Surfer In Blue
The clock was running down. Surfer in blue’s lead was slender so his priority needed to be used wisely. Surfer in red required a seven-something, and among the quality waves rolling in for finals day, such a score was findable under priority.
Priority. Surfer in blue weighed up the word. In this case it meant first refusal, the right to block an opponent. It was something he’d tripped up on a few times over the years, his name now loosely synonymous with self-sabotage at inconvenient moments.
When he’d come on to the scene as a prodigy over a decade ago, he’d been talked up as a future title threat, and had some serious sponno dollars thrown his way as a result. He was stoked to be taken along for the ride. Paid to surf, epic crew to travel with, epic global network of mates. Surfer in blue honoured his good fortune by riding the sweet spot between the obligations of professional diligence and – how would you put it – fun, enjoyment, pleasure. It had worked out well enough. He might never have scored a big win, and the world-title-talk petered out a few years into his run, but his ranking was rarely in double figures, he’d figured in more quarters and semis than he could remember, came within a bees’ dick in a final or two, and no-one ever wanted to see him on their side of the draw.
The last year or so, though, no denying it, he was on the slide, and he found himself musing more often on the reality of life after competition. By any objective measure, he knew he’d be OK: he’d cleared the mortgage on a nice joint just a block back from his home beach; the sponsors he’d stuck with forever would still help out, (albeit with a couple of zeros shaved off from the heyday payday era), and there was no shortage of mates with established businesses he’d be able to get work with.
But despite the gentle landing that awaited – the chance to get that long-promised family started with his girl, surf beloved home waters – the idea of dropping off tour still sat uncomfortably. And so, here, with two minutes on the clock, the chance to get past the quarters for the first time all year … vault up the rankings into something close to safety. Just got to use that priority wisely. Make it count.
Priority. He can’t stop the word bouncing around in his mind. If ‘priority’ is the chance to block an opponent, what does that make ‘priorities’, then? Is it just a plural term? Repeated blocking tactics? A succession of denials?
If he’s honest with himself, he’s been wondering about priorities lately, both his own and those of the generous machine that’s facilitated his livelihood. Maybe he’s just getting jaded as his star fades, but the cheeky messages from webcast-watching mates back home – jabs he used to deflect easily are now starting to land. They’re usually phrased as rhetorical questions, but he can’t help wrestling with the implications of the answers.
“How’s that ‘Ultimate Surfer’ bullshit?”
“Greenwash ‘Clean Oceans’ one ad, Oakberry plastic crap the next? Seriously mate?”
“How is it they’ll show some pros picking plastic out of a net then they’ll run replays of another pro destroying his board like it’s some kind of heroic act? Are they completely tone deaf or just stupid?”
Petty sniping, sure, a mix of keeping-ya-grounded piss-taking laced with a dash of jealousy – and what commercial enterprise is free of ethical compromises anyway? … But … the bullshit was there. And he’d been complicit, part of this glamorous troupe, circling the stops with a vaguely stated vision to ‘grow the sport’, implying that this would … ahhh … improve the world somehow?
The tour provided great entertainment and moments of peerless sporting drama, it was a marvel of quiet, co-ordinated effort, it was many good things to many people. And to be fair, almost every other pro sport groans under a similar burden of bullshit – but he’d always thought surfing should somehow be above all that, so rightly or wrongly, the spin rankled him.
He wondered if a definition of priority could mean more than just relentless self advancement.
Surfer in red was in a panic as the last minute counted down. He sprinted up the point, knowing surfer in blue had him snookered anyway.
With ten seconds to go, a sneaky one popped up for surfer in red, an unlikely gift demanding to be unwrapped. He spun, stroked and lunged as the double-up heaved on the bank. He slotted deeply and raced towards surfer in blue, who simply had to assert his priority by taking off, forcing surfer in red to straighten out into ninth place, and spirit our lad to a career-extending semi.
Surfer in red rode with resignation, knowing the tactical drop-in was coming, and not begrudging surfer in blue for using his priority. It’s just how it goes.
Not so for surfer in blue. Looking into the pit, he could see surfer in red was in a really good barrel. A sparkling mid-morning gem, ridden with a virtuosity 99 percent of surfers could only dream about. An almost sacred moment. How could anyone drop in and ruin such a thing? The thought of such a transgression transmitted around the globe on the webcast – accepted and even feted as ‘what you gotta do’ – galled him.
Surfer in red almost fell off his board, such was his puzzlement at being allowed to ride on unmolested, but emerge from the tube he did, before belting a few hammers down the line to easily get the win.
The boys in the booth called it the tactical blunder that sank a career, but our fella knew he’d finally regained the priority that counted, and that was a satisfying win for surfer in blue.
// DING ALLEY
Like some unremarkable comet, Ding Alley – writerer Gra Murdoch and ‘toonist David @maccatoons McArthur – shone dimly for Swellnet a few years back, alternating between piss-takes of the then-Covid-ravaged pro tour, and dispatches from Barry Cornell’s hometown of Toonalook. Mercifully their contest ‘reportage’ has since been replaced by the work of an accomplished and knowledgeable writer, and an out of court settlement with Mr Cornell’s surprisingly high-powered team of litigators is forthcoming.