Kelly Slater (insert) with pearls of wisdom for Filipe Toledo.
Kelly Slater (insert) with pearls of wisdom for Filipe Toledo.

Surf great Kelly Slater advises trembling champ Filipe Toledo on how to paddle Teahupo’o

"Teahupo'o is no joke and you've gotta make a decision with yourself..."

Teahupo’o, or Head Place, is in the rearview mirror as the World Surf League’s Championship Tour swings toward Central then South America. Yes, the El Salvador Pro opens its waiting period wide in just four days with the Rio Pro coming directly on its heels. Afterward, though, the cream of the crop will retrace carbon footprints back to Tahiti in order to ready themselves for the Olympic Games.

Now, many of the hopefuls excel “at the end of the road,” their courage and skill just highlighted. Vahine Fierro, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina, Jack Robinson and Ramzi Boukhiam to name but five. Others, like Jordy Smith and Kanoa Igarashi also performed well, showcasing work put in over the years to navigate the terror.

And then there is the case of Filipe Toledo.

The current world surf champion, sitting out the tour this year but still-Olympic bound, was at Head Place just prior to the Pro and felt it a good idea to post an unfinished baby barrel to his social media as proof. Maybe he was unaware of the forecast, that actual waves were coming and they would actually be ridden, providing stark contrast to his efforts. In any case, Toledo’s unwillingness to paddle Teahupo’o has been a major storyline heading into the Olympics. His historic 0.0 heat total and inability to give effort when in a heat with two old-timers legendary. Calls for him to relinquish his spot grew to a roar after countryman Italo Ferreira’s win. Ferreira the odd man out on Brazil’s overstocked squad.

But Toledo has shown no sign of abdicating, defiantly clutching his pearls. Well, one of the aforementioned old-timers, Kelly Slater, who just so happened to reach the quarterfinals in the most recent running, just offered advice to the timid lion. In celebration of week, Slater wrote, “Tahiti has been amazing. The energy, the people, the surf… if you could only bottle it up for everyone to experience. Thanks of all the support and fun this week from family, friends and fans alike.” The 56-year-old then went on to describe his experience and praise those put their heads down before remarking, “Teahupo’o is no joke and you’ve gotta make a decision with yourself if you want it and disregard what the brain is saying at times.”

Screenshot

Certainly easier said than done but also great advice. With under two months remaining until the lighting of the torch will Toledo turn off his brain and become the greatest sporting story ever told or… not? I, for one, am very much cheering for Filipe Toledo, wishing more than anything to be put right in my head place.

He will be surfing against Igarashi in the opening round.

More as the story develops.


Charly Hull (left) John Daly (right) and surfing's great hope Cait Simmers (insert).
Charly Hull (left) John Daly (right) and surfing's great hope Cait Simmers (insert).

All eyes on women’s professional surfing after “female John Daly” discovered in golf

Who in our water world has the potential to rock n roll?

The 2024 World Surf League Championship Tour is well over halfway finished, now, and it is clear that the women are the story of the year. Opening with blistering performances at Pipeline, taking their talents to Snapper (on the Challenger Series, sure, but the Molly P. barrel) and then, of course, Teahupo’o with mesmerizing performances from Tati Weston-Webb, Brisa Hennessy and Vahine Fierro.

Bravos all around though… if I might nitpick… there are no “female John Daly’s” in the crew.

Yesterday, one of those rare gems was discovered in golf. The English linkswoman Charly Hull, currently 8th in the world, was signing autographs outside the U.S. Open earlier in the week, looking relaxed and ripping a grit. John Daly is, of course, famous for maybe being John John Florence’s dad and also smoking, drinking, etc. whilst golfing.

Fans were very impressed, one writing, “Dude she just lit up another in front of me.”

What made it even better, was her golf pal had a pic of Hull hacking, showed it to her and elicited peels of laughter.

Back to our surfing, though. Who in the draw has the potential to rock n roll in this manner? Caity Simmers is a good possible option, what with her expletive-filled celebration after taking the Pipe Masters in January and is just barely old enough to buy a pack of darts though cannot yet legally purchase booze, or at least not in these United States.

Australia’s Tyler Wright a possibility with “feral mongrel bogan” and mullets in her bloodline?

What about Johanne Defay all Gauloises and red wine?

Help before golf buries our cool once and for all!


Lewis Hamilton (pictured) sweating the memory of death.
Lewis Hamilton (pictured) sweating the memory of death.

Lewis Hamilton shares how surf great Kelly Slater almost had him killed while eating hot wings

"Welcome to the Kill Zone, pal."

