Filipe Toledo (pictured) essential member of the Brazilian Storm.
Filipe Toledo (pictured) essential member of the Brazilian Storm.

All eyes on Paris Olympics after surf champion Filipe Toledo announces shock year off tour

A rare win-win scenario?

Yesterday, surf fans near and far were stunned when two-time, and sitting, World Surf League champion Filipe Toledo announced that he would be taking the rest of the season off after a poor showing at the just-wrapped Lexus Pipe Pro. Taking to Instagram, the completely dominant small wave surfer declared, “It is with a heavy heart that I announce today that I am withdrawing for the remainder of the 2024 Championship Tour season. This decision has been so hard for me to make, and it comes after days of discussion with those closest to me. The WSL has been very supportive, and I am very grateful that they have granted me the wildcard for the start of the 2025 season. I am committed to coming back better than ever.”

The 2024 season, which Toledo was all but certain to win with the ender at Lower Trestles, now up in the air but also, and much more importantly, the upcoming Paris Olympics. The surfing portion of the Games will be conducted, as you know, at Teahupo’o across the world in French Polynesia and certain to delight. Toledo has already earned his spot to compete for the proud nation of Brazil alongside Joao Chianca.

His bonafides in heavier surf over shallower reef have been somewhat questioned over the years after historic 0.00 heat totals at the aforementioned Place of Broken Skulls as well as Pipeline. Certain internet technicians are even wondering if the fear factor might have played a role in the upcoming mental health break.

Thus far, the Toledo camp has remained mum on whether their man will wave the flag of order and progress or decline his place, which would allow Gabriel Medina to go for gold.

The upcoming decision will be certain to stun surf fans, far and near, once again.

Toledo could keep his place and spend the year training for Teahupo’o, swinging in and winning gold thereby cementing his status as one of the greatest sporting stories ever told.

Nobody doesn’t love a daring comeback tale.

The Miracle over Malaise.

Toledo could, also, selflessly give his perch over to Medina, a stronger competitor at Teahupo’o, putting country above self thus paving a way to a future in politics after his surf career ends.

Equally inspiring.

Do you have an opinion as to which would be better?

Win-win, as far as I’m concerned.


Shaun Tomson, Tel Aviv
Shaun Tomson, Tel Aviv.

Surf icon Shaun Tomson headlines Tel Aviv paddle-out for 26 surfers murdered by Palestinian terrorists

"Pray for this little country and its remarkable people who are in an existential battle for survival against the forces of untruth, propaganda and darkness." 

The wildly beautiful and slickly articulate world surfing champion Shaun Tomson, aristocratic maybe a better way to put it, has headlined a paddle-out in Tel Aviv for the twenty-six surfers murdered in the bloodletting of October 7.

You’ll remember 128 days ago, Hamas commandos and a little later hopped-up civilians went on a wild Jew-killin’ spree in the kibbutzim bordering Gaza, ostensibly as as strike on their Zionist enemy, but also ‘cause Palestinians sure do like killing Hebes.

Little boys and girls shot dead while cowering under tables, families burned in piles, dancers at a music festival gunned down like hogs as they fled the killers, a terrorist rage described as “like ISIS on steroids.” 

And, closer to home I suppose, twenty-six surfers dead.

Yesterday. Shaun Tomson, South African born and part of the Jewish diaspora there, was the surprise guest of honour at a paddle-out to mark and honour, as so beautifully put by Omer Levy from the Shabbat Surf Club “our fallen and murdered surfers and their families the way we do, in our beautiful Mediterranean sea. 

“We remember them and celebrate them with the light they shined on this world and will continue to for generations to come. We are a tribe since our ancestral beginnings, and we will continue to watch over our tribe and find the light that shines ahead. 

“Thank you to all of you that came out and showed your solidarity and support for our tribe, and to the families, friends, and everyone in between who helped make this day so special, and a huge thank to the true legend @shauntomson who traveled all the way to Israel and showed pure love and support to all the people of Israel.”

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by Uri Magnus Dotan (@urimagnus)

Shaun Tomson, sixty-eight, described the day as,

“Emotional… we all counted tighter to 127 for the days the kidnapped hostages have been held by terrorists…pray for this little country and its remarkable people who are in an existential battle for survival against the forces of untruth, propaganda and darkness.”

Shaun added, “Never forget.”


Caity Simmers wins Lexus Pipe Pro
Caity Simmers ain't afraid of Backdoor. | Photo: Brent Bielmann/WSL

Legend of Californian teenager Caity Simmers proven as women set new mark at “world’s most fearsome wave!”

"Whatever professional surfing looks like now or in the future, surfers will always know the names of the best men and women at Pipeline."

“Pipeline for the fucking girls,” said Caity Simmers, eighteen years old, after she won the biggest victory of her career at the Lexus Pipe Pro on Saturday

It was a quote for the ages on a day that made legends. It was one of the best-ever days of women’s surfing, pure and simple. The women set a new mark at Pipeline one of the world’s most fearsome waves. We’ve never seen anything like it in women’s surfing.

Until now.

On the way to victory, Caity displayed her preternatural gift for tube-riding and threaded some deep pits at Backdoor. In the final, she narrowly beat hard-charging Australian Molly Picklum, who posted some of the highest single wave totals of the day. Caity Simmers is now world number one. It’s Caity Simmers’ world and we just live in it.

If you watch one heat from finals day, though, make it the semifinal between 2022 Vans Pipe Pro winner Molly and Hawaiian Bettylou Sakura Johnson. It has all the ingredients: two feisty competitors who are almost evenly matched in skill and firing surf. If you can’t find anything to like here, professional surfing may not be for you.

Going left, Molly opened with a 5.33. Bettylou answered back with a 7.00 at Backdoor. And it was on. The heat was straight fire all the way through to the end. In a notable departure from the past, both women went left and right with equal commitment.

It was a sign of what women’s surfing will look like from now on. It’s no longer enough to get pitted at Backdoor as a regular foot. If you want to win, you’d better go left, too.

And that’s exactly what Molly did on the best wave of the day and arguably the best Pipe wave yet surfed by a woman in competition. On a steep left, Molly dropped from the heavens, suspended in time. Her rail dug into the steep blue face and held. With near-perfect form, she slid behind the lip and disappeared.

As the wave compressed and spit, Molly came flying out. She half-raised her arms in what’s quickly becoming a signature non-claim, as if she didn’t quite believe she’d made it.

Believe it, Molly.

I’m not sure anyone watching the heat needed the replay or the judges’ call to know that was a ten. What else could she have done? It was a stellar ride. And to think at 21, Molly’s still at the beginning of her career.

As the clock ticked down, Bettylou needed an 8.6. It felt like a tall order, but somehow during this heat, everything felt possible. The two women paddled each other back and forth on the peak with neither one willing to back down. Inside the final two minutes, Molly used her priority on a steep, but short Backdoor pit. It didn’t extend her lead. Alone in the lineup, Bettylou had just over 30 seconds remaining.

At 39 seconds, Bettylou found a left and paddled with everything she had. Less strong on her backhand than Molly, the Hawaiian didn’t fully disappear into the barrel. All of the same, it was a hell of a ride under pressure. At 18, Bettylou has barely surfed one full year on the Championship Tour in her career — she missed the cut in 2022 — but it’s already clear she has the head for competition.

Did you think she got the score? The judges, rightly I feel, said no.

What’s wild to imagine is that any one of the scoring waves from Molly and Bettylou’s heat would have won just about any previous women’s heat at Pipe. That’s how far women’s surfing traveled in the space of single day on Saturday. It’s all the more dizzying when we remember that there’s still only been three editions of women’s competition at Pipeline. If this is what it looks like after just three years, well, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.

The final between Caity and Molly promised fireworks.

The Australian has established herself as one of the best Pipe surfers in women’s surfing and posted three of the top five wave scores on Saturday. But Caity Simmers has an extra magic and a rare talent for riding waves that defies easy definition. She seems to see and feel things on a wave that the rest of us will never see or feel. Her surfing is intuitive, unpredictable, and quite simply, insane.

It was the match-up we all anticipated. If the conditions had held up, we’d likely have seen a heat for the ages, but the wind shifted and the swell backed off at the worst possible moment. Instead, the heat came down to back-up scores, which felt anticlimactic. All the same, the two women kept the pressure on all the way to the end. That included a heavy wipe-out from Molly on a solid one at Backdoor.

The best wave of the heat, Molly’s 9.27 at Backdoor was a scorcher with a near-vertical drop into a thick, deep tube. Watching it, I couldn’t see how she — or anyone — could have surfed that wave better. Holy shit, I kept thinking. I’m supposed to be good at words over here, but that’s all I could think. Holy shit, look that drop, look at her fucking go.

After watching John John Florence in the previous heat, Caity Simmers looked impossibly small out in the lineup. According to her WSL bio, she’s 5’3”, and that might be overcalling it, honestly.

Her best wave of the final came at Backdoor. It wasn’t the biggest wave of the heat or even the biggest wave Caity rode that day. Wind texture scarred the face and crumbled the lip. Surfing instinctively, Caity threaded a tricky, technical barrel for 8.83.

As the clocked ticked down, Molly needed a three. After a day where she’d ridden a perfect ten at Pipe, that number felt absurdly small and easily within reach. But it was not to be. Too many close-outs later and the heat was done.

All I could think was how much more those two women had to give in that heat. And it served to confirm what the rest of the day was trying to tell us. At Pipeline, the women are here to stay.

Or, to borrow Caity Simmers’  banger quote, Pipeline for the fucking girls.

Sure, there are still women on the Championship Tour who want nothing to do with big Pipeline. There’s men on the Championship Tour who want nothing to with big Pipe.

And, I think that’s actually fine. “I respect everyone who wants a part of it and I respect anyone who doesn’t want a part of it,” said Caity after the final. Who am I to argue?

But Pipeline will always stand as the storied, pinnacle of surfing. To argue that the wave that’s held surfers in thrall for decades is somehow not relevant or doesn’t matter is absurd. It will always matter. And whatever professional surfing looks like now or in the future, surfers will always know the names of the best men and women out there.

In surfing, it’s the place where legends are made.

It’s taken far too long to get here, but at long last some of those legends will be women. In their post-heat comments, both Molly Pickles and Caity Simmers have paid tribute to the women who came before them, and rightly. It’s taken the concerted efforts of multiple generations of women surfers to take a sledgehammer to the walls that have stood in their way.

Because when all you hear is that girls don’t do it, girls can’t do it, it’s damn hard to go out and do it.

When sponsors pay a premium to the cute bikini models, the girls who want to charge big waves are forced to look elsewhere. When contests take place in knee-high Huntington Beach, the sport is going to select for girls who can surf knee-high Huntington. That’s meant that the girl who could surf the big days may never have even made it to contest surfing. She didn’t see anything there for her.

You have to see it to be it.

We say it all the time in women’s sports, but it’s nothing short of the truth. There are teen girls right now, who watched Caity Simmers and Molly Picklum in that final. What would be like, if I could do that, too? They felt that magical moment of possibility. They could picture themselves out there. They could imagine that it could happen to them. Go get it, girls. Get out there and be it.

And it’s worth remembering that we wouldn’t even be having this conversation without the efforts of women in Hawai’i including Keala Kennelly who pushed for a change in the permitting rules.

When women could no longer be excluded from contests on the North Shore, the door swung open for them. Pipeline could no longer be just for the boys.

Now with three years of heats behind them, the women are coming into their own at Pipe and it’s a joy to watch.

Even better, they’re still just getting started. What we saw on Saturday is the beginning of what promises to be a long and beautiful story of women’s surfing at Pipeline.

And there’s so much more to come. Pipeline is for the girls now, too.


Toledo (pictured) happier times.

In stunning move, surf champion Filipe Toledo announces year off tour for “mental health break”

"Filipe Toledo will receive the 2025 Season Wildcard, which will allow him to compete in the 2025 CT season."

In an absolute shocker, the two-time, and current, World Surf League champion Filipe Toledo has just announced that he will not compete again this year.

Per the press release:

SUNSET BEACH, Oahu, Hawaii, USA (Sunday, February 11, 2024) – Filipe Toledo (BRA), reigning two-time World Champion, today announced his withdrawal from the remainder of the World Surf League (WSL) 2024 Championship Tour (CT) season to take a one-year mental health break from competition.

Filipe Toledo shared insights into his decision in the following statement:

Filipe Toledo quits tour
Filipe Toledo quits tour.

“It is with a heavy heart that I announce today that I am withdrawing for the remainder of the 2024 Championship Tour season. This decision has been so hard for me to make, and it comes after days of discussion with those closest to me. The WSL has been very supportive, and I am very grateful that they have granted me the wildcard for the start of the 2025 season. I am committed to coming back better than ever.

“In the past, I have been honest about some of my challenges not only with injuries, but also with mental health. Competing at the highest level for the past decade has taken a toll on me, and I need a break to recover for the next chapter of my career.

“The platform of the CT has given me everything – it is a dream life that has allowed me to support my family in ways I could never imagine and have incredible experiences. I love this. I live for this. I have so much respect for my fellow competitors, both the men and the women on tour. You guys are amazing.

“I have so much passion for the sport, but I need some time off to fully recover so I can come back stronger than ever. I appreciate the support and loyalty of my family, friends, sponsors, and the WSL. I hope my fans around the world understand this decision and will stick with me when I return to the tour next year. I wish my fellow competitors a great CT season ahead. I will be watching!”

Toledo will receive the 2025 Season Wildcard, which will allow him to compete in the 2025 CT season.

“The commitment and dedication involved in competing at the highest level can be all-consuming,” said Jessi Miley-Dyer, WSL Chief of Sport. “We support Filipe’s decision to prioritize his mental and physical health as he takes a step back. We hope he has the time and space to recover this year and look forward to seeing him back amongst the world’s best via the WSL CT wildcard in 2025.”

The first Brazilian surfer to win back-to-back World Titles, Filipe Toledo earned 17 Championship Tour event wins since first joining in 2013 at the age of 17, four of those victories coming in 2023.

Filipe Toledo’s withdrawal opens the door for Ramzi Boukhiam (MAR) to compete in all the upcoming CT events before the Mid-Season Cut, providing a strong chance for the 30-year-old Moroccan to solidify his position on the CT.

Boukhiam is the first North African surfer to qualify for the CT after he battled for over a decade to earn his spot. Unfortunately, Boukhiam withdrew from the 2023 season after sustaining an ankle injury but was awarded the WSL Replacement slot for 2024.

Filipe Toledo was heavily dragged, at the beginning of the season, for putting on a shameful performance at the Lexus Pipe Pro then pulling out whilst citing phantom food poisoning.

The best small wave surfer in the world has qualified for the 2024 Paris Olympics, which will host the surfing portion at Teahupo’o. It is unclear, as of now, if Filipe Toledo will drop out of that as well.

Or… is, even as I type, the li’l lion Filipe Toledo packing up his Rocky Point home, moving to Tahiti and Googling recipes on lukewarm crow?

More, certainly, as the story develops.


Simmers (left) and Mamiya (right) on top of the world. For now.
Simmers (left) and Mamiya (right) on top of the world. For now.

“Rampant inferno of youth” rages hot as Caity Simmers, Barron Mamiya deliver Pipeline show for the ages!

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.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

A post shared by World Surf League (@wsl)

“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.

Fairytale stuff.

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.