(Two events in Brazil, anyone? Brazilian CEO?)
And so it was that the least promising event window of the season delivered one of the best final days.
Conditions weren’t perfect, but they were the best we’d seen. The kind of clean, sunny beachbreak that makes you glad to be alive.
The success of the day was in no small part due to the consistently superb Brazilian fans. It is an undeniable fact that Brazil not only produces the greatest surfers in the world, but also the finest and most vociferous supporters of professional surfing.
(Two events in Brazil, anyone? Brazilian CEO?)
The clientele for finals day were also fresh and clean. Only one top five surfer remained in Ethan Ewing, perhaps the most unlikely.
In the end, it was to be Yago Dora who claimed his first CT victory, a hometown favourite with universal appeal and an undeniably broad skill-set. The manner of his victory is matched only by the considerable style with which he wields foam, resin and water.
But before that, the prelude.
Sammy Pupo’s hot streak came to an end against Ryan Callinan. The latter being the first of Mitch Salazar’s predilections to take out the event victory.
Throughout the day Salazar was to make several claims with the emboldened bluster of a tarot card reader. These ranged from wildly inaccurate to patently bloody obvious.
“In my view, he’s a top ten surfer of all time”, he said of John Florence, in a tone that suggested it was a hot take. “I think people forget just how complete a surfer he is.”
They don’t, Mitch. They really don’t.
Salazar approaches his job like a self-appointed sage, imbued with profundity and wisdom, but the substance of what he says carries all the weight of a tortilla.
I truly hope that the new CEO, whoever it may be, recognises that some slash and burn is needed with the commentary team. Mitch and Kaipo have to go. That’s unequivocal.
As for Turpel, I waver, just as you might at the vet with a beloved family pet. He’s utterly useless, but easy to sympathise with. We’re so used to having him around.
But when he told us yesterday, without a hint of irony or humour, that if we’d ever wondered what it was like to surf like the best in the world, we could download a game from the App Store to find out, it was the nail in the coffin. Verbatim, the note I recorded: “Fuck you, Turpel, honestly. I’m out. Hopefully you are too.”
I’m sure people think that we just enjoy using the pundits as punching bags here at BG, but our ire and humour conceals a serious point. We spend so much time listening to this broadcast team, they are the faces and voices of the sporting performances, and they can make or break our viewing experience. They absolutely need to be better.
But back to those performances. Ewing vs Fioravanti was settled in the opening exchange of quarter final number two. The smoothness of Dora rendered a virtual no-contest against Jadson Andre in the next.
The fourth heat of the day, an all Hawaiian match-up between Florence and Mamiya, was a different matter.
The crux of the heat was Mamiya’s final wave. With a minute on the clock and needing an 8.27, he executed four seamless backhand strikes, the first of which was the turn of the heat. It wasn’t the biggest wave of the day, but there was plenty of reciprocal power.
He claimed vigorously, like he felt he’d got the score, and upon direct comparison with Florence’s 8.93, his upwelling of emotion seemed justified.
John’s 8.93 had started with a wrap and finished without drama or verve. Barron’s was full throttle from beginning to end. It should’ve turned the heat.
Two judges agreed, one giving a nine, another an eight-five. But the rest settled on flat eights and the result was 8.17.
Florence took a long time on the beach before this heat, head bowed, caressing his board in his arms as if in prayer. To whom or what ends is uncertain, and it may be he was just trying to return to the ubiquitous present amidst the baying crowd, but it did make me recalibrate my sense of how much winning heats might mean to him.
Regardless, by the semi final this centre could not hold. Against Yago he was barely able to summon a wave let alone a score. He exited the competition with a whimper, sitting astride his board with a 6.50 heat total, albeit after a semi final finish that sees him in striking distance of a shot at a third world title.
Both semis were lacklustre in the warbly, inconsistent high tide. Callinan and Ewing were both mistake prone in the other, with the latter stitching a couple of solid scores among the falls with some searingly smooth rail surfing.
But it was the final that capped the day as a resounding success. And a nod once again to the crowd that made this a reality. So often it’s pure WSL ministry of truth style fiction, whether in ELo’s manufactured numbers or those in the booth reporting things our eyes tell us are lies. But in Brazil these crowds are real.
Drone shots showed thousands of people packing the beach, tanned limbs pressed up against barriers, jammed skin to skin and grinning. Brazil is what the WSL has always dreamed pro surfing could be. Even through a screen the atmosphere is tangible.
As the finalists were announced, combat style by the Brazilian announcer on the blue runway, their personalities seemed to have been momentarily switched. Ewing grinned from ear to ear, an outward expression of happiness seldom seen.
Dora, by contrast, was steel-eyed, terminator-like. “I’ve never seen Yago in the fifteen plus years I’ve known him with that much intensity in his eyes”, said Jesse Mendes.
On the birds-eye angle, each combatant cast long shadows in the late afternoon sun. One man in blue, the other in red. One dark and moustached, the other blond and clean shaven. It was a vision that stirred images of an empty street with a man at either end of it.
Ewing took a wave almost immediately. Mere seconds in, Mitch “Nostradamus” Salazar proclaimed his victory. “I think this is the way Ethan wins this final”, he stated conclusively.
Fortunately, everyone ignored him.
The decisive blow was Dora’s ten point ride for a gigantic full rotation, spun and landed as clean as it gets. It was a flat, snowboard-like rotation, of a type few in the world might execute with such panache.
Certainly it was not the type of surfing we’ve seen from Ethan Ewing, nor are we likely to. This isn’t a slight, but rather to make the point that there was no answer he could give in this situation. This gulf in range made Dora a worthy winner.
It was only the second maximum score of the entire season, and it couldn’t have been more different to Callum Robson’s genre bending barrel at Supertubos. Nevertheless it was valid.
Detractors could argue it was a capitulation to the partisan crowd and the moment, but if so, only by half a point.
Dora moves seven positions to number five in the world. He’s a threat at every venue, including Trestles, and if that fact isn’t already obvious, it will become more apparent in time.
For all the talk of surfing’s importance to culture in the likes or Australia and California, only in Brazil does it feel like real sport.
Stadiums are not the answer for pro surfing, packed beaches and quality broadcasts are. If the WSL is to have any future, they’ll follow the fans, not the money. Satisfy the first and the second will follow.
On a personal level, thanks for all the comments and messages of support, both in public and private. It has an impact. I’m still in the hospital. My boy isn’t out of the woods, but he’s on the mend.
I’ll be forever grateful for the healthcare in this country and the simple, human kindness shown by nurses in particular.
It’s a weird little thing this life. Do whatever you can with it, for yourself and others.