"At this rate, Slater is heading for an entirely unfitting exit, disappearing from the professional ranks with a damp fizzle..."
It’s been a fairly shocking run of forecasts for WCT events this year. But as is our lot, a full day of competition was held at Bells Beach in sufficient swell but unruly, onshore conditions.
It was a shambolic beginning, with a five minute hold over proceedings after the first elimination heat of the day whilst they switched off the electrics and switched them on again. I’m certain Jesse Miley Dyer must have pissed in a witch’s daiquiri along the way, because she’s certainly cursed.
I’ve had my own run-ins with witches, and I think of them now as I try to write this on a phone, and through waves of alternate sweating and shivering, somewhere between sickness and surfed out.
My feverish dreams, wrapped against the below zero night in layers of merino and fleece, have spliced dark episodes from my past with two books I haven’t thought about in many years. Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg and Notes From The Underground by Fyodor Dostoevsky. I don’t know why I would think of these books now, other than they both involve narrators troubled by suffering, tortured introspection and delirium.
Experiences perhaps not far removed from professional surfers on days like today. Or those listening to some of the blandest commentary I’ve heard in some time, seeming only to blight the conditions further. There weren’t even any gaffes worthy of note, just Kaipo mincing basic vocabulary, Joe delivering his patented monotone, at once hyperbolic and vacant, and Rabbit trying hard, bless him, but failing to find a single interesting adjective.
The world’s best at least made something of waves that would defeat or deter mortal men. They traversed long, rumbling sections of whitewater and were able to hit rare critical sections if the wave presented them. Success for the day was dependent on wave choice, and wave choice was more dependent on luck than judgement.
As such, it was a day of some upsets. Results were lent greater significance by virtue of the looming Cut. As evidenced by some comments below the line, there are still some detractors. But they are few, and their arguments are wilting.
For now, this works, and it may well be (if you permit me a disgusting idiom) the thin end of Elo’s wedge. I suspect the current format is a soft intro to a reduced men’s field from the beginning of the season in future iterations of the CT, and therefore greater significance lent to the CS.
One man who won’t be taking the Challenger Series route, or anything to do with competition surfing is Owen Wright, who bowed out for good today. His final minutes in a vest were solid but unremarkable, not that it matters to him.
Joining the commentary team post-heat, Wright seemed unburdened and entirely at ease with his decision to quit. He cited health reasons, in the main, but seems a man who has made his peace.
After all, as noted by Bugs, when many professional athletes retire they might never take part in their sport in the same way again. When a surfer retires he or she might well surf more. On a day like today, I’m sure Owen Wright is looking forward to choosing to surf elsewhere or not at all, and feeling no pressure to do anything else.
One might wonder if Kelly Slater looks on with more than a pang of envy at the ease with which Wright slipped the noose of competition surfing. They’re different cases, of course, and Kelly will never be allowed to go with a nod of respect and a pat on the back, even if he wanted to.
At this rate, Slater is heading for an entirely unfitting exit, disappearing from the professional ranks with a damp fizzle, losing heats needing fours and fives that he’s unable to muster, as he noted today during one of his many interviews.
Slater still commands the airwaves in surf broadcasting, but the GOAT chat (not to mention the chronic overuse of the acronym) has become painfully embarrassing. There is a cognitive dissonance between the Slater we see on screen and the Slater the half-baked pundits spew repetitive, unoriginal superlatives about. His retirement will apparently be drawn out longer than the Reconquista.
More pertinent to the future of the WCT was the elimination of world number one Jack Robinson, who fell to wildcard Xavier Huxtable. It was an uncharacteristically early slip up from Robinson, which, given his apparent stranglehold over any waves the Tour might throw at him, is unlikely to harm his chances long term, but does leave a trace of blood in the water for some of his challengers.
All those on his tail prospered today, despite the tricky conditions, but only Joao Chianca (and perhaps Toledo, though I haven’t done the maths) might usurp him from top spot going into Margaret River.
Griffin Colapinto was a standout once again today, looking evermore assured each time he puts on a vest, and notching the highest heat total of the day with seventeen points. His match up with good friend but greater rival, Kanoa Igarashi, is one to anticipate in the next round.
Yago Dora was similarly impressive on his backhand today. There were glimpses last season of his potential to be a true contender, and I see that emerging to a greater extent this year. With his father a professional and respected coach, zero weaknesses in his repertoire, and with style to boot, he’s worth betting on. It’s an early call, but he’ll be in the top five come year end.
A man unlikely to be in the top five, but who might just save himself from the Cut with a deep run here is Maxime Huscenot. Reaching the round of 16 for the first time in his young CT career with his victory over Caio Ibelli today, he was delighted to conduct his first post heat interview. He spoke of keeping it simple, doing his best surfing by not overthinking things. All platitudes I can overlook, given he’s one of only two Europeans on Tour. I’ll be rooting for him.
By the looks of the forecast we might see the competition play out in similar conditions as today, though some cleaner waves might be on offer if JMD could hold her nerve to the end of the waiting period. Given the curse, she probably shouldn’t.
Regardless, there are some good match-ups in the next round. Ewing vs Medina will be interesting. I’m dying for a heat between Medina and Chianca, which will happen if both win in the next round.
Form surfers Dora and Baker should make for some good blow-for-blow entertainment, and of course Kanoa vs Griff in a suburban California grudge match in heat eight.
And if none of that takes your fancy, then tune in to see Kaipo, dressed like a bright yellow buffoon, shamelessly plugging the event sponsors with a segment that the dimmest of village idiots would be too proud to perform.