Ítalo Ferreira (pictured) thunder clapping.
Ítalo Ferreira (pictured) thunder clapping.

Question: Has the Brazilian Storm finally blown itself out?

Time to put the umbrellas away?

The Hurley Pro Sunset Beach is on hold today as the World Surf League stands with Hawaii’s puppet government in order to celebrate its United States of America oppressors, on this Presidents’ Day, which gives us a quick breath to ponder higher level surf thoughts. For example, will this actually actually be Kelly Slater’s last year on tour? Is Strider Wasilewski the hardest working color man in sports? And, maybe most importantly, has the Brazilian Storm finally blown itself out?

That most exciting weather event first burst upon our then semi-parched professional surfing landscape exactly one decade ago, for it was in 2014 that the menacingly handsome Gabriel Medina seemingly came out of a video game to clutch the cup. The subsequent ten years saw no less than six Brazilian championship tour wins, spread between Adriano of Souza, Ítalo Ferreira and Filipe Toledo.

Surfing’s very first Olympic run was also gold medaled by a Brazilian, though Owen Wright’s bronze was most inspirational.

It seemed, in any case, that the Storm was here to stay… forever. Like a beautiful dystopian film wherein the sun fails to shine due some naughty science tinkering.

Brazil to the moon.

But a funny thing happened on the way to forever. It seems, this year, that the clouds have evaporated.

2024 got off to an ignominious start for the land of order and progress. The big three came out very much off. Medina, thus far, looks out of whack and indifferent, Ferreira just plain weird and Filipe Toledo scared. The Storm-ettes, Doras, Pupos, etc. are still doing their thang but certainly will not threaten for a title and while Joao Chianca could, hopefully, heal up in time for the Olympics, Brazil’s shot at a back-to-back gold is fading hard.

Yago Dora is currently the highest ranked Brazilian at equal 9th, though he will drop after an early Sunset exit.

Medina is next at 17th and he will also drop.

So, the question. Is that it or is there a new secret crop of wave slayers being groomed in the other down under?


Kelly Slater retires
Kelly Slater, sombre.

Kelly Slater threatens retirement for twenty-sixth consecutive year!

Champ talks quitting after his elimination from Sunset Pro by baby-faced surfer with “plumpest and most spankable bottom in surfing”.

The world’s second oldest active pro athlete, Kelly Slater, has threatened to call it quits for the twenty-sixth consecutive year after being eliminated from the Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach. 

The just-turned fifty-two-year-old Kelly Slater, who is four years younger than the still-competing pro soccer player Kazuyoshi Miura, was narrowly beaten by Australia’s golden girl Ethan Ewing, a baby-faced twenty-five-year-old Australian with the “plumpest and most spankable bottom in surfing”.

Following the loss, Kelly Slater said he was “questioning competing to be honest with you… My confidence isn’t super high. I’ve probably surfed four sessions since [the Lexus] Pipe [Pro]. And I haven’t surfed in about something like five or six days. I just haven’t been practiced up. It doesn’t help the confidence. But I felt fine out there.”

The week previous, Kelly Slater referenced his recent hip surgery as reason, perhaps, for his inability to shine in the inconsistent three-foot waves at Pipe

“I’ve got to figure out if this hip’s good enough to compete in waves that I’ve got to do turns and stuff. About eight, 10 days ago, I had a surf and it felt absolutely terrible. I thought, ‘I shouldn’t even be in the water.’ Then I stayed out of the water for about four or five days.”

The first time Kelly Slater retired was in 1998, the then six-time world champ having just-turned twenty-six. He competed sporadically over the next few years, winning Pipe in 1999 and the Eddie in 2002, before re-joining the tour to take on Andy Irons head-on, hinting at retirement every year thereafter.

In 2018, and piggybacking Joel Parkinson’s retirement announcement at J-Bay, he said he’d officially quit by the end of the following year at age forty-seven. 

Other retirement announcements can be found here, here, here and here. 

What happens to pro surfing post-Slater?

It will lose its hub, its fulcrum, its measure of everything good, in and out of the water. There isn’t another surfer, on tour, or off tour for that matter, who can speak with the authority of the entire game behind him.

When Kelly Slater opens his mouth or taps his computer’s keyboard, the surfing world shifts to his whim and his want.

For 33 years, professional surfing has been carried by this one single man.

If he goes, does pro surfing follow?

World Surf League x North Korea: A Collaboration
World Surf League x North Korea: A Collaboration

World Surf League spackles Wall of Positive Noise after Filipe Toledo mental health break, disables public comment on live stream

It's always sunny in North Korea.

