"Illness was cited, and illness is surely the reason, if we accept this as a euphemism for the deep roots of fear that claw at Toledo’s soul."
The night is darkest just before the dawn, wrote Thomas Fuller in 1650 (or words to that effect). But for Filipe Toledo, incumbent world champion, even the brightest new days are shrouded in a lingering dusk.
Our double asterisked world champion is out of the season opener, the Lexus Pipe Pro, almost before it has begun, and certainly before he’d surfed any wave of substance.
1.77 for two waves was all he could muster to begin his 2024 campaign. Made to look even more foolish by Sammy Pupo and Shion Crawford, both of whom notched solid waves, Toledo whimpered off to the elimination round then threw in the towel without attempting to remain in the competition.
There was a moment today, as those in the booth discussed rookie Cole Houshmand’s approach to mental preparation – journaling, willing vulnerability, silent mediation retreats – the kinds of things we’ve been accustomed to hearing about from fellow San Clemente surfer and close friend, Griffin Colapinto, where the camera cut from Houshmand in the water to the man on the shore, waiting for his heat.
It was Filipe Toledo, masked behind sunglasses that hid his eyes but not his tension.
“If you’re not hiding anything then you have nothing to fear,” said someone in the booth, still in reference to Houshmand, of course.
It was prophetic broadcast mastery of the kind that the WSL can only fall into accidentally.
But enough Toledo, for now. We should focus on those who surfed.
Pipeline showed up for opening day. Not perfect conditions, a mixed up, unruly swell at times, playing clearly into the hands of those who’ve seen its many moods. Or those willing to commit to closeouts to find the high eights that were surely there. Contestable, sufficient.
Joe Turpel was a bubbling ball of energy as he always is. He dropped lots of names he’d been talking to in the lead up to the event. (How many of his late night calls are answered vs rejected with rolled eyes and mild guilt, I wondered?) His enthusiasm for the return of pro surfing was evident and frankly adorable.
“I’m sure Jack will find the zen with a new baby around this year,” said Turpel early on. Or something to that effect. I guffawed loudly and scribbled it down. How ridiculous, I thought. In the pantheon of ludicrous statements Turpel had made, it was right up there.
How foolish I was to feel soon afterwards when I heard that Robinson had actually named the child Zen, and that Turpel’s masterful punnery had led me down the garden path!
Turpel 1, me 0.
It’s a long season, Joe. Stay ready.
And anyway, I was comforted by Jesse Mendes who played right into my hands early by offering us a definition of foam: “It’s basically water, with air”.
He also told us that Medina had bulked up this season and was five pounds over his normal weight. For those who know, that’s a frightening and tantalising prospect.
He introduced himself to the 2024 season by stuffing Callum Robson on what would’ve surely been a scoring wave. Robson had the position, Medina the priority.
However, Robson would have the last laugh, taking the heat win and the single highest wave score of the day with a deserved nine for a deep Pipe tube.
No issue for Medina. He moves on comfortably and looked assured throughout the heat. He has no-one to fear at Pipe.
Once again, Robson bared his teeth in thick, hollow waves, and we were reminded of his wave at Supertubos last season, the best all year by score and eye test, even if it was mostly a segue to tell us that Yeti will once again be presenting coolers to anyone that scores a ten this year. Hooray! (The fact there were only two ten point rides all season was an unwelcome reminder of our sufferance.)
Slightly embarrassing, however, was Robson’s post-heat interview where it was revealed that the major (and only?) sticker on the nose of his board was one that said “Bonsoy”.
Bearing in mind I’m not totally sure what this is (despite the number of Bonsoy Brew Breaks I’ve endured), it did seem an indictment of pro-surfing, because I’m fairly sure Bonsoy is something totally shit and nowt to do with surfing. No slight on Robson, of course, the man has to grift where he can, but is this really where we’re at?
I pondered this predicament through the Cup Noodle Wave of the Day.
A battle of heavy Pipe hitters Kelly Slater and Jack Robinson followed. Both went through at the expense of Rio Waida who looked understandably lost in probably the hardest line-up in the world to infiltrate and get pre-comp reps. Robinson squeaked the win, but Kelly looked promising, even if he was angling for a Backdoor wave early in the heat when all the best waves in previous heats had been at Pipe.
The round of 32 draw has been extremely kind to Slater. Of the eight men who could make the semi in his section, you’d have to say he’s the favourite at Pipe. All forecast dependent, obviously.
We’re all hoping for waves, but no-one more so than Kelly right now. There’s more than an event victory at stake here, there’s a legacy that should’ve been assured and concluded two years ago at this same location.
But despite the stakes, the history, the prestige, or anything else of value, somehow the WSL will find a way to dull it down or make mockery.
The broadcast missed Slater’s opening wave today, so too Robinson’s. All in favour of some meaningless chatter from Kaipo Guerrero and Felicity Palmateer.
Kaipo offered us some stats instead, whilst live surfing happened somewhere behind him. There was a new stat – Average Place. We discovered that Kelly’s average place was 4.8, and if that’s not the most useless statistic and abominably pointless use of a decimal place, I’m not sure what is.
Bravo, WSL statisticians. Bravo, Kaipo.
And well done, too, for still, STILL, subjecting us to “Stay Tuned” screens in the midst of live action!
Honestly, this remains one of life’s great mysteries for me.
Anyway, at least there was some light in the fact that John Florence remains a professional surfer with a will to compete and entertain us. He toyed with Pipe today, casual as ever. Let’s hope the forecast does him justice.
There were further confident showings from Barron Mamiya, Griffin Colapinto, and the Pupo brothers, but as always with the opening round, it all felt a bit like a non-consequential warm-up. So often good days of waves are wasted in this way.
And hello again to you, casual or longtime reader, industry lurker, BeachGrit freak boys and trolls. Kelly.
It’s good to be back.
I should’ve long since fled this cesspit of surf-adjacent curiosity and trivia. But I’m my own worst enemy. And when Derek called, I was never really saying no.
I’m of the mind that it’s almost impossible to produce good work unless your back’s against the wall. So it goes for me right now, and so I find you again. I’ll spare the details for now.
But I’ll continue to wade through the muck, thigh deep in clots of bitterness and desperation.
I know surfing won’t save me. Nor you. Pro surfing even less so. But here we go again. Hanging on yet wailing dissent.
Might as well burn together.