Italo’s 6.77 for a huge rotation going left (one of the best we’ve seen all year) was vastly underscored. You could not make that air more dynamic or land it cleaner. How far did he travel through the air? Ten feet? Fifteen? And he followed it with a seamless transition into a clean wrap that judges go weak at the knees for when Ewing does it. This scoring should be interrogated. | Photo: Aaron Hughes/WSL

Margaret River Pro unlikely site of sudden, and wild, progression in surfing, “Does the 2023 Tour have the greatest depth of talent we’ve ever seen?”

John John Florence, Italo Ferreira, Gabriel Medina deliver masterclasses in hi-fidelity surfing…

Better conditions than expected today saw us work through the men’s round of 16 and set up some salivating quarter-finals.

Does the 2023 Tour have the greatest depth of talent we’ve ever seen?

The top five looks tight. Surely four of the final eight men remaining in this competition (plus Jack Robinson) will make the Finals. But who misses out?

Chianca, Toledo and Robinson seem assured. They’ve racked up enough points to support even moderate performances in the remaining events. If this is true, I challenge you to pick the next two from Ewing, Medina, Ferreira, Colapinto and Florence.

And what about some of the form outsiders? The likes of Dora, O’Leary and Callinan.

The Cut might have passed, but it’s a much tighter race than last year.

Current world number one, Joao Chianca, will be here for yet another finals day. He hasn’t looked quite as impervious as in earlier competitions, but his consistency is remarkable, especially considering he’s basically a rookie.

He bested Callum Robson by just over half a point today. His surfing looked a little chattery on a smaller board, a fact noted by our favourite floating head, Richie Porta. But a win’s a win.

The scary thing about Chianca is that we might not even have seen him in his favourite conditions. He would’ve liked to be tested at The Box here, he noted. I predict he’ll be a contender at Teahupo’o, but Surf Ranch will be a better marker of his potential to win at a venue like Trestles.

And that’s still the great frustration of this whole charade, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter who the most well rounded surfers are. What matters is who can win at Trestles. Or more accurately: who might challenge Filipe.

Gabriel Medina certainly can, which is why it’s been so gratifying to see him hit his stride at Margaret River. His surfing once again gives the impression of having just come off a whetstone. He hasn’t been the strongest surfer in this event by the numbers, but it feels like he’s building something. I sense Medina heading towards that echelon where perhaps only he belongs, as the most feared man in a competition vest.

I thought of Trestles again watching Italo lose to Ewing in what was always going to be a clash of styles, but became a perversion of justice.

Ewing’s carving wraps are pretty, but they’re not risky enough. His 8.07 was scandalously over-scored. The tweak he puts at the end of his top turn flatters to deceive. There’s a twitch in his bottom turn that seems to be ignored because of pleasing arm placement.

By contrast, Italo’s 6.77 for a huge rotation going left (one of the best we’ve seen all year) was vastly underscored. You could not make that air more dynamic or land it cleaner. How far did he travel through the air? Ten feet? Fifteen? And he followed it with a seamless transition into a clean wrap that judges go weak at the knees for when Ewing does it. This scoring should be interrogated.

I love Ewing’s game, but the judging favourtism is starting to make me hate it. Plus, and this is wholly a WSL error, the optic needs to be who you would rather see at Trestles.

The unwelcome ghost of Pottz was in the room as Ronnie Blakey called Ewing’s waves “razor sharp, mistake-free surfing.”

Blakey compared them to artists. Ewing was an impressionist, he said, whereas Italo was a graffiti artist. I disagree. Italo is the mad genius. He might cut off his ear or stun you with creativity you never imagined. Ewing is becoming a bog standard portrait artist. His work is accurate, often beautiful, but it’s becoming unsurprising.

Over the whole heat, Ferreira’s surfing was more radical, more explosive, and a lot more entertaining to watch.

Is that not what this game is about?

And who would rather see at Trestles? Only one of these men has a chance of beating Filipe Toledo at that venue, that’s obvious.

The problems with the judging were laid bare by the overlapping heat format, and the juxtaposition of John Florence’s waves with Ethan Ewing’s. Florence shows that you can be beautiful and explosive.