Now, it must be assumed that race car legend Lewis Hamilton, who drives for the prancing horse, has stared death in the eye many times. Smashing into walls at 160 mph, flipping through the air, being smothered by groupies wishing to drown in his doe-like eyes but apparently those don’t brushes with mortality, or morality as it were, do not even register. For, yet again, the very cute 39-year-old went into detail about his friend, surf great Kelly Slater, and the clammy grip of Davey Jones. You’ll recall previous re-tellings here, here and here.

The latest, though, came as Hamilton was mowing through a plate of hot wings wherein he shared:

Biggest wipeout I had I was with Kelly Slater, on Pipeline. It was like 20ft waves (at Pipeline) and Kelly was like “there’s no way you’re coming out there. You’re crazy.” I turn around and see this set of four waves coming and that for me was like: “it’s over, it’s all over.” As I threw my board, I dove down and grabbed the reef and I could hear this wave crash behind me. My board got ripped and snapped in half. I came back up, obviously gasping for air and the next one was coming so back down, grabbed the reef again as another wave comes over. So I did that three times. I got up, I’d nearly run out of air. I’d nearly drowned, but managed to swim back from there.

Left out from the earlier versions was that Slater had dared him to paddle out. Interesting, I suppose, that this is such a core memory. If I had a dollar for every “almost drowned” story from my Oregon days I’d have probably six dollars.

In any case, how do you feel, generally, about chicken wings. A fan who seeks out various “Wing Wednesday” promotions or someone who scoffs at the waste? Also, if a fan, what is your preferred sauce? I’ll say, for me, it’s really hard to beat straight up original buffalo.

Debate time.


Gabriel Medina, perfect ten, Teahupoo.
Gabriel Medina was perfect. His scores should have been. His best waves could not have been improved. They were critical, they were technical, and they were stylish. A point I’ve often made but bears repeating is that remaining critics of Medina’s style are made to look like dilettantes on days like today. | Photo: WSL/Ed Sloane

Epic Tahiti Pro “as pure a surf competition as can be imagined at this elite level”

“It’s not about surfing. It’s about yourself. It’s not a combat sport. It’s not just competition, it’s joy.”

They’re rare birds, these. Surf contests where there can be no complaints.

I’ll shock you here, surely, with opening by leaning into the words of Kaipo Guerrero.

“It’s not about surfing,” he said. “It’s about yourself. It’s not a combat sport. It’s not just competition, it’s joy.”

And for once – and I do mean once – he was absolutely spot on.

Teahupoo provided the canvas for peak surf contest experience. Competition as art.

And it struck me that this is what we, myself very much included, always get wrong about professional surfing. We feel conflicted by competition. Hundreds of thousands of wave riders see surf competition as the antithesis to their experience.

Endlessly, we grapple with the question: is surfing a sport or an art?

Here, that question was answered. In its best iteration, like we saw on finals day at Teahupoo, it can be a perfect symphony of both.

It was as pure a surf competition as can be imagined at this elite level. Relentless perfect waves testing the limits of the combatants skill and commitment. Each man standing at the threshold of a life’s dedication to surfing, their love laid bare in front of the world.

The competition format adds an extra edge, just another layer of consequence. I would have scant interest in watching a freesurf here. And if it seems a little arbitrary that someone wins or loses, remember human beings are killers at heart. Competition is evolutionary necessity.

(Spare a thought for Filipe Toledo, watching somewhere, but through a veil of dark torment too awful to comprehend.)

The Teahupoo amphitheatre is unmatched. The proximity of the channel must make for one of the most compelling experiences in all of sport. Gladiatorial combat laced with love. Each man wants to win, but equally celebrates the wins of their rivals.

The fans, so close they feel the ferocity of spit in their mouths and hearts, are rapt by performances that will echo throughout the rest of their lives.

I wondered how many of the local kids, floating on boards in the channel, might cite this in years to come.

To be hyper-critical, splitting waves of surfer’s lives by a point in the range between nine and ten at times did seem a little trite. How can you value experience like this? Are any of the multiple nine point plus rides we saw at Teahupoo objectively better than the others? Fuck, give them all tens.

Except they didn’t.

Are they short of YETI coolers? Some judges seemed conscious of this. Only one ten point ride was awarded in men’s competition, to Gabriel Medina, despite several judges including tens in scores where their compatriots saw high nines. Split hairs and little consequence, perhaps, but it would’ve been nice to see a couple more for waves that I’d struggle to imagine bettered.