The World Surf League took heavy, and surprising, damage in this still-young 2024 Championship Tour season. Everything seemed semi-normal ahead of the Pipe Pro opener though the League’s patented Wall of Positive Noise did seem a little… tired. Maybe various executives who call the “global home of surfing” home were tired after moving desks and filing cabinets from its hip Santa Monica offices to a veterinarian office in El Segundo?

Whatever the reason, no ultra-upbeat press release was delivered about the upcoming start until minutes before the hooter actually sounded. And when it did?

All hell broke loose.

A decision not to run on an epic Pipe day because it was “too big and good” was met with a fusillade from surf fans. Two-time, and sitting, world champ Filipe Toledo failed to give an effort, looking extremely scared, then pulled the rip citing phantom food poisoning thereby sullying the formerly good names of Lei Leis, Pupukea Grill and Foodland. Surf fans continued to lob rage.

And then the Wall cracked.

Chief of Sport Jessi Miley-Dyer had to face the camera to explain why “too big and good” surf was not in the cards for that day. Toledo quit the entire tour for a year, this time citing “mental health.”

Surf fans, the commentariat, realized their power and did not let up.

Panicked, the aforementioned World Surf League chiefs decided there was only one thing to do. Return to its “cut-rate North Korean” roots and disable any public comment on its live feed.

Low quality surf fans very much enjoyed offering inconsequential opinions on the YouTube feed (as opposed to the high quality surf fans who prefer the Open Thread: Comment Live). They would argue, cajole and throw “raise the roof” emojis into the sidebar. Might there also have been light critique of the World Surf League and Filipe Toledo?


Thus, it was ripped right down with no explanation or care.

Which raises the question once again. Is the World Surf League the worst governing body on earth? Most incompetent, out of touch, arrogant?

Thoughts please.

Open Thread: Comment Live on Day Two of the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach!

Come get sucked into the time bandit.

Lenny (pictured) out of contest.
Lenny (pictured) out of contest.

Sunset Beach takes scalp of world’s greatest waterman Kai Lenny on wild day one of Hurley Pro

Gabriel Medina and Barron Mamiya escape by a hair.

Today I come to you from Amsterdam. My first report from Pipeline came from the French Alps, near the Italian border. There’s a comical juxtaposition of covering something as whimsical as professional surfing from these places, the realities of each so disparate in both physical miles and headstate.

It’s a few years since I was last here, and I swore it would be my last, owing to a particularly involved afternoon of mescaline. But it’s been very pleasant so far, this four-dimensional lattice world of canals and glass, a rippling synesthesia of cheese, sex toys and drug paraphernalia.

We walked for miles in the city yesterday in a kaleidoscopic bliss. Tall, helmetless people on bikes seemed to flow from every direction. Angular blond girls in camel coats shimmered over pavements. Shop windows popped with lurid colours. It doesn’t matter if you’re pedaling drugs, dildos or children’s toys, the marketing remains the same, eyes and minds are captured by colour and choice. Vices of every flavour are neon lit and unashamed.

And always, the heady tang of weed fills the air. Like starlings alighting then flitting from telephone wires, groups of young men and women spill in and out of coffeeshops, giggling into the brightness of the street with ash-faced glassy smiles and slanted laughter.

My favourite moments are the ordinary ones, the ones where you begin to see the fabric of the city. The thin man taking out his bins, shuffling in pink Crocs several sizes too small. The old Vinta windsurfing board lashed to someone’s private canal dock, floating daggerboard down on the browned green water, eye level with the small windows. The old woman feeding slices of bread to merganser ducks and shooing the gulls, which, as she told us in Dutch, peck holes in the duck’s heads. The kids’ nursery right next door to prostitutes’ windows. Hookers need childcare too.

Or the guy in the silver Corsa, pumping out quality techno on narrow streets at ten in the morning. Whether it was the acoustics of the alley or the bass of a sound system that seemed outrageous in the context of the car it was fitted in, I swear the whole street were primed and appreciative of that beat drop.

Amsterdam is a city distilled to the fundamental and authentic condensate of human existence. It’s a truth you’ll find equally in the ancient kinky artefacts of the sex museum; in the drawn or hungry faces of the red light district; or in the hazy contentment of the coffeeshops.

One way or another, we all want to get fucked.

We were directionless and delighted by this simple premise, by the simple joy of floating in a river of humanity. We lay on our backs and let the city carry us.

There’s an acclimatisation phase here, much like there is when you go somewhere of high altitude. Your body and mind will feel different, often not quite your own. Accepting this as normality is the key, and once you establish your new baseline, then you can begin to push a bit harder.

So it’s amidst this context that I returned to my hotel last night, diligently firing up YouTube to see Sunset Beach, labouring under the burden of a north swell. Takeoffs were uncertain, sometimes prone. Clean walls were hard to find, end sections ephemeral.