I implore you to go to the replays.

Watch Ethan’s 8.07. The contrast with Italo’s 6.77 might come down to a question of taste (not in my opinion) but compare it to Florence’s 6.33 then 7.50. These two waves contained the two most skullfuckingly radical turns of the entire competition, if not the whole year.

Florence’s double arm drag layback, even as a single manoeuvre, was light years more radical, more oozing with personality and verve, than anything Ewing did. By contrast, Ethan looks to be playing it safe. I recognise that there’s a case of the Joel Parkinsons with Ewing, he makes the difficult look easy, but honestly, I’m not sure he’s even as good as Parko was.

Interrogate these judges or sack the lot of them.

They got it right eventually, awarding Florence a 9.43 for a two-turn final wave.

“While we went meandering down memory lane,” said Rabbit Bartholomew, referencing the classic event highlights that were being shown mid-heat, “John John Florence was back in the future with a 9.43”.

Ewing and Florence will match up in the quarter. Watch closely. You’ll see Florence’s rail work is every bit as clean as Ewing’s. His bottom turns are less twitchy, and his top turns come from somewhere far beyond the realms of mortal men.

Anything other than a Medina vs Florence final will feel like a letdown.

Surfing superstar and queer icon Tyler Wright unleashes on “drastic and extreme circumstances I was raised in” in latest tell-all confessional, “I’m not the first child star this has happened to!”

“Different emotional and psychological abuse…I experienced that.”

After a shocker in Portugal a few weeks back, the two-time world champ Tyler Wright revealed she was “no longer leaving home without her psychologist or her wife again.” 

Wright, who won her first big event at fourteen and two consecutive world titles at twenty-two and twenty-three, told the Sydney Morning Herald, “I’m the only queer person on tour, so my wife is the only other queer person I know most of the time. I love everyone around me but she makes such a difference in a way only she really can.”

Now, in her latest confessional Wright says she suffered “different emotional and psychological abuse” from the Wright’s patriarch Rob, the old boy now on the ropes, suffering from dementia and being cared for by her big brother Owen. 

“I experienced that and I worked with a psychologist for years to understand my relationship with surfing and understand how that was born, how it was really unhealthy for me,” Wright told Dave Prodan on his usually milquetoast podcast The Lineup. “I’m rebuilding a relationship with surfing because of the drastic and extreme circumstances that I was raised in…Look, this is not uncommon. Which is baffling for someone like me. If this is not uncommon, why don’t we have better solutions, better parenting programs, better informed industry? I’m not the first child this has happened to. I’m not the first child star this has happened to.”

(It’s easy to be enchanted by Dave, his big eyes, delicate hands, never dirty, and silky hair that he smooths vigorously each morning in the hope of flattening a cow-lick which rears from the top of his skull. The living embodiment of the World Surf League’s pivot away from surfing’s roots and to its generously inclusive, diverse, LGBTQ+ friendly model.)

Anyway, the WSL’s followers were divided by Wright’s candour re: her Daddy.

Not so thrilled,

“Shame she publicly threw her Dad under the bus during this interview, disappointing and I wonder what Kirby (her sister) thinks of her comments.”

“Least coherent guest. Highly narcissistic.”

“This shit was toooo much. I feel for her Dad. He is the father of three professional surfers. Guy deserves some credit.”


“Deeply thought-provoking podcast. Loved the honesty on two very difficult subjects. Thanks Tyler Wright. It’s important.”

“It’s a joy to watch her find her grand and express her truth inside and outside the surfing arena. Her bravery and voice is a gift to the sport.”

After laying the boot into the old boy, Tyler later bemoans the “white, male” surf industry etc.

Listen here.

Open thread, Comment live, Margaret River Pro, “Something colossal is shifting in the landscape of pro surfing!”

Surf fans heat up online!

That was the end, my friend.
That was the end, my friend.

As dust settles after dreaded mid-season cut, reality dawns that world’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater “may become little more significant than family pets, buried in unmarked graves in some opaque corner of the garden!”

So long, champ.

At two-thirty AM this morning there was a loud bang. The whole house shuddered and shook, as if shunted by a giant mechanical hand.

