For my money, there was no greater inevitability in pro sports than this comeback.
In life and in surfing, you might find perfect moments, but it’s our flaws that keep us going. Absolute, lasting perfection is a goal best left in the abstract.
Because once you get there, where’s left to go?
If there’s meaning to life, or surfing, it lies in the chase.
As we career towards a future where supreme intelligence is no longer human, and our very existence is uncertain, this chase is more vital than ever, because it binds us to humanity.
Hold tightly to your love, because it’s a uniquely human thing. But also cherish your losses, your tragic errors and your deepest flaws. These give us purpose.
Our weaknesses are agnostic to culture, or race, or gender. Our frailties trace vital lines of communication. We are comforted by the fact that others share them, but equally joyous in seeing people overcome them.
And in the perfect moments when flaws are vanquished, that’s where we find the greatest joy. Moments that become bubbles, where all of life’s grind and tragedy is temporarily suspended.
These moments are found in surfing, perhaps in something as simple as an exited barrel or single turn for most of us.
But for the men who’ve given their lives to the art of performance surfing, these moments come in victory over other men like them.
Any one of the four who made the semi-finals at Margaret River would have been a worthy winner, and all were worthy adversaries. Yet each have their flaws, some briefly conquered, others revealed.
For Joao Chianca, still the number one rated surfer in the world, his emotions are his weakness, a fact he noted. He approaches his fellow competitors like prey. A heat with Joao Chianca is like a crocodile’s death roll.
We might easily view this as his major strength, even if he thinks he doesn’t always get the balance right. “Cold blood, warm heart”, he stated as his aim. It was a perfect analogy for elite sports. It sounded too good to be original rather than something he’d heard on a podcast, but if it was his own turn of phrase then it should become both his catchphrase and guiding principle, and I’d expect others to steal it.
Chianca may be emerging as a far more cerebral athlete than first imagined, a fact alluded to by Britt Merrick on Ain’t That Swell recently. Chianca understood surfboard design, he said, on a deep level.
Regardless, he lost to Medina today, in a match-up I hope to see much more of, if only to watch them paddle off the contest site in order to establish priority, foaming at the mouth.
Medina is still the alpha, but Chianca is undeterred.
Until the semi-final loss to Colapinto, John Florence was more or less flawless.
The idea of Florence having flaws at all will be antithetical to most people, but if he does, it’s the inability to compromise his surfing to fit the confines of a heat. Florence knows no other way to approach a wave like Margaret River than with sheer, poetic violence.
It’s served him well, amassing forty-something excellent wave scores in the years he’s competed here. Contrast this with the next highest which is Jordy Smith with fifteen. One of those rare WSL stats that’s actually interesting.
The approach had also served him well until, quite ironically, he tried to address his often flawed approach to heat surfing by aiming for mid-range scores early rather than waiting for the best waves and terminating them. It was a tactic he based on the previous heat, and on many other days he would’ve been right. Today he wasn’t wrong, just unlucky.
The luck was on Colapinto’s side. It came first in a highly juiced 8.50, which I haven’t watched again but caused some ire from fans in the comment section. And it came second in being perfectly positioned for one of the waves of the day, ridden, to Colapinto’s credit, with the sort of speed and grace that warranted the nine points he was awarded. Few complaints about that one.
Florence was the best surfer of the entire competition, but Colapinto won that heat. So goes pro surfing.
The flaws in Griffin Colapinto’s game this year are increasingly hard to spot. He’s stylish, well-rounded, his head-game seems on point, and most importantly, he seems to have remarkable composure and belief that allows him to do his best surfing in a vest.
He elevates to a slightly higher level with each event, and firmly belongs in world title conversations alongside the likes of Robinson, Medina and Toledo.
But it was Medina who took the Margaret River title for 2023 in a dominant final where he threw away more points than Colapinto could amass. It was a performance reminiscent of the past, and if you ask his most ardent fans, myself included, it might just foreshadow the second coming we’ve never doubted.
It was Gabriel Medina’s first victory since coming back at this point last season, and the first result better than ninth this year. His hiatus from the competition landscape was due to the breakdown of his marriage and damage to his relationships with his mother and stepfather.
Medina’s flaws have always been personal, not professional.
When it comes to pro surfing, Medina is Him.
We know this, his competitors know this, and he knows this. Testament to his dedication to gym work, Medina muscled his way through the warbles better than anyone, manhandling converging sections of whitewater at Main Break and staying on his feet where others could not. It was not just poise and timing that carried him to victory, but sheer physicality.
Perhaps his personal problems have strengthened his resolve to reassert his dominance, his love of winning the key to his redemption.
God knows, we all have something to run to, for better or worse.
The flawed gamblers among us were surely rewarded by this return to form. Medina’s odds had been steadily lengthening with each ninth place finish. But for my money, there was no greater inevitability in pro sports than this comeback.
And so we roll onto the maligned Surf Ranch, where the major fault is faultlessness. We don’t enjoy waves of mechanical perfection. It’s unnatural. It’s inhuman.
But cast your eye over the current top seven surfers in the world, as well as some of the talented outliers. Only five of these men can make the cut off for Trestles, and right now I couldn’t pick them with head nor heart.
The Surf Ranch might not be your favourite Tour stop, neither is it mine. But at least the waves are assured, and my sleeping patterns can be planned.
More importantly, there’s no-where to hide in the baking heat of Lemmore.
After all, if the canvas is perfect, the flaws of the artist are revealed.