Roxy Pro and the Gallic Game of Thrones
The sea is steaming in the pallid pre-dawn and yesterday’s swell is holding in. It’s cold again, but at least today I’m dressed for it. As I walk towards the event site a wraith in black carrying a board plastered with sponsors’ logos ghosts across the road in front of me, with attendant camera and support crew close behind. Jordy’s up for the dawnie, and he’s soon joined by the rest of surfing’s elite.
It never fails to amaze me how swell affects different beaches in different ways. If I saw that there was one metre of swell predicted for my local coastline, I’d hesitate before setting the alarm for the dawn raid, but here at La Graviere it’s a whole different scenario. One metre here converts to steam train overhead shorebreak barrels - lefts - that only those gathered here today could possibly make.
That’s at high tide, anyway. Like all beach breaks, it’s highly tide-dependent, and the tides in this part of the world are pretty big. In the time it took me to set up my laptop and make a coffee, the outgoing tide has exposed the sandbank that the waves had been breaking on and a peak emerged to the north, where perfect rights were suddenly peeling back towards us, each one getting surgically disfigured by this pro or the other.
Stu’s comments from yesterday’s report seemed to imply that the Swellnet audience is one that enjoys a bit of nostalgia - which I read to mean 'older'. Fair enough, I’ve got enough grey in my beard to appreciate nostalgia, but I’ve decided to throw in a few popular culture references in today’s report, to try to appeal to you young’ns out there.
If it was a character from Game of Thrones, La Graviere would be Jaqen H'ghar - the faceless man. Turn your back on it for a second and suddenly it’s unrecognisable. That’s the biggest challenge for the surfers in the water; the wave they won their last heat on will not be the one that they’ll ride in the next. They’re constantly having to change their approach and recalibrate their thinking throughout the competition.
And like Game of Thrones - if you’ll allow me to stretch an already tenuous analogy - everyone here wants to rule. The beach will be littered with the dead by the end of the episode.
The men’s event was once again called off, so they kicked off by running the women’s Round Three. First ones in the water were Bianca Buitendag, Steph Gilmore and Carissa Moore. Wait, what? Steph and Carissa again, so soon? The way this draw works is a mystery to me. I suppose I could take a moment and analyse it, but that sounds like work, so I’ll just remain mystified as to how two of the best surfers in the world can meet twice in the first three rounds of a contest, and they'd also met again in the quarter finals - three times in five rounds.
Bianca, having seen yesterday’s bloodbath, sensibly paddled south to the next peak and left the other two to their rivalry. Carissa kept busy and racked up some decent scores, but it took only two waves for Steph to come out on top again and head straight for the quarters, again only by the narrowest of margins.
Sally Fitzgibbon came into this comp looking scary focussed, but if there’s anyone who won’t be intimidated by Sally’s steel-eyed glare, it’s Silvana Lima. They came up against each other in the second heat - again - alongside young Australian Keely Andrew and it was a cracker. The lead see-sawed throughout and it was all Sally-Silvana-Sally-Silvana, then right at the end Keely picked off a nice little right and snagged an 8. Sally managed a final score for the heat win, and, like Steph before her, moved straight to the quarters.
Tyler Wright made it comfortably through her heat against “local hope” (she’s from Reunion Island) Johanne Defay and Aussie Bronte Macaulay. Micro Hall laughed off my suggestion that the knee brace was just a clever ruse they cooked up to put the competition at ease, but the way she’s moving, you’ve got to wonder.
Round 4 was where the bloodletting began and just like that, some of our favourite characters were gone. As in Round 2, Carissa’s approach was clinical. A knife to the gut followed by a blade across the throat and Silvana’s corpse floated in to shore. Bianca Buitendag, an injury replacement for the absent Laura Enever, spent her heat inflicting multiple injuries on her opponent Keely Andrew, who will go home with another 9th on her tally.
On paper Courtney Conlogue’s heat against Bronte Macaulay was a fairly one-sided affair and, despite Bronte’s best efforts, it went pretty much to script. Bronte’s dad Dave probably has some interesting tales from the golden age of French contests, but for now he and Bronte will be focussing on consolation and consolidation ahead of the season closer at Honolua Bay. Malia Manuel was the last woman standing in the final heat of the round, to the devastation of the French contingent in the media box.
As Pottz said in the webcast, the Steph-Carissa tally ended up 2-1, but Carissa won the one that counted. Steph will be kicking herself all the way to Maui for falling off her opening wave, because her title hopes effectively went out the window when Carissa pulled out a 9.1 in the last 45 seconds of their quarter final. Off with her head!
Bianca did everything she could to put a serious dent in Sally’s title chase, including smashing the heat’s highest score, but surfing’s Arya Stark was having none of it. A girl wants nothing… but the crown. The battle of the Californians was a compelling affair, with Lakey Peterson’s air reverse at the start of the heat enough to leave Courtney’s title chase in disarray.
It wasn’t just my imagination; Tyler looked like she strained that knee on her first wave, which she rode all the way to the beach. Ronnie agreed with me on the webcast, so it must be true. It didn’t stop her from ending Malia’s run in this event though. Actually, when I think about it, Tyler’s probably got more in common with Arya Stark than Sally, but I think I’ve pushed that barrow right to the edge of the cliff and tipped its load of shit off the edge, so I’ll just leave it there for today.
If the forecast is accurate, they probably won’t run again until Wednesday or Thursday, so until then…