Chum. Photo: WSL
Chum. Photo: WSL

Sunday Bloody Sunday at Supertubos as icon Kelly Slater, brave coward Filipe Toledo, “best surfer in the world” John John Florence and other heavy favorites massacred!

The most brutal cull in professional surfing's long and important history?

Well who would have guessed, waking up on this first day of daylight savings in these United States, that an absolute massacre was happening across the Atlantic there at Supertubos. Sunday Bloody Sunday. The Portuguese waves, described as “massive” by Kaipo Guerrero, “powerful” by Jesse Mendes, utterly decimated the draw.

No quarter.

Death began in the morning with surf great Kelly Slater falling to Joao Chianca in heat 4 and nearing that dreaded cut line. Slater began the season with big dreams, imagining that he could just might sneak onto the United States Olympic Team and end his career in golden fashion at Teahupo’o. Alas, it looks instead as he will fade away after Margaret River only to reappear for the next ten years as an increasingly annoying wildcard. A few quick notes. I used to applaud Slater’s refusing to retire. His thumbing his nose at fate but now? It seems profoundly sad. A man who knows nothing but professional surf competition. A scary emptiness spreading out over the horizon. The 11x World Champion’s singular accomplishments are not diminished but witnessing an icon, a legend, caught at his desk job because he’s afraid of change is a human, all too human, moment that was frankly unneeded.

Current world number two, and sitting champion*, Filipe Toledo came undid by lightly-regarded Frenchman Joan Duru, next, netting a heat total of 6.17. The largess of the surf, I’d imagine, had something to do with it though I did not catch the heat. Toledo is well-known for his small wave magic. When it gets big, though, his nerve fails, knees quake, arms refuse to paddle. The San Clemente transplant will head to Australia without fear of the guillotine but Teahupo’o is still on the calendar. Lurking.

Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi, who began the season with title dreams, became unstuck by one of the Pupos, Jordy Smith fell to R. Cal and, maybe most shockingly, John John Florence bowed before Indonesian upstart Rio Waida. Paul Evans, Pete Mel and Strider Wasilewski, sitting in the booth and a commentary dream team, could not believe their eyes. Florence broke his board on a duck dive at the beginning of the heat and then looked confused, lost. Cursed by the World Surf League? A video spot advertising the glories of Portugal was aired before his heat featuring Blonde Ambition and it was… not good. Florence saying, “Uhhh the ocean is raw here. Pretty cool, I guess.”

Well, a full wrap will be yours, soon, from an in-prime JP Currie but until then let’s, again, count the scalps. Kolohe Andino (in the elimination round), Kelly Slater, Filipe Toledo, Kanoa Igarashi, Jordy Smith, John John Florence. Andino and Slater in real danger of falling off tour.


Live stream! Comment in real time as Kelly Slater fights for Olympic Dream in elimination round at Rip Curl Pro Portugal!

“I don't want to die without any scars.”

Portugal, forever Slater's bête noire. | Photo: WSL

Kelly Slater’s Olympic Dream dims following shock performance in Portugal, “Scratching around in sub-par waves is no place for a man of fifty-one, and he should know that”

Slater says he “feels the fire going out”. If this is the way he needs to go, by convincing himself he’s leaving on his own terms, that’s his right.

Tough shift today, for fans and pros alike. But sometimes you just need to body it, so goes the London street parlance.

Surely only the most ardent fans, grim-knuckled gamblers and immediate family were logged on to witness Supertubos looking neither super nor tubular.

The BG live comment section tallied fewer than three hundred half-baked comments.

On paper, the Portugal leg should be a gift for me. It’s a place I know well, with a negligible time difference. But in this reporting gig I’ve found it’s a lot easier to moonlight by literal moonlight.

The Scottish Highlands were glorious at the break of day. Cold, clear and windless. Snow dusted mountains gleamed in the sunshine. A Whatsapp from a friend informed me that there were unexpectedly fun waves at the beach. It was a land of opportunity, ripe for the plucking.

Dutifully, I Iogged on to watch jumbled, desperate beachbreak whilst life unfurled around me.

I was in good company. On screen, a familiar bald head floated in the gloom.

Firmly established as a hater of mornings over the years, these are the kinds of days where Slater must truly be questioning his present and future.

Kaipo was saying stuff.

It was cold, desolate, grey.

Jesse Mendes.

No waves were ridden for fifteen minutes or more.

When they were, Ethan Ewing displayed the sort of rubberised spine Slater once had, rebounding from impossible positions and manufacturing torque in a way that’s matched only by Toledo in weak waves.

Slater, predictably, was sent to the elimination round.

He’s mentioned in more than one interview recently that he “feels the fire going out”. I don’t buy it, but I don’t mind either. If this is the way he needs to go, by convincing himself he’s leaving on his own terms, that’s his right.