“A waterman’s wave” is the standard refrain of the Sunset Beach apologist, typically a white male aged 50+. And of course it’s a “huge playing field”, or something to that effect, even though the analogy of a playing field would suggest that all sections of the area are amenable to play.

A military analogy might be more fitting, something as simple as a battleground. It’s all technically in play, it’s just that survival is only assured by being in one indistinct and unpredictable place at just the right time. Everywhere else you’ll probably get blown to shit.

I don’t mind it. It doesn’t always make the most exciting heat viewing, but there’s an argument for the slightly chaotic nature of it. The vibe isn’t dissimilar to the straats of Amsterdam, as it happens. When you overlook the oddities, accepting that at any given moment you might feel simultaneously teetering on the edge of control or nirvana, or there could be unpredictable, searing turns at any time, then you can begin to enjoy it.

Anyone can win here, and anyone might lose. When single turns are acceptable currency for mid-high range scores, and single digit heat totals are often enough, sheer circumstance can be all you need.

Kaipo likes to call it a “time bandit”.

Or I should say that Kaipo still, relentlessly, likes to call it a time bandit, even if no-one else ever does and he still needs to explain the analogy every time he says it.

Waves that offered more than two solid opportunities for turns were rare today. Mostly, the day was marked by struggle. There’s little to be done in the way of establishing rhythm at Sunset on days like today. Staccato might be the best you can hope for.

Challenging that notion was Ethan Ewing, who performed the kind of cutback that should make any remaining sceptics nod in quiet acknowledgment, whilst his many acolytes spit in vindicated delight.

His backside rail line drew through the wave face like cheesewire. His body torque was statuesque, back arm high and lightly bent. His connection with the section like that of a watchmaker.

It was a turn that few might have even conceived, and it marks Ewing out not just for his lauded style and approach, but for his reading of water. The foundations beneath a dazzling architecture.

My other major note belonged to Matt McGillivray, another man with the capacity to make heavy water look smooth. An 8.33 was rightfully garnered for two achingly committed turns on his forehand that few could match today. He advanced to the round of 32 alongside heat winner Eli Hanneman, sending the unlikely spectre of Gabriel Medina to the elimination round.

Medina has seemed slightly out of kilter this season so far. The waves he’s had to work with so far in both comps have hardly been conducive to rhythm, but there’s an uncertain flutter in his backhand that caused me some consternation. If he really is carrying as much extra muscle as we’ve been led to believe, these kinks might take a while to iron out. He advanced from the elimination round nonetheless, taking the victory with Sammy Pupo in second place and wildcard Keanu Asing out of the competition and facing a short journey home.

Current yellow jersey Barron Mamiya also faced the elimination round, but also stayed alive by taking the heat win. Fred Morais progressed in second. Both advance at the expense of Kai Lenny, whom you’d think might have been a wildcard in the truest sense on a day like today.

Looking ahead to the forecast and likely cleaner conditions, you’d have to think it’s anyone’s game, providing they can lay a rail and match Sunset’s power with their own. Some barrels were had and scored today, notably Jordy’s 9.33, but this will be a competition decided by turns, ideally performed on closeout sections.

Look to Jordy, Ethan, John. Maybe Connor O’Leary and Ryan Callinan, too. And I’m interested to see what rookie Cole Houshmand might bring to a match-up with Jack Robinson in the final heat of the round of 32.

One man who will not be a threat is Filipe Toledo, shorebound and on sabbatical. He seemed sprightly and mildly regretful in the booth today, joining Turpel and Mendes, perhaps now that the looming shadow of Pipeline is gone.

But he assured us that he will still be surfing, still going on surf trips. And he reminded us he’d done a lot of crying about his decision. Three full days would you believe.

Credit to Turpel, who feinted with opening praise about all the locations Toledo has won, before jabbing with the combo of Pipeline and Teahupo’o as places that have “challenged” him.

“Is that still a fair statement?” Joe hoisted, suddenly shocked at the out of body experience that almost made him ask a real question. “Are you planning on working on your profile for these events?” Turpel followed, retreating into the clammy safety of euphemism once again.

Toledo was typically evasive. “I can’t tell you guys that” he initially responded, before pretending he was joking. As a teacher, I’ve overheard enough conversations between high school boys claiming to have girlfriends in other towns to know the truth behind his mock humour.

But that’s enough Toledo for me. He controls his own fate now. I wish him the best of health and luck, and however it plays out, it’ll be a hell of a story.

Onto the knockout rounds we go with the men who still matter.

Now if you’ll excuse me, now that I’m fully acclimated, I’m off to swirl and spin through the straats of Amsterdam like it’s a platform game.