"Not the worst day of competition we’ve seen this year, not by a long chalk, but nothing like we hope for at the iconic Tahitian reef that tongue-ties surf scribes and simpletons alike."
It was fine. Just fine. Not the worst day of competition we’ve seen this year, not by a long chalk, but nothing like we hope for at the iconic Tahitian reef that tongue-ties surf scribes and simpletons alike.
I’m fine, too. Thanks for asking. Or I’m not. Really I’m not quite sure anymore. I’ve been away a bit over the past couple of weeks, scrabbling to rescue something from the ashes of another summer break which has smouldered to an uncertain close.
Each man’s choices come with their own pain. I’ve wished, throughout my life, to be more like Kelly Slater. Not specifically. Not even in skill, and certainly not character. But simply in being utterly besotted and entirely consumed, by one, single thing.
I’ve never found it. It’s why I write, I think. Because I’m searching. I look for answers by dipping vicariously into the lives of others, like a swallow on a summer river, flitting joyously in and out.
Except it’s not joyous. Not always. Mostly I just find it hard to feel satisfied with the stultifying ordinariness of existence, despite recognising my objective, multitudinous privilege. People tell me I should get therapy, but that seems too American, and more than a little conceited. There’s no reason or solution I can think of for such aching discontent.
However, this summer I’ve come to a decision: after this school year I’m taking a break. I plan to pour myself into writing, for better or worse. Some ideas are half-started, some aren’t even that. I certainly haven’t worked out how it might work financially. It’s a gamble, sure. But if I don’t do it now, then when?
So if anyone out there wants to hire a writer of questionable temperament and moral fibre but unflinching commitment to the betterment of his art, I’m here for it.
Slater’s commitment to his art was evidenced once again today. Straight from Skeleton Bay, Namibia, he came, straight into woolly, windy Tahitian tubes.
Hardly for the first time, I was stunned by the endurance of the man. Nevermind the competition, and the various stresses on the meat suit he’s been punishing for more than half a century. What about the travel? The endless drudgery of getting from one place to the next. The waiting. The queues. The planes and trains and boats and hired cars. How many flights? How many connections and phonecalls and room bookings and card payments? How much stress? How does he take it?
I have no idea, but it tightens my chest just to think about it.
Teahupo’o was windy, sick looking, today. Not sick as in radical, but sick as in aw, that’s a wee shame you’re no feelin well. Slater was in heat one, and surfed with a freshness that belied the air miles. But the early heats were mostly decided in quite un-Tahitian fashion by turns rather than tubes. He did own the best single wave of his heat by some margin, a high six for a deep and technical barrel he airdropped into, but the relentlessness of Yago Dora’s hunt for a title shot was too much.
It’s painful watching the WSL broadcasts like this. Everyone knows what we’re watching is sub-standard, but no-one wants to say it. Instead, we get a veneer of positivity, the claptrap of disingenuity. I get it. No-one wants to watch a broadcast full of soorpusses, but who are the fans swallowing the narrative? Only the most ardent or naive.
Days of poor waves can’t be avoided, in competition or in life, but this season more than any has proven that scheduling the Tour stops around peak swell times is paramount. It seems trite to state this, but it’s not happening. It simply must be bulletpoint number one for ELo’s successor.
And what of the top five / Final’s Day structure, do we ditch this now ELo is gone? I’m not sure. Location notwithstanding, I quite like the concept. Surfing, on a pure sporting level, does need to feel more critical. There are very few heats where it feels like much is at stake. The Final’s Day structure theoretically goes some way to solving this, but the two we’ve seen have been lacklustre, and it brings its own set of problems.
JMD crept into the booth briefly today, sheepishly resplendent in lime green. She informed us, clinically, that the injured Ethan Ewing would not be replaced at Trestles. Noticeably absent was her lightness of manner during the Logan era. Gone is the insidious bluster of that time.
There was lots of talk of wildcards today, justified by the fact that Teahupo’o is a specialist’s wave where wildcards have done well. But only one, Mihimana Braye, a surfer whose name is new to me, prospered in the mediocre conditions.
Griffin Colapinto and Joao Chianca are the unfortunate top seeds that draw Matahi Drollet and Kauli Vaast in the elimination round. Good for betting, if you like that sort of thing. Bad for Chianca’s chances of going to Trestles.
Should we make more of this wildcard potential in surfing, as a USP, if you like? If there’s anything comparable in professional sport at the highest level I can’t think of it right now.
Or does it just point to the fallacy of judging one man’s surfing against another in a timed, restricted format?
There was no fallacy in the surfing of Gabriel Medina, John Florence and Jack Robinson today. Crucially, all are vying for a top five place (I’ll leave it to Joe Turpel to explain the ramifications of this) and each won his heat in convincing fashion.
It’s hard to accept that Gabriel Medina hasn’t nailed down a top five slot by now, but that’s the world we’re living in.
Also in with a shout of making the top five (as dull as that might be) is Leo Fioravanti. The Italian laid down the highest heat total of the day with 16.93. It’s still conflicting to me that the lone European on Tour is an Italian surfer. Not that he’s had a traditional upbringing in the country of his birth, plainly.
I have nothing against Italians. In fact, I quite admire their general vanity and arrogance. It’s just Italy is a place you go to smoke cigarettes and drink coffee, not to surf.
So we go to elimination. The interest lies in the battle between Medina, Robinson, Florence and Fioravanti, all chasing Chianca and Dora to fill the final two spots in the top five.
There is a glimmer in the forecast. Just a glimmer.
In surfing, as in life, that’s what we must hold onto.