And other musings from The Machine.
Apologies for the delayed dispatch. I am with children this weekend whilst my partner is off gallivanting at Harry Styles in Edinburgh. She can keep him. I’m quite content on my own with the kids, but it’s not easy to get shit done. I took them to the swimming pool in the morning, then we walked four miles in the woods in the afternoon, pelted each other with pine cones, did some “smashing”, which is a game the mental younger one (four) likes to inflict on his more reserved older brother (six), and is self-explanatory. Haribos kept the momentum going and (I thought) we were well on the way to early evening burnout that would allow me to concentrate on matters at hand. But it was not to be.
“Look, boys”, I implored as they clambered over me and stabbed mischievous fingers at my keyboard, “manmade waves! Isn’t it crazy?” They shrugged and continued smashing. Of course it isn’t crazy to them, I realised. Artificial waves pre-date their existence. It’s only me that will continue to look at it with part fascination, part abomination. For them, it’s just another type of surfing.
I’d been eagerly anticipating this comp, for the point of difference, the scheduling, and the gambling opportunities. It’s been a while since we saw the pool, and the dullness of previous competitions had somewhat faded. Improvements were promised in format and wave style.
But when fifty-one year old Kelly Slater creaked to his feet for the opening ride on his own creation, it was stiff, samey and nothing new. We were right back where we started. Twenty guys would likely do the same thing, repetitive turns, unimpressive barrel rides, then safety finishes, terrified of risking a non-completion. Four might be more dynamic and perform this genre of surfing as it should be, with explosive and inventive aerials.
To be fair, the format has improved. It’s becoming a trope of mine to say so, but anything that adds tension to this sport should be encouraged. One man advancing from a heat of four seems brutal, especially when a heat contains both John Florence and Gabriel Medina. There was lots of talk of pressure. Turpel trotted out his Parko anecdote about feeling more pressure at Surf Ranch than Pipe, and for surfers like Florence (who has actually never competed here before) the nerves were evident. But this is how it should be.
The night session was better than the day. If we ignore the gimmicky lights for the moment (JMD’s lights. Her idea, according to Erik Logan), two men advancing based on their single highest score from a left and a right each is a solid way to run a competition in the pool.
The leaderboard for the night session was far better than the day activities, too. At least we were able to keep track of the scores, a seemingly fundamental fan experience that the WSL couldn’t get right for the daytime heats.
The wave is different to the previous iteration as well. Better or worse is subjective, but it looks a little less predictable, which I’d guess was the aim. Lefts looked better than rights, a little bigger, a little faster, but that might just have been the angle on screen.
If the wave was a little less predictable, the surfers with the skillsets to wrangle them were less so. Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, Italo Ferreira and Yago Dora were the standouts, with commendations for Colapinto (after the night session), Igarashi and Ewing (both a little grudgingly).
Jack Robinson was the first man to bow out of the pool with a whimper. This might seem shocking in light of the ratings, but Robinson belongs here about as much as an orca at Seaworld. Likewise for John Florence, who eventually found some awkward rhythm during his first wavepool competition, but will not take part in tomorrow’s proceedings.
The wave still looks fast, leaving most surfers looking like they’re a fraction of a second behind, especially on the left, it seemed. This nullifies the level of progression, and only those with speed to burn are able to project turns through and above the lip.
There remains a refusal among most surfers to take too much risk on the end sections, and once again it struck me that the vagaries of the ocean actually encourage risk taking and impulsiveness. There were some attempts at dynamism from surfers not named Toledo, Medina or Dora, but for the most part they were mediocre. In the commentary booth, Turpel lost his shit over some very weak, very forced reverses. As per, there were plenty of superlatives for things that weren’t super.
Mitch Salazar went one better, quoting from Homer’s Odyssey (or more likely some skank’s tattoo). Whether he’s actually read The Odyssey is immaterial, but when you’re quoting things that have featured on a million shit Instagram posts, it’s a clear sign you’ve been hanging out with Dave Prodan too much.
But even Prodan at his hoity-toity corporate best couldn’t lipstick the Surf Ranch pig. There’s something god awfully ugly about the place, right? It wants to be Coachella, but there’s a lingering sense that someone could drape a confederate flag over the filthy concrete wall at any moment.
From a personal and financial perspective Italo’s 8.50 to take second place and advance through the night session was big. So were his pre-comp odds of twenty-six to one. His frantic, caffeinated hopping as he waited for the final score to drop was matched only by my own.
And would you believe that Caity Simmers, who for my figurative and literal money looks a cut above everyone else, was fifty to one for the overall win, seventeen to reach the final, and sixes to make the semi? Crazy stuff.
Aside from Leo Fiorovanti, the quarters were predictable, and so we head into tomorrow with the chaff cut. I would hope and guess that most of the men in the draw have found a little rhythm and held something in reserve, and that things will crank up a notch.
Surf Ranch is a curious beast. I want to like it, I do. It offers something different in the complexion of the Tour. And in the same way we look forward to the juxtaposition of J-Bay and Teahupo’o, so we should embrace this evolving genre of surfing that takes place in a pool.
That being said, I’m still not sure the KS Wave Co tech is the one we should be watching. The barrel remains a non-event, unless the entry is jazzed up with a stylish snap, a la Caity Simmers. Really this should be an air comp, and there is superior wavepool technology (crucially, not owned by the WSL) that would facilitate that.
But if you’ll excuse me I need to stop being a terrible father (open bets not withstanding) and stop saying “just a minute” to the kids. Like those left in the comp, I’ll be back tomorrow with a little more verve.
In closing, please allow me to borrow stylistically from Charlie Smith when I say plainly:
I believe that’s all there is to be said about that.