The fact is, on days like today, scratching around in sub-par waves is no place for a man of fifty-one, and he should know that.

Of course, in barrelling waves he’s still there or thereabouts, and though it might be a pipe dream, retirement at the Teahupo’o Olympics would be satisfying for everyone who cares.

Of those in the prime of their careers, the man whose competitive fire seems to be burning brightly right now is Griffin Colapinto.

“I just love surfing heats,” he said after a sparky opening round victory.

The next few heats were fairly grim.

Jack Robinson ground one out in the yellow jersey, as he does, advancing without breaking into double figures. He was unperplexed on the glass. AJ asked him what he saw out there that others might not. “I always see other things,” he replied, sage-like. “But I don’t want to share them.”

Miguel Pupo, Yago Dora and John Florence all made the best of what was on offer to take wins in their heats. Florence dodged a bullet, given these are exactly the sorts of conditions that normally elicit lacklustre performances from him.

But the mantra of success in Portugal is barrels and airs, barrels and airs, so said Pete Mel repeatedly, and Florence certainly has those in his locker.

Evans, Mel and Wasilewski – the name of a firm specialising in financial improprieties, according to Paul Evans – did their best to keep the energy up, but the story of today was more about who didn’t perform.

Perhaps it was the cold, but there were several misfires. I questioned the sense of surfing in bare feet. I know the feel’s different, but when you can’t feel your feet at all it might be sensible to try boots.

Italo couldn’t concoct a double figure score, but at least went through in second place to Connor O’Leary.

Filipe Toledo couldn’t break four points for a single wave despite seven attempts.

Kanoa, the local boy, limped home in last place with a 7.70 total.

And Gabriel Medina…

Who knows what was going on with Medina today. All I can say is that he looked entirely un-Medina-like. His heat total of 7.10 must be the lowest in years. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was his lowest ever.

Though even in better form he might have been hard-pushed to challenge Rio Waida today.

The Indonesian rookie posted the highest heat total of the day with a 15.16 and deserved every bit of it. Worth watching on replay (for all you legions of fans who slept through today’s action) is his stylish and cleanly tweaked straight air. I’d call it a shifty. You can call it what you like.

Get the coffees on, chop up some donkey dust, do whatever you do to stay up for a few hours tonight.

The forecast’s good, some big names are on the block.

Tomorrow, for once, we’ll open with an elimination round worth watching.

Peruvian media accuses World Surf League of brazen imperialism as South America region loses yet another qualifying spot!

Time for a revolution?

World Surf League Chiefs Erik Logan and Jessi Miley-Dyer are but minutes away from taking the stage at SXSW in Austin, Texas in order to praise themselves for “Surfing’s Swell of Success and the Business Behind it.” It will, no doubt, be a fascinating panel discussion, also featuring Jadson Andre (who might need a wellness check), with much talk of vectors, synergies and ladders.

Absolutely wonderful and very deserved but while the two poobahs, and Andre, are toasting Barefoot Chardonnays over Beyond Meat ribblets, rage is boiling south of the border, down in surfing’s birthplace Peru. For it is there that the announcement has just come across the wire that the South America region is losing yet another qualification spot, one that will return to Santa Monica, after losing a qualification spot just last year.

Per Surf Place Peru (translated):

Imagine struggling for 1 year to qualify, taking into account that there are only 8 spots. Imagine training, making sacrifices and spending money to do the tour and just one day before the start of the last event of the season, knowing that you need X result to get into the top 8, they tell you that now there are only 7 spots. Imagine being that surfer who finishes eighth and loses the Challengers Series. That is happening with surfing in the South American region.

Word of the sudden change, the day before the qualifying series event, came via a WhatsApp message to the surfers as WSL LatAm “confirms the wild card invitation due to injury to Brazilian Mateus Herdy, who finished the CS 2022 season in position 22. Therefore, the 2022-23 regional ranking will classify 7 surfers for CS 2023 after Layback Pro Floripa.”

Herdy, in must be noted, participated in the entire Championship Tour from May to November while not appearing hurt in any way.

The South American region had 10 qualifying spots back in 2022, a number now maliciously eroded by imperialists.

Request for comment from the World Surf League went unanswered, as Logan and Miley-Dyer are extremely busy trying on ironic cowboy hats and pointing finger guns at each other, but Surf Place Peru asked:

– Why was it decided to take a spot from the South American region when the official WSL regulations state that there are 8 spots for the region?

– Do you think it is fair that the South American surfers have to find out this decision one day before the last event of the season?

– Why is an injury wildcard given to a surfer who hasn’t been injured?

– Why has the first QS 5000 (the most important of the regional tour) been scheduled on the same date as the Pan American Games?

Time for a revolution?

Live stream! Comment in real time, Rip Curl Pro Portugal, “Bloody and riveting!”

Slick and tricky!