But John John Florence on the come up!
I was not expecting to be greeted by azure, inviting J-Bay first thing this morning. Forecasts had led me astray. I’m at a bit of a loss these days with the dissolution of Magic Seaweed into Surfline. It’s amazing how something as simple as a software interface can throw us off kilter. I can’t get used to Surfline, and I haven’t found a good alternative.
For WCT forecasting I’ve come to rely on the pre-event Swellnet updates, but it, too, was some way off.
I’d woken up on the couch, partly because I hurt my ankle yesterday afternoon and had it iced and strapped, and partly, well, for other reasons men might sleep on couches in their own homes.
The ankle injury was comical and karmic. I’d set-up a tarp by a little stream in the woods beside the house. It’s a delightful little spot. Perfect for me and the kids to have a fire, eat some charred sausages, and go to sleep to the sounds of trickling water and wind-rustled leaves.
If not for the wasps.
The nest was discovered when my youngest stood on it. The screams were the first we knew about it. The wasps were in his clothes, stinging at will. We whipped off his trousers and t-shirt and whacked at the insects and tried to calm him down. After that he wanted to go home, understandably. Me and the older one braved it, but wasps under the tarp made us bail later.
So I went back yesterday with my standard toolkit for disposing of wasp’s nests – half a gallon of petrol and a lighter. You’d be amazed how long a nest will burn.
There I was, dousing away and feeling slightly guilty as flames licked and wasps buzzed furiously, trying to find a way back to their queen. I tossed more petrol nonetheless, far too casually as it turned out.
The flame leapt up to the container in my hands, and in fright I threw it into the stream, flaming petrol flying through the air as it sailed into the water. Now the tree beside me was on fire, most of the undergrowth beside the stream, and the container drifting away. I jumped off the bank to try and submerge it, folding my ankle in the process.
It was so bad I got that nauseous, dizzy feeling you sometimes get after an injury related adrenaline dump. But after the initial shock I couldn’t help but laugh, collapsed in pain, surrounded by flames and agitated wasps.
So it was a day to relax into a CT event with decent looking waves and hope the world’s best wave artists might provide some fine entertainment on the type of canvas most surfers salivate over.
The waves were not pumping, but they were clean and desperately inviting. If they started a bit small, they seemed to pulse a little through the mid part of the round, before the wind ruined the final heat of the day and competition was called off.
If Kelly Slater had his way, it might never have been called on. He’d made his disgruntled voice heard when the comp was green-lighted this morning, said Pete Mel.
But on it was, and Slater, multiple event winner in his pomp, would go on to surf one of his worst heats this season, in a year where there have been a few to choose from.
I missed the first heat, won by Joao Chianca, and also missed betting on him as I’d intended, thinking I’d have more time. Bookies had Chianca well down the pecking order, something like 25/1 to win, and that seemed generous.
Ethan Ewing, last year’s winner and a man in possession of a J-Bay game if ever there’s been one, was among the favourites. But he was to be pipped at the post in the opening round by Rio Waida, who surfed just two waves at light speed to take the win.
Filipe Toledo was similarly economical in his heat, though clinical might be a better word. He waited a long time to put his first score on the board, an 8.50, backed up by a high six.
Kanoa Igarashi seemed frantic by comparison, and Toledo never really looked threatened, even when he was behind. He can afford to be selective at J-Bay, such is the precision of his surfing. He almost never falls. Rarely does he lose speed, much less mis-time a turn.
Also finding the J-Bay flow today was Griffin Colapinto, comboing Slater and Liam O’Brien, courtesy of an 8.50 for a particularly stylish grab with a straight air.
Yago Dora took some of the panache from his Rio victory and followed Griffin’s lead. Trailing Connor O’Leary with a minute and a half on the clock, he launched a huge full rotation on his backhand, scoring a 9.27 that iced the heat and was to be the highest score of the day.
Is Yago currently the best aerialist on the WCT? You’d do well to argue otherwise.
But if style was evident in the water, not so much in the booth. Paul Evans and Strider Wasilewski dressed up like toy soldiers for the event. Evans opting for full khaki, whilst Strider dressed head to toe in sand camo.
I felt it necessary to message Evans via WhatsApp, flagging the faux-pas and pointing out that communication between broadcast professionals really needs to be better.
“Condor was pissed he didn’t get the ranger cosplay text”, he replied.
Both men dressed down as the day went on, again in sync with checked shirts, the uniform of the man trapped in the smart-casual netherworld of middle-age.
Pete “Condor” Mel was once again left wanting in a glum, plain black t-shirt.
But it was good to have Evans back in the booth. He did say “spanks” a lot, in reference to top turns, but he brings a modicum of intelligence at the very least, and some different tones. Quite English tones, it has to be said, but different. He’ll be even better once he thinks future employment has been secured and can cut loose a bit.
It was mainly the goofies that really cut loose today. As well as Dora, Callinan, Medina, O’Leary and Ferreira all looked superb. Don’t be surprised to see one win here. Backhand surfing is very en vogue right now.
John Florence also looked great, edging Italo to take the win, both counting excellent scores. In his post heat interview Florence attributed his recent improvements to relaxing a bit, not taking winning so seriously, and just surfing like he did when he was younger. He spoke of letting go, enjoying where he was at.
It’s easy to see with the naked eye when Florence is in rhythm. But the thing about peak performances, flow states, if you will, is that they exist on a razor’s edge between effort and relaxation; challenge and ease.
It’s a mistake to think an athlete in flow is cruising, or it’s just about being present. Rather, it’s a fine balance, and it’s all too easy to slip off either side. John Florence doesn’t always hold this line, but when he does, he’s unstoppable.
But that was the best of it. By the final heat of the day the onshore wind had blown it all to shit, and Leo Fioravanti made the most of it to take the win over Jordy Smith and Jack Robinson.
Poor Jordy. The one event on Tour he might be capable of winning in his veteran years, a wave he knows so well, and he’s served mush when everyone else had prime cuts.
As for Robinson, he grows ever more hapless as the season progresses, and I can’t remember a more dramatic fall from grace from one end of the season to the next. He could well pull it all back if Teahupo’o is pumping. And if he exits in the next round at J-Bay, it will be his only possible way back to the top five.
Onward we go. If anyone’s got a credible forecast, or a more humane way of getting rid of wasps, please let me know.