The whole absurd dance feels like a gift from a mischievous spirit. Oh yeah? You want to watch competitive surfing, well, have I got something for you!
When I think about Surf Ranch, which I try very hard not to do, I see the weirdest images. They could not possibly have been real. But still, somehow they’ve become lodged in my brain.
Was it all a dream? I look at my still-dusty shoes and realize regretfully that it was not.
Security seizing sandwiches. A writer from The Inertia hunched over his laptop in the near-empty media area. The overflowing Porta-Potties, that really, should never have come close to overflowing. The average construction site manages their poop better. The surreal version of judging now considered the norm in professional surfing. The inescapable heat.
What a wild, weird thing we’ve chosen to watch.
I’m not even sure why we’re still here, except it feels impossible to look away from pro surfing’s carnival. The whole absurd dance feels like a gift from a mischievous spirit. Oh yeah? You want to watch competitive surfing, well, have I got something for you!
Surely, something has cursed this year’s Championship Tour, at least when it comes to waves. If you’ve been here even a minute, you will know by now that I pretty much have no standards at all when it comes to surf. If I think a surfboard will float on it, I will try to surf it.
Let’s just say, I would not have been excited to rock up to the conditions at the recent El Salvador thing. Point breaks are pure magic until they’re not — and the not, was pretty dismal in this case, even by my very low standards. I do hope the tourism board is happy, at least.
After watching the women’s heats, I believe I have found the method to the judging madness. They’re counting turns. That’s it! They’re just sitting up there in the tower, counting turns. Oh hey, she did five! Good score. Only three? Meh.
It’s not that I necessarily hold it against them. Quantity over quality is how we like it here at the Trash Palace. Apparently, we’re not the only ones. But I’m not sure this is a standard to emulate willy-nilly, whenever you feel like it.
Take for example an opening exchange between Carissa and Lakey. Carissa found one of the better waves on offer, which isn’t saying much. It was over waist high, I think! She strung together a series of floaters and foam climbs — and managed to place a couple of turns. I felt generous giving it a 7. The judges? 8.0. Oh hey.
Lakey took off on a smaller insider. She reached back to her skateboarding roots and ripped it. Three fast, fins out turns. I figured 6.5ish. The judges counted turns, found it wanting, and gave it a 5.33. In a less absurd world, the quality of Lakey’s turns would have added up to a better score. Instead, the judges counted turns and blew open the heat on the opening exchange. Lakey never found her way back into it.
No shade on Carissa for figuring out what’s wanted and surfing straight to it, but I’d love to know what’s going on in the tower. Did the WSL cut their pay? Is the lunch service down to PB&J? Maybe one of those fancy credentialed media people with their laptops could ask this question.
I’m just a girl with four cartons of box water still sitting in my refrigerator. I do think from now on, I’m going to use this more is better approach with editors. See? It’s so many words! What do you mean you actually wanted good words? I feel certain this tactic will work out for me.
Like Carissa, Caroline knows what the judges want. Turns, so many. When I saw her at the fabulous Tachi Palace, Caroline looked strong and healthy. The time she took away from competing seems to have served her well. Her Instagram now runs more toward surfing clips than bikini babe poses. She seems to have found balance. For her sake, I hope that’s true.
Freesurfing, Caroline looks like she’s having fun. Her surfing has variety. She’s ripping. Sure, that trailing arm still has a mind of its own, but her style has smoothed out over the past few years.
Who among us doesn’t occasionally wave our arms around uncontrollably? Oh. Right. Well just me, I guess. I have really long arms. It’s not my fault!
Thanks to the vagaries of the judging panel, I feel like we don’t necessarily see Caroline’s best surfing during heats. She can do more than one turn! But if the number is all that matters, well, just keep doin’ the same one. Ten’s for you! And you! And you!
I’m not about to hate on anyone for doing the surfing that scores points. If you want to win, that’s what you do. But I am going to look a little sideways at the whole circus. Here I am standing here, looking sideways, wondering if the judges need a sandwich.
Caity Simmers. Underscore or nah? Caity looks relentlessly determined to avoid conforming to the judges demands. This is extremely punk rock. But it does not look to be the most obvious route to winning a world title. We all have different goals, and no doubt she knows what she’s doing out there.
In their opening round heat, Caroline left the door open with a 3.17 and a 5.17. Sitting with a 0.83, Caity took a smaller inside zipper. After a couple nothing turns, she tossed an air reverse with a two-handed, toe-side grab. She used the grab to give it a little whip.
Was it style or necessity? On second watch, the whole thing looked forced to me. Caity didn’t really get high enough to complete the reverse and had to work to make it. The grab looked more awkward than stylish. Credit to Caity for trying to make a small wave into a score, but the judges got this one right with the 5.50.
In her quarterfinal, Carissa put up a clean air reverse on the end section after chaining together a series of turns. She looked strong with sharp turns all the way through the wave. The air was higher than Caity’s and needed no forcing. The judges gave her a 9.37, and rightly.
At risk of starting a riot, Chris Coté is right that surfing needs to sort out the whole situation with naming airs. We’re more than 30 years into the aerial era in surfing (Davey Smith says hello from the 1980’s), and I feel like we can do this. Calling everything an air reverse ain’t helping.
Give me back-5 and front-5 for a full rotation. If there’s a cute grab, call it a back-5 stalefish or front-5 indy. I’ll go ahead and admit that I just like to say Stalefish. It sounds cool. I don’t want to painfully write out, backside tail high full rotation. Tail high back-5. We all know what it is. We’re all happy.
I’m not saying that the judges would suddenly come to their senses and score airs correctly. I feel like that is far too much to expect. I do not have this kind of hope in my heart. But it might help! Please let me have this one nice thing.
Caroline Marks won this thing and now sits third in the rankings behind Carissa and Tyler. Molly is still holding a spot in the top five, though she dropped to fourth. Caity fell to seventh, after going out in round 2 where she mostly sat and watched Bettylou surf. In a hilarious turn, Steph and Tati are tied for fifth. I can’t see that tie lasting too much longer, but it’s fun for now.
After spending a few hours dancing around in small waves, Caroline won $100,000. In all the absurdities of surfing that might top the list. No wonder every dad wants his kid to grow up to be a pro surfer. For a niche sport, that’s a pretty damn hefty pay-out.
Shall we compare? Sure, why not. After three weeks of racing around France in every kind of weather, the winner of the Tour de France wins €500,000 (roughly USD550,000). Then he splits that prize money with his eight teammates. Team staff typically also receive a cut. The Tour de France is broadcast on television in 190 countries. Winning a mountain bike world cup race, meanwhile, pays out €3750 (roughly USD4000).
If there’s a lesson here, it’s never become a writer. Honestly, it’s the fastest known route to insanity. You’ll get dust on your shoes and spend too much time contemplating porta-potties. You’ll actually care what airs are called in surfing. You’ll look around and wonder how in the world you ended up here.
Today the sun is out and I ordered a new surfboard. I think a lot about how I don’t have to go to Surf Ranch again. If I had a gratitude journal, I’d write that down on the very first page. I’ll take a carton of box water down to the beach and stare up at the boundless sky. I’ll look for waves, no matter how small and insignificent, and then, pretending no one is watching, I’ll dance in the wild blue with joyful abandon.