Proved, once again, that only an arena like Pipeline should be considered as having the gladiatorial potential to decide world titles.
Our time here is measured by a clock of blood. A maddening metronome of existence.
How to best use our time is the question that drives us.
Is it enough to do one thing? What will that be? How long will it take? And will the time you pour into it, the hours and days and years pounding in that clock of blood, will they be worth it in the end?
“I wish I could make the argument that a river/and a sunset plus a calm disregard of the ego/are enough,” begins Jim Moore’s poem, Fear and Love.
I’ve kneaded these lines over and over. Whipped and folded and tossed them. And then left them to sit, in the vain hope they crystallise into an argument I can make. Because I want to believe the simple things are enough, I really do.
But they aren’t. Not for most of us.
Nothing‘s ever enough. Not wealth or love. Not beauty or success.
There are only moments. Snapshots in your mind that might assemble into a loose collage of hope. Imperfect, fragmented.
And there are days. Days when you can believe there’s something worth pursuing. Your enemies or addictions, meeting your dreams head on in a cacophony of bliss.
There are even days when the frivolity of surfing competition becomes something worth remembering. Something transitory yet beautiful, moments that might live forever but will never be repeated.
Today was one of those days.
Today was held by the rampant inferno of youth. Men and women at the aching threshold of desire, untainted by the weight of lived experience.
As per my brief, I don’t often mention the women, but today I can’t not.
We witnessed surfing history today. We witnessed a quantum leap in women’s surfing.
If the best the WSL can do is have Felicity Palmateer and Laura Enever giggle through it, or have it lost in the mush of Turpel’s neverending stream of superlatives, then let’s recognise it unequivocally here.
Today a line was drawn in the sand of Ehukai Beach Park. On one side exists all that has gone before in the history of women’s professional surfing; on the other stands Caitlin Simmers and Molly Picklum.
The performances of these two girls, one just eighteen, the other twenty-one, were nothing short of era defining. For those on the other side of this line it might well be a chasm. The distance between the women we saw today and everything that has gone before has never seemed so vast.
“Pipeline for the fuckin’ girls,” were Simmers’ first words following her victory.
Whether it had political, pointed intent or was simply the flaming impetuousness of youth and adrenalin hardly matters, but it certainly functioned as both.
As a political statement it was note perfect. Put us into these waves, it said. Stop mollycoddling us. Stop paying lip service to equality yet holding us down at every turn. Stop pretending we’re equal to the men but sending us out in substandard conditions. Give us proper waves, proper Pipe. Forget all you think you know about women’s surfing.
Let us fuckin’ show you what the girls can do!
She’ll probably get fined, such as things are within the staid, puritan idiocy of the WSL, and once again they’ll bite the hand that feeds them.
If they were wise, they’d realise that these girls, Picklum and Simmers in particular, are heroes of a new age. They should do everything in their power to give them the stage they deserve.
As for the men, they put on a decent show, too.
You might argue that such a spectacular finals day means that the WSL are vindicated. That the litany of gaffes and fuck-ups that led us here – cancelling the competition because it was “too big”, sending men and women out in paltry conditions – can be swept under the rug.
Competition ended as a resounding success at the final hour, right? Phew. Wipe the sweat from our brow and move on the next one, all is forgiven.
But you’d be wrong.
Everything that happened today was in spite of the WSL. It was a day carried by the athletes and the waves. A day marked by the unextinguished, undeniable verve of youth, dreams and commitment.
If anything, all today did was gaslight the WSL in their fumblings of this shimmering sport they so often conspire to dullness.
It proved once again that only an arena like Pipeline should be considered as having the gladiatorial potential to decide world titles.
As a venue for elite competition, Lower Trestles looks like a limp joke next to Pipeline. Having it conscripted to the front of the schedule where the reigning world champion can opt out is criminally inadequate and certainly doesn’t serve the fans, nor the athletes willing to commit to the world’s most challenging waves.
It proved that the very best athletes, the ones with the power to carry sports leagues, want to be challenged. Mamiya was vocal in his displeasure of not being allowed to compete on the day that never was. I’m certain Florence wanted to surf.
And on evidence of today, I’m absolutely certain the two women’s finalists would have too. The best of the best want the big days, the wild days, the challenging days. To deny them this is an egregious failure of duty.
But it’s true that at least today the production, the punditry, all of it was dulled to an unobtrusive hum amidst the blaze of young athletes at their zenith.
It’s also true that the right men were in the final, but aside from the Florence vs Fioravanti quarter, all the match-ups were shamefully one-sided.
Barron Mamiya tripled the score of Jordy Smith in their quarter final. He more than doubled the score of Connor O’Leary in the semi. Two of his throwaway scores, 7.83 and 8.50, would have beaten O’Leary’s heat total of 7.43.
John Florence steamrollered Ian Gentil in the other semi, 16.10 vs 7.16. It never looked like a competition.
Fine, it happens. Especially when guys are in rhythm with a place they know so well, as Mamiya and Florence were. But you can’t help feeling cheated that we didn’t get to see battles against the likes of Robinson and Medina, denied the opportunity because of the decision not to run the competition on the best day.
In the final, Mamiya took the win against Florence with a perfect score in his sixteen point total. It must’ve been a dreamlike scenario for the local prodigy. A ten-point ride at your local break, against the incumbent local legend.
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“Without John, I wouldn’t be who I am,” said Mamiya graciously.
“I’ve watched John surf out here every single day. Watching him is how I learned to get barrelled. I give him lots of credit for the way I surf.”
Several times he said of his ten: “I didn’t think I was coming out.”
He had slipped into that magic realm that only he can return to, and only in the soft grip of dreams. Moments that will never abandon him.
It had taken a long time to get here, Mamiya said.
At just twenty-four years old I might refute his concept of time, and he can’t possibly know enough. But this was followed by prescience, and the recognition that moments are all we have, all that we can hold. “I’ll never forget this day for the rest of my life,” he said. “These moments are the ones that’ll live forever.”
Caitlin Simmers seemed even more tuned into this sense.
“This is always the weird part,” she said. “You’re like, oh you did it and now what?”
And in this lies the beautiful tragedy of life.
Mamiya and Simmers have already achieved their dreams, but the dreams must keep expanding. Even though they’ve reached heights we never will, it still won’t be enough.
They’ll still wake up tomorrow and need something to pursue, just as we will. Otherwise, what are we doing here?
John Florence knows this. He didn’t state explicitly that winning a world title was deflating, but that was the clear subtext. When he became champion, he realised it was the process of getting there he missed. You became addicted to this process, he seemed to suggest. You love the moments, not the outcome.
I think we’re always looking for truth. Even in a sport happening on the other side of the world, in a context and level most of us will never understand, finding threads of universal truth is important.
Even John Florence hears the clock of blood.
Today the ticking may have been interrupted by youth and fire and dreams. But tomorrow, for Simmers, for Mamiya, and for us, it will only get louder.