There were too many superb moments to distil into one comp report. In many ways, a report diminishes it. So how to parse it? It seems wrong to pit one man against another when all were great, so let’s deal with those who stood out to me individually.

First, as appropriate, Kelly Slater.

Honestly, I was pulling for a Slater win. If he was to get the Hollywood ending he deserves, it might have been here. For a moment, it looked like it could be.

In his round of 16 match-up with Ethan Ewing he was ageless. Kaipo wondered if he was a sorcerer. I found myself raising an eyebrow and nodding my head. Somehow, it didn’t sound beyond reason.

He held a 9.73 for a wave that remains one of the best of the entire competition, and holds a worthy place in the canon of his Teahupo’o mastery. But lacking a back up, he was behind Ethan Ewing.

With two minutes on the clock both men had lost their boards and were being plucked from the maelstrom by the Tahitian Water patrol.

There were just 59 seconds on the clock when Kelly retrieved a new board from his caddy, Glen Micro Hall, and began to sprint paddle back to the line-up.

At 22 seconds the volume in the channel started to swell as a wave reared. The kind of wave that Kelly has seemed to conjure for decades in crucial moments.

At 15 seconds he stood up, threaded a small but technical tube and kicked out as the horn blew.

He’d only needed a 4.44, and there was no question it was enough.

The fairytale shimmered before our eyes and his.

But in the end, it was just a shimmer. Kelly would lose to Ramzi Boukhiam in the quarter final in a heat where no-one had cause for complaint. Slater held the lead for most of it, but Boukhiam’s 9.80 late in the match-up was deserved and decisive.

Boukhiam was a clear stand out yet again.

“Ramzi legit. Already a vet. Favourite rookie in some time,” I noted early in the comp. I think I’ve written more or less that exact note at nearly every comp so far.

Obviously he’s not strictly a rookie, having been injured before Pipe on what would’ve been his rookie season. But he’s nothing if not an anomaly. At thirty years old and surfing his first full year on Tour, by logic he should be a prototypical journeyman, but that couldn’t seem further from the truth. There’s a composure about him, a panache. Not to mention the deep aura of a man who has made love to a thousand beautiful women and broken the hearts of a thousand more.

Another man with the capacity to catch the heart of guard and blow it open was and always will be Gabriel Medina. His performances at Teahupoo were once again transcendent. He did not win the competition, but for me he was the standout on a day when everyone stood out.

Two near-perfect heat totals of 19.83 and 18.96 perhaps evidence this claim, but really you need to witness the intangible power of Medina in waves like this.

He was perfect. His scores should have been. His best waves could not have been improved. They were critical, they were technical, and they were stylish. A point I’ve often made but bears repeating is that remaining critics of Medina’s style are made to look like dilettantes on days like today.

The one shadow of disappointment was that his semi match-up with Florence was not the iconic heat it perhaps should have been. But that notion should be evaporated in the context of the day. And it was nearly very different.

After a slight lull and a start where both men paddled each other a little too deep, the heat was restarted. Medina’s eventual first wave was a whisper away from perfection. Just losing his balance on the exit, he was dragged over the reef and lost in the melee of whitewater as the next wave broke. The Tahitian Water Patrol seized him, seemingly from underwater. Clearly dazed but smiling still, his vest was round his shoulders and his back bloodied.

Florence won and justly so. His eighteen point total, including a near-perfect 9.77, exhibited the sort of mastery we expect from John in conditions like this, but in a way that almost demeans his skill.

Everyone is impressed when John performs, but no-one is surprised. As a competition surfer, this has often been an Achilles Heel not of his own making. When you’ve long been anointed the Messiah, no-one is shocked when you perform god-like acts, but only when you don’t.

However, sometimes the weight of expectation is enough. It would be remiss of me not to mention wildcard Mihimana Braye, whom I believe deserved the score in the final seconds of his match-up with Florence that would’ve turned it in his favour. But John squeaked through by just 0.14pts. Perhaps it was too close to call, or perhaps people just wanted to see more of John surfing.

But in the end he lost the final to Ferreira by less than a point, even though that differential doesn’t reflect the authority Italo stomped on the heat from the beginning.

An 8.93 and an 8.77 on his first two waves left Florence chasing throughout. John very nearly got it with a 9.33 near the end, but it would’ve been theft.

Italo Ferreira was in a rhythm that we haven’t seen since the heady days of 2019. The days when he never looked like falling, just as today. He was perhaps not anyone’s pick to win here, but perhaps his credentials in heavy waves have been forgotten in the past few years of tweaked out interviews, roid rages and airs into the abyss.