Monumental forces were at work, acts of God. Something big was moving.

Perhaps it was a nod to John Florence, and the tectonic power of his turns I referenced yesterday.

Perhaps, if that was the last heat we see of Kelly Slater as a full-time Tour professional, it was something colossal shifting in the landscape of pro surfing.

It was not the drama of the Cut, which promised fireworks and fizzled out before the Round of 16. And it was not the performances, which were highly competent without being jaw-droppingly spectacular.

Waves and opportunities were plentiful, but in surf scoring parlance, the day was a mid-seven, and that’s mostly what was awarded. Ten heats were won with totals between fourteen and sixteen, and that seemed about right.

Maybe I’d been hoping for too much in light of the forecast, but I was left with the sense that both waves and surfers had more to give. Only Yago Dora, Italo Ferreira and John Florence achieved excellence today.

To my eye, Filipe Toledo did, too, but once again seemed slightly low-balled by the judges. We’ve seen this before, of course. Surfers fall in and out of vogue, even when they perform consistently. Just as I alluded to in my final Bells wrap, judging is subjective, and scores are swayed by the vagaries of temperament and emotion.

Toledo seems a victim of this right now, having fallen out of favour for whatever reason. The change is subtle, but it has happened. He knew this last week when he ranted on the Bells stairs, and he knew again today after blitzing Reef Heazlewood with four scores in the high seven range, frustrated that he couldn’t seem to elicit more from the judging panel.

“Maybe I should just go for a layback”, he said, clearly exasperated, watching Jordy get an eight in the heat after his.

If you follow the NBA, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s a bit like the Jokic vs Embiid MVP debate. When awards are opinion-based, fatigue among voters sets in quickly. The unspoken rule is that one man must not win all the time.

Italo Ferreira has been a victim of this sort of groupthink in the years since his world title. That hasn’t been his only issue, of course. But today, joyfully, we saw a return to the Italo of old.

He vanquished Kanoa with a 9.03, the highest score of the day, after flying down the line of an imperfect wave, launching himself skyward, and twirling above the glacier-blue water with the ease and ebullience of a children’s toy.

I found my spirit soaring in his post-heat interview. Gone were the hollow, dead eyes. Gone were the moribund, monotone responses. Gone was the darkness that has shrouded him ever since he shouldered the burden of a world title. The Italo of old was back, the one we fell in love with once.

“Sometimes I just need to catch a wave and surf”, he said. “I just do this for love and that’s it.”

Keep doing it, Italo. It was good to have you home.

The forecast for the remainder of the waiting period is uncertain. A dropping swell then strong onshore winds before a glimpse of potential in a few days. The round of 16 looks good, the draw exceptionally well balanced.

John Florence notwithstanding, the backhand quartet of Medina, Ferreira, Dora and O’Leary have stood out the most. The latter pair will meet in the next round.

On their forehand, some big guns are yet to fire, notably Chianca, Colapinto and Ewing. Each occupies a separate corner of the bracket, and we can but hope for fireworks in the centre.

The Cut is done and dusted, and ultimately there were no major shocks. Only Barron Mamiya and Liam O’Brien have surfed their way from below the line, doing so at the expense of last years’ top rookie, Sammy Pupo, Nat Young and Jackson Baker. Young has been forgettable, Baker and Pupo perhaps a bit unlucky. Both have had memorable performances this season, much more so than Seth Moniz and Ian Gentil, who both squeaked through.

And so we come back to Kelly, just like we always will.

For a minute, as his heat wound down against Liam O’Brien, it looked like we might get a vintage Slater moment.

After coming back from a near-combination situation, he needed a high seven as time ebbed away and O’Brien held priority. In classic Slater fashion, like a grandmaster, he suckered O’Brien into a poor one. He had his chance. It looked possible.

But the timing of his turns was very slightly off, belying both age and reality. Still, he clung onto them like a younger man and somehow stayed on his feet.

The required score looked plausible, or maybe I just wanted it to be. Maybe I wanted that final moment with Slater to be the best version of him, the version that so often left us astonished. The Kelly Slater that carried the entirety of pro surfing’s present and future on his shoulders for so long.

