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.