There are several good reasons to set your alarm for 4:45am: setting out to scale a peak in time for sunrise; taking the chitluns to swim squad training; sharing pre-dawn Superbank with 30 others instead of the usual 300 caaarrnts.
Peeling out of bed in time for kick-off at the Woz’s Rumble At The Ranch, well that’s a different matter hey.
Your Ding Alley reporterer will confess to a fairly pathetic addiction to watching Surf Comp webcasts. They have a strange hold over me. Maybe I’m chasing those initial highs I felt as a grom: being dropped off at Bells to watch superhero MR swoop the Bowl; being excused from dinner early on Sunday to watch ‘Surfabout’ on tele; pretending to do homework with a surf mag tucked under my folder, that kind of stuff.
So you’d think I’d bounce out of bed amping for this Rumble thing, (especially considering our last hit of webcastery was the Sydney Surf Pro back in early March) but really, this morning is more a case of mild and morbid curiosity, to see how lame it’s gonna be, along with the hope the Woz will land a few dopamine punches on this sad old addict.
Because that’s the thing with the Ranch. You DO know what you’re gonna get. What made the tank so astonishing and remarkable when it was unveiled back in 2015 – the sheer length and perfection of the wave – has drained the colour and contrast out of the competitive spectacle.
Remember the hoo-ha – around the time Sophie Goldschmitt took the helm – about how this was gonna be some kind of tipping point for pro surfing? Schedulable broadcast times! The element of luck and chance removed! A level playing field! Perhaps a Tokyo tank in time for the 2020 Olympics! Some kind of legitimacy!
All those grand-sounding objectives, but no-one really seeming to ask why in hell you’d want to go there.
Anyway, no Tokyo tank got built, COVID came along and tore the planet a new one, the Olympics got iced, which is kind of a shame because the surf in the Chiba Prefecture was a steaming pile of shite in the window when Olympic glory would have been on the line.
So here we are, 5.00am Eastern Standard Time. Let’s rumble. The familiar tones of Joe Turpel flood through the headphones and hit the dopamine receptors on my brain and I can’t help but be a little excited - old habits and all that.
But by the time Joe opens with, “It’s a Co-Ed Format with an Incredible Heavy-Hitting Tag-Team Format”, with the enthusiasm of a proud father announcing the gender of his just-born child, I remember we’re all gonna have to suffer a little for our comp fix.
Predictably, we have the song and dance around the Ranch’s COVID precautions, including (if I heard right) the statement that all competitors have ‘masks back on when not competing’– which is demonstrably not the case – and there’s talk of the quarantine all surfers went through etc. I’m sure the Woz ticked all the boxes here, but am a little puzzled about the length of quarantine honorary Oz gal Lakey Peterson went through, given she flew out of Oz first of this month. Perhaps exemptions from the customary fortnight were granted, given the Ambassadorial status many pro surfers have these days.
OK, so Phil Toledo blows the first wave of the day, which sets the pattern – the rights are cursed affairs for the fellas almost all day long. It’s a good reminder of both how these guys really are surfing on the knife’s edge, and how demanding it actually is to compete at the elite level.
My notes read that Phil looks to have enjoyed his time away from the tour, that he’s no longer the whippet-lean elasto kid, and that perhaps he’s the kind of surfer who might struggle to get back into the competitive space. Which goes to show what a shit observer of surfing I am, given that in a few hours’ time Phil singlehandedly saves the day from total mediocrity.
Ah, here’s Pete Mel, Professor of the Screaming Obvious. Nice to see him though, and here’s Strider on the ski, Professor of just Screaming.
“Incredible to hear your voice,” says Joe Turpel to Strider. Not really the term I’d use, but Joe’s fond of the word ‘incredible’ – I count him use it 17 times through the broadcast, and dearly wish Rosy would hit him with a rolled up newspaper every time he does so.
So, the quarters: Andino and Alyssa Spencer sink to Phil and Coco. Spencer’s surfing is ‘Incredible’ according to you-know-who, again, not the term her ornery performance brings to mind. Alyssa’s surfing has appeal, but today that appeal is for help.
Slater and Sage take on Seth and Riss in quarter two and the moment Slats strokes in to his right, the feed drops out. I’m watching on the Woz site, so every time you refresh the feed you have to endure the fucking ads. If this is Chinese hackers looking to cause us despair they certainly know how to do it. The ads are either for cars the size of tanks or flasks that will save the world. Presumably this all evens out, planet-and-karma-wise. Also there’s the puzzling Quiksilver animation ads, trying to channel Captain Goodvibes and Gonad Man and landing nowhere near.
It only takes me half a dozen drop outs (anyone know what ‘Error Code 232404’ is?) for the penny to drop and switch to watching it on Facey. Never thought I’d say this but the Facey experience was an improvement – no ads, just three meditative minutes of staring at a dormant water treatment plant before coming back to the action.