But the judges weren’t feeling so nostalgic. The score came in a full two points below requirement.

If we’re honest, he’s never looked like making the grade this year. Only through rose lenses and wilful ignorance could you argue otherwise. The oft-repeated argument that his problem is equipment based, that he should go back to thrusters or CIs etc is a fallacy spoken by other old men who can’t accept the steady march of time.

We all wish Kelly Slater could stay as we knew him best forever, a fly trapped in amber, in all his simmering, calculated brilliance. He’s more than just some bronzed effigy for Florida retirees to point at but never understand.

But there’s no easy way for the things we love to die. In time, for many of us, Slater may become little more significant than family pets, buried in unmarked graves in some opaque corner of the garden. A resting place that does no justice to how much we loved them in their prime.

I wish Kelly had retired after Pipe. And if he had, I’d have wished he kept going. A blaze of glory will always leave us wanting and wondering; a slow decline will always ache with sadness.

There are only two ways out of this world. You go before your time, by accident or illness, and leave a world wondering what might have been. Or you shrivel and fade into obscurity, drifting ever further from once vivid memories, not least your own, until you vanish like a bubble, bursting softly.

In the wake of defeat today, Slater seemed magnanimous and happy. There were no excuses.

There were no clear answers about his future. I hope there never are. I want to keep guessing. I want him to abuse his privilege and steal wildcard slots for Pipe or Teahupo’o on choice forecasts. I’ve written many, many words about him, and whatever comes next, I look forward to writing many more. Despite the eulogies, mine included, this is not the last we will see of Kelly Slater.

“Whatever. We’re breathing”, he said.

Was this a genuine, holistic view of his life’s purpose and meaning? Or just a way of deflecting hard realities? I’d say only Kelly knows, but I’m not sure that’s true.

I am sure, whether in this moment or the next, that he will feel a release of pressure, a great, invisible weight shifting, like the mighty grind of tectonic plates.

“I want to get really barrelled, somewhere”, he said, staring over Stace Galbraith’s shoulder at the waves in the distance.

Maybe he simply wanted to escape to the ocean, where the turmoil of his mind is still, just as he has done his whole life.

Executioner Erik Logan and his American trophies.
Executioner Erik Logan and his American trophies.

American bloodbath at Margaret River as Kolohe Andino, Jake Marshall, Nat Young brutally executed alongside surf great Kelly Slater!

Red, white and extremely blue.

The architects of the cruelest spectacle in sport must be horrified as the sun rises on American soil this morning. As you know, the World Surf League, founded and based in Santa Monica, California, has just concluded its second annual mid-season cut wherein underperforming surfers are paraded in front of the people, laid on a rocky slab and ruthlessly beheaded.

It wasn’t always so. In past years, the aforementioned not-so-great would have the opportunity to right themselves throughout the season and, if not, quietly disappear whilst surf fans were not paying attention.

Alas, a lust for ratings has created the bacchanal we have now and with the round of 32 at the Margaret River Pro fully completed, we see 4/5ths of the United States’ championship tour surfers brutally executed.

Kelly Slater, winningest of all-time, was undone by Australia’s Liam O’Brien, Nat Young by Brazil’s Yago Dora, Jake Marshall by Hawaii’s John John Florence and Kolohe Andino by Australia’s Ryan Callinan all while the Star Spangled Banner was played like a dirge.

The Stars and Stripes’ only remaining surfer is Griffin Colapinto and do you imagine this is what was hoped for when Oklahoma-born and bred World Surf League Chief of Executives Erik Logan put pen to paper, making the mid-season cut official? The basic erasure of entire nation?

Well, American patriots can be lightly consoled this morning with the knowledge that not even the ultimate surfer survived the guillotine. Hawaii’s Zeke Lau’s reality television storybook journey has also come to an untimely end.

Tears in Honolulu.

Also fan favorite, Australia’s Jackson Baker, has been cleaved. Do you recall when Logan giddily posed with him at the start of the season a mere four months ago?


David Lee Scales and I, anyhow, lightly discussed the cruelty alongside Tyler Wright’s ill-advised opinions on the latest episode of The Grit! I think you will greatly enjoy.