Today he was calm. All that speed and stray voltage was contained and unleashed at exactly the right moments to give him command over the most beautiful terrifying wave in the world, and it was gratifying to see him back on top, happy again.

John Florence heads to El Salvador as the number one, Italo jumps eleven places to number five. Suddenly, both look like they could take another world title, even at Trestles.

Teahupoo 2024 was a salivating prelude to the Olympics as well as a contest for the ages, and that’s felt like a long time coming.

And although the vagaries of weather and the universe are such that these days are seldom seen, that seems appropriate to the surf experience at large.

Is it worth pursuing something even if the moments of beauty are so rare they might as well be dreams?

Today, I think yes. Tomorrow this may fade.

But today. Today it’s enough.


Tatiana-Weston Webb, ten point ride at Teahupoo, Tahiti.
And somehow, seemingly out of nowhere, she got it. I have no idea where that ride came from. This is the girl who just three years ago went straight on every wave. Look at her now, throwing down on one of the bigger waves of the heat. Stalling perfectly off the take-off, Tati took a highline, disappeared entirely, and came out celebrating. That was a wave to claim, if there ever was one. It was a 10 across the board.

Tatiana Weston-Webb surprise hit of Tahiti Pro as gals go nuclear, “Three years ago she went went straight on every wave”

In just three years, look how far the women have come at Pipeline and Teahupoo, the world’s most frightening and difficult waves.

Are you changing your mind? Should I put my pants back on?

We were standing on the beach staring at the uninspiring sea. My partner in bad decisions was having second thoughts about paddling out. It was small and onshore. So, a typical California afternoon. No? Yes? No? And they say girls are indecisive. We did paddle out, because that’s what we do. If we stop paddling out every time it’s bad, what’s left?

I think a lot about the vast yawning chasm of difference between every day surfing in California and surfing as it appears on Instagram and in video clips. On Instagram, it’s never cold or onshore. There’s no marine layer clinging to the bluffs and drenching the parking lot. It’s always sunny, warm, and epic. That difference feels all the more intense after watching contest surfing in excellent waves.

For that is exactly what we got to do this week when the Championship Tour went to Teahupoo. On one of the best days yet of women’s contest surfing — and I do wonder how many more times I will type that phrase before we’re through here — Vahine Fierro won the Shiseido Tahiti Pro in beautiful, monstrous Teahupo’o. It was a day of fear and glory both, as the women pushed themselves and their sport to new levels. Tahiti est pour les femmes.

Let’s not linger overly long on the opening rounds here, though I feel I should not ignore them entirely. I did love Sawyer Lindblad’s 9.43 and her grommishly exuberant claim on the exit. This was Sawyer’s first trip to Teahupo’o, and to make a wave like that is one hell of an accomplishment. Her inexperience caught up with her in the quarterfinals, but Sawyer will surely be back.

Notably, former world number one Caity Simmers lost in the elimination round, after facing Vahine in the opener. Often the wildcard is a walk-through for the top seed, but not this time. Vahine won the heat with a 9.33 and a 6.80. No slouch, Caity went 7.67 and 6.50, but it wasn’t enough to slide straight through to the quarters. The loss sent her to the elimination round where she drew Sawyer.

It was a winnable heat for Caity and she took an early lead. After falling on two scoring waves, though, she lost. She said on Instagram later that she wanted to break a plate after losing that heat. It’s not surprising. Caity’s very self-aware and she knows she beat herself there. In her second year on Tour, she’s still learning how to thrive as a contest surfer. Expecting her to carry the entire weight of women’s surfing on her shoulders is hardly fair.

The quarterfinals opened inauspiciously as five-time world champion Carissa Moore blew a take-off and took a solid slam. It spooked her and she never recovered her poise. Carissa doesn’t love these big, hollow lefts, though she’s traveled a fair distance toward learning how to surf them. The consequences of it all going wrong seem to haunt her. Fear is the companion of everyone out there. The trick is figuring out how to do it anyway. Carissa lost with a pair of 4’s, while Brisa went through with a 7 and a 5.

For her part, Brisa has figured it out. In the past, she struggled to make sense of Teahupoo, despite spending time at Cloudbreak. That’s behind her now. On Wednesday, Brisa showed a massive leap in performance that took her all the way to the final.

It’s true that Brisa had an easy draw. In their semifinal, Caroline wanted nothing to do with the growing swell and safety-surfed to a mid-3. Caroline’s now into the top five in the rankings and can win Trestles. No reason to risk it. Brisa, meanwhile, didn’t take it easy and pulled into a deep one for a 7.90.

