"He won’t compromise his surfing to fit heats. He wants to annihilate every section, and there’s true beauty in this violence, but there’s also dejectedness when the waves and heats don’t present opportunity."
A mark of a man is how he performs under pressure. If you’re highly skilled in your field, an expert in your craft, or just damn good at your job, you should welcome scrutiny. It’s an opportunity to show you know your onions and silence your detractors.
This was the situation facing WSL judges today. They had the chance to prove Logan’s claim that they were “elite professionals” and hopefully dampen the controversies in the wake of Surf Ranch.
Instead, they shat the bed. Or at least soiled it heavily.
During heat one, Pete Mel read the judging criteria. It had been disseminated via text to all the surfers, they assured us. In typical WSL style, it was a clear response to recent controversy, but without actually acknowledging it.
The criteria, however, seemed once again like the judges were looking for…everything.
Despite this, Mel and co latched onto the bit that said “progressive and innovative manoeuvres and airs”. Was it mandated for the commentary team to emphasise this? We’ll never know.
Despite acknowledging this criteria in some of the early heats (Toledo was well rewarded for airs mediocre by his standards) some of the highest scores of the day went to Connor O’Leary and Leo Fiorovanti for bog standard top to bottom surfing.
It was a nervy day of scoring. Rather than solidify the application of their criteria, judges appeared more panicky than ever. Scores above eight were a rare bird. As such they became mashed into the five to seven range with little distinction between what our eyes told us were quite distinct approaches to waves.
The wave quality and consistency deteriorated through the day but looked deliciously fun as Kelly Slater, Ethan Ewing and Matt McGilivray took to the water for the first heat.
Slater’s presence remains confusing. What does he have to gain by surfing here in El Salvador? If it’s not mathematically impossible for him to reach the top five, it must be damn near. He can’t win here, neither Rio. J-Bay seems almost impossible, with Teahupo’o the sole glimpse of hope.
Does he feel awkward about the wildcard rules being altered to accommodate him? Does he feel so embarrassed being gifted a slot that he’ll make the trips to El Salvador and Rio, just so he can justify Tahiti?
Chris Cote reported from the Red Bull athlete zone early today. It was like a library, he told us in hushed tones. Surfers were studying the waves, trying to learn something from the early scoring. Then he drifted away like a fart in a library.
Kaipo’s phrase of the day was “exaggerated fundamentals”. He applied it to Robson and O’Leary, and anyone else he wasn’t entirely sure could do an air.
And while I’m on the commentary, Mitchell Salaazar has the demeanour of a man who’s been taken out for a picnic and couldn’t find his way back to the bus. I suppose we can’t blame him for cheery gormlessness, but we do have a right to question the things he says. Listen carefully, you’ll hear some quite stunning inanity.
“There’s nothing welcoming about this wave!” he exclaimed in a hideously incorrect segue to something Cote had said.
“If he gets into the top five we could have our first European world champion!” he said of Leo Fiorovanti.
“He’s a very methodical surfer on his backhand,” he informed us about Ryan Callinan as we watched a replay of him go upside down, back to front through the lip in a manner anything but methodical.
I stopped noting them down after a while, and just guffawed quietly to myself.
And I do object to a broadcast that feels like an advert for a board of tourism, but I suppose we should be used to it by now. WSL event locations are often predicated on who’s prepared to pay them the most.
Bryan Perez was the collateral damage of this full-pronged attack to convince us that El Salvador is the greatest surfing country on earth. One of the hapless commentators even suggested there could be an “El Salvador Storm” led by Bryan Perez. If there’s a hidden depth of talent in El Salvador I haven’t noticed (or if Bryan Perez is aging in reverse) I’ll make my apologies now, but I just can’t see it.
To be fair to Perez, despite not being quite the superstar the broadcast would have us believe, he gave a good account of himself. His fifteen point-something heat total for the opening round was solid but not enough to trouble the yellow jersey of Griffin Colapinto. I thought he should’ve won the elimination heat against Chianca with a potential buzzer beater that included two reverses. He needed a mid-seven, and if the judges understood their own criteria, they really should’ve given him it.
The scores awarded seemed to increase as the opening round progressed. This was not, as suggested, the judge’s response to the innovation and progression of manoeuvres, but rather a default to over-scoring fundamental surfing.
They lost their shit entirely when they gave Fiorovanti a nine.
Amongst all the progression, all the innovation, all the flow and power and risk surfers peacocked in front of the judges all day, it was simply Fiorovanti with some nice turns that elicited the highest score of the day.
I want to feel affinity towards Leo as the lone European on Tour, but I just can’t. He’s all frantic elbows and twitching to me. But these facts notwithstanding, I still can’t see the score, not in context of the day.
Medina couldn’t buy an eight. He was poor in his opening heat against Italo and Liam O’Brien, his paltry heat total of 7.17 highly uncharacteristic, but marking some inconsistency in the conditions.
By contrast, he looked great in eliminating Slater. His scoring waves of 7.5 and 5.7 by rights, should have been a mid-eight and a high seven. I’m sure this seems nitpicky, but in the context of the day it stood out.
God knows why poor Rio Waida was so low balled in his elimination heat against Florence. He won, so he won’t be worried, but his scoring waves looked a point higher each. He showed variety in every turn, has speed to burn, flow throughout, and the ability to throw risky, technical airs. Is that not the criteria? I can only presume his slightness works against him, but it would be an error to call him light-footed.
Florence, for his part, looks more and more like Dane Reynolds on Tour every day. He just won’t compromise his surfing to fit heats. He wants to annihilate every section, and there’s true beauty in this violence, but there’s also dejectedness when the waves and heats don’t present opportunity. It makes Florence seem out of his element. And if we wonder why he’s here, he must too.
Judges threw him an 8.43 as a carrot in his elimination heat. The only score above eight for the entire round, in fact, but it wasn’t enough to swing the heat, and it would’ve been a travesty if it had.
Jack Robinson was the other high profile name eliminated today, despite looking full of verve and promise, his status as a top five surfer suddenly looks precarious.
After missing Margaret River with a knee injury and an early exit from Surf Ranch, he opened today surfing like a man possessed. He was the better surfer in his opening heat, despite losing to O’Leary. And I happen to think he beat Ian Gentil in his elimination heat. On another day, these scores fall for him, but not today.
Instead of clarity in the judging, today I felt more confused than ever.
Hard to pick a winner of this one in the face of such erratic scoring. Colapinto and Toledo would seem like the safe bets, but “exaggerated fundamentals” might be the flavour of the moment.