So, Kelly and safety Sage get through against Hawaiians Seth (shocker) and Riss, who looks perhaps a smidge disinterested in the whole affair.
Conner Coffin – the prettiest of the entire cast with lovely iso beard and man-bun – and Kirra Pinkerton who sadly kooks it, don’t stand a chance against Adriano de Souza (rock solid) and Caz Marks, whose style is just getting better as she metronomes on the right, and gouges the left.
Indeed, seeing the little fella ADS standing erect in a Lemoore baz makes you wonder about the future of wave pools – where taller folk will no longer have to fold themselves into a wee ball.
Fourth quarter (remember this comp started at the quarters stage) is the closest heat of the day. Kanoa Igarashi (Whose rashie is misspelt ‘Igarshi’… getting ‘rashi’ wrong on a rashie is SO meta) and Weston-Webb take down Lakey and Griff Colapinto. It’s a heat that could have gone either way. After blowing her right, the highly fancied Peterson looked as if someone had skinned and eaten her cat.
Before we roll into the semis: a few observations that hint on the state of play at the Woz.
First up, Arse Cam. Remember the pre-Woz days? You’d get shots of gals duckdiving – cameras would linger on goosebumped arses. The Woz came in and said "No More!" I suspect now the Woz says, “Well, OK let’s show a bit of arse. No more than, say, three seconds but.”
Secondly, Big Deals. There’s a moment when Pete Mel’s conducting a post heat interview and holds up an energy bar to camera. This energy bar has got a drawing of the interview subject on the front, she’s popping an air. What a moment this represents: the convergence of all those years of hard work, dreaming, blood sweat and tears. Here’s the commercial model at work, advertising and content deftly seamlessly integrated in the hands of Professor Pete. I can imagine Dirk Ziff, watching from his lair, allowing a tear of joy and vindication to roll down his cheek, picturing the money flooding back in on his investment in the sport – The 20 or 30 thousand surfers watching globally dashing out to purchase their energy bars with the surfer on front. Riches are surely coming!
Interesting, also, to note that every surfer’s an Ambassador these days. No longer simply sponsored, they’re Ambassadors for various brands. I do love to imagine all these Ambassadors back at their respective Embassies, carrying out their International Ambassadorial Duties, before donning their dinner jackets and frocks for drinks with emissaries from NATO and the like. Ambassadors. FFS.
OK, no messing about, the semis are on!
Toledo blows his right – again – but blazes the left, partner Coco stays on point. Safety Sage goes alright but Slats goes a bit silly and tries to channel Cheyne Horan’s hail mary at the Op Pro in Huntington in 82, with a backhand 360 – (actually a second one, which fails, which also might channel Cheyne’s attempt to recreate the magic there in ’83.) But good on Slats for trying to put some sorely needed Tiger Balm on this comp’s nuts. Good work in the booth too.
Semi two, De Souza and Marks fall just short of Igarshi and TWW. Rosy reckons TWW is getting a underscored but if ya ask me her backhand style is a bit crook and those top turns are pretty whacky. That wide stance fits into the lefts brilliantly tough.
You’d have to back Caz Marks for contention if the ’21 tour gets up. People compare her to Occy, but I reckon there’s a bit of Dooma consistency in her too – it takes a lot to throw that Tyrion Lannister-centre of gravity off whack.
Kanoa ups the ante by taking to the air in the first half of his right. He also does a lovely turn that evokes strong memories of the Taj snap, it’s a bit of a look-back judo thing. So cool to see unmistakeable echoes of style. It’s a reminder that surfing, no matter how hyped or mishandled, truly is a brilliant and beautiful thing.
In direct and stark contrast to all things beautiful and lovely, we are now being shown the trophies by Professor Pete. Truly hideous. Ding Alley illustrator Macca counsels me not to be so judgemental: “Clearly Elo made these himself out of Paddle Pop sticks, so go easy on him.” Ah Macca, always so generous.
...but fucking hell, remember, COVID or not, this pool thing was gonna be the gamechanger. How telling is it that we’ve got trophies made from Paddle Pop sticks and what have you?
By this stage, I’m just wanting this Rumble to be over, and good on the Woz for racing through it as quickly as possible.
And so the Final. Coco does her old-school pocket rocket on the right for a mid-six, Tati gets a generous mid-seven on her right, setting up a point’s worth of advantage for Kanoa over Fil, who hasn’t completed a right all day.
The Poor Woz. 2020 has been a turd rolling down a hill for this organisation, but even a turd rolling down a hill occasionally finds a plateau to rest on for a moment.
Filipe Toledo provides that moment – pulling a Filipe Told-Ya-So on his final right. Coupla whirly birds and what have youse – and just for a second, there’s something valid about the Rumble and the you-only-get-one-