Confirmed: World Surf League brass informed championship tour surfer he was not allowed to celebrate Bethany Hamilton on International Women’s Day!

"She doesn't support the WSL and she doesn't support equality."

Portugal is now in the rearview, officially, with the non-alcoholic sparkling cider still drying from winners Joao Chianca and Caitlin Simmers’ fine singlets. The ones dedicated to inspirational women in honor of International Women’s Day which just so happened to fall on the opening day of the MEO Rip Curl Pro window. I cannot recall who Simmers wore, though would have every right to don “Simmers.”

Chianca opted for “Weston-Webb.”

Well, it was rumored, at the start of the event, that Bethany Hamilton’s name would not be allowed due her boycott of the World Surf League over its new inclusive trans policy.

You certainly recall, two months ago, when the World Surf League quietly announced a change allowing for transgender athletes to compete at the highest level of the sport. Hamilton joined a chorus of frustrated voices and in a to-camera piece, declared that she would be boycotting the WSL until the policy was undone.

Even though WSL Chief of Exective Erik Logan said he “respected her views,” her name was mysteriously missing from the long list on celebrated women even though it had been chosen three times the year before.


And now the pettiness has been confirmed. One of the Championship Tour surfers, on the men’s side, requested to wear “Hamilton” but was told he was not allowed. The reason given?

“She doesn’t support the WSL and she doesn’t support equality.”

Hmmm. That doesn’t read overly “respectful,” no?

In related Hamilton news, hours ago she confirmed that she is pregnant with her fourth child. It is yet unclear if the World Surf League will send congratulations or continue trying to scrub her, and her growing family, from history.

“Million man march” and “Tahrir Square” fever engulfs pro surfing as World Surf League quotes wild crowd numbers for Rip Curl Portugal Pro!

WSL in bullish mood as it claims record crowds for Rip Curl Portugal Pro but fans ask, record crowds or record chutzpah?

You and I know, well, we know that crowd estimates are at best a chimera and at worst a bold as brass lie.

If you’ve ever been at a stadium that holds fifty-thousand people you know the immenseness of that number, columns and columns of human beings sitting shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye can see.

But, still, wild crowd numbers are regularly thrown out by event organisers.

In Sydney, organisers of the the annual Mardi Gras parade would claim the fruity float show was viewed by a quarter-of-a-million spectators jamming the streets or five percent of the entire city’s population, a declaration never tested, for obvious reasons.

When the National Park Service, at one-time the go-to agency in the US for estimating crowds, said 450,000 to 600,000 souls went to Louis Farrakhan’s “Million Man March” in 1995 the National of Islam sued ‘em and accused ‘em of racism.

The NPS got out of the crowd counting game soon after.

During the 2011 Egyptian revolution Al Jazeera claimed two million protesters packed Tahrir Square calling for the removal of prez Hosni Mubarak. An expert later estimated it was close to 35k.

You get the picture.

So when the WSL’s CEO Erik Logan quoted 51,000 spectators at Supertubos for the Rip Curl contest, and that number was repeated by commentators Kaipo Guerrero and Petey Mel (1:47:58) , well, a little counting using a drone shot and the sample method where you take a portion of the crowd, count how many are in it and multiply it across the beach, was in order.

See this drone shot?

Finals Day in Portugal. How many souls you count?

Finals Day.

Two thousand people? Max?

How many souls you count?

Maybe the weekend was busier but two thousand percent busier?

The obvious question is

Record crowds or record chutzpah?


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A post shared by Erik Logan (@elo_eriklogan)

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.