On the other side of the draw, Vahine readily dispatched Molly Picklum. Unlike her stellar performance at Pipe in February, Molly never really got started at Teahupo’o this time around. The lineup looked like a foreign country to her, and in five waves, she had five non-makes. Tyler Wright, meanwhile, had better luck, but couldn’t get past a hard-charging Tati West.

Surely, Tati was the surprise of this finals day. Three years ago when the women first competed at Teahupoo, I’m pretty sure Tati went straight on every wave she attempted. I remember being surprised by how lost she was out there after growing up in Kaua’i and surfing frontside. Since then, she’s done the work. In a close heat, she thew down an 8.50 to beat Tyler.

That victory set up one of the best ever heats in women’s surfing. In their semifinal, Vahine and Tati went all in. If you have any love at all for women’s sports — or for surfing — watch this heat. Together, they rode 12 waves. There’s a perfect ten and a wave that likely should have been a ten. This heat had it all.

The wind was on it, and the swell was filling in. The heat opened with a solid set and both Tati and Vahine got the worst of it. Tati pulled in to the first wave of the set, but didn’t make it out. Then the second one gave her a beating. In the meantime, Vahine got lipped trying to duck dive and monster outside. Both women got hammered. It wasn’t the beginning either one wanted.

Unfazed by the drilling, Vahine slotted into her first barrel of the heat for an 8. She took a beautiful high line off the take-off, slipped under the lip, and rode it out. Vahine brings a rare grace to this place. Watching her surf that first wave, it seemed impossible that anyone left in the draw could beat her.

In fact, Tati trailed for much of the heat. With around 20 minutes to go, Vahine bobbled a take-off, got smashed, and broke her board. But Tati only had a 2 and a 3, and it still felt like Vahine’s heat to lose. Inside 15 minutes to go, Vahine scored another 8, while Tati’s best score was only a mid-5. It looked all over.

Then just outside five minutes to go, it all went insane. Vahine got clipped by the lip on an exit and took a beating. Tati swung into a bigger, steeper wave. It wasn’t a long barrel, but she made it. Still behind, she now had a six on the board. You could see Tati’s confidence grow. But she needed a 10.

And somehow, seemingly out of nowhere, she got it. I have no idea where that ride came from. This is the girl who just three years ago went straight on every wave. Look at her now, throwing down on one of the bigger waves of the heat. Stalling perfectly off the take-off, Tati took a highline, disappeared entirely, and came out celebrating. That was a wave to claim, if there ever was one. It was a 10 across the board.

The clock showed three minutes and counting. To win, Vahine needed an 8.01. The ocean delivered. On a wave that matched Tati’s in size, Vahine went from deep, pumped hard in the barrel, and made it out clean. It was a technical and brilliant ride, and it’s hard to see how she could have surfed it better. With next to nothing left on the clock, the scores dropped, a 9.63. Vahine won it.

As is sometimes the case, the final felt like an anticlimax. And that’s no shade on Brisa. Surfing backside, she threw down a 5.00 and a 7.00. But it wasn’t enough to beat the local girl. With her friends and family celebrating in the channel, Vahine became the first Tahitian to win at Teahupo’o. Brisa now sits at the top of the rankings, just 40 points ahead of Caity.

Let’s return here at the end to Caity. A month or so ago, I was writing a profile story about her. I had used the obvious comparison to Dane Reynolds a few too many times, I felt. I wondered if there was anyone in women’s surfing who might serve as a good analogy. I was thinking of someone like Margo Oberg who charged heavy Sunset in the 1970’s.

So, I messaged Matt Warshaw.

There was no one, Matt said. At least, there wasn’t anyone in pro surfing. If there was a Caity in the the past eras of women’s surfing, she was hanging around her local scene, getting barreled and ripping. Outsiders never knew her name and they never saw her surf.

“Caity gets to be who she is in a way that women surfers couldn’t in the past,” Matt said.

Though Caity Simmers wasn’t a player on this finals day, Matt’s comment neatly captures the reality of women’s surfing. All this time, there might have been women getting barreled and we never had the chance to see them. There was never space for them to surf big waves and to explore new places and to push their boundaries.

There wasn’t space for them to thrive.

Now, the opportunity is there and surfing is infinitely better for it. In just three years, look how far the women have come at Pipeline and Teahupoo, some of the world’s most frightening and difficult waves. Somewhere, a girl saw Tati’s barrel and she knows for sure that she wants to surf exactly like that when she grows up. Tahiti is for the girls now, and there’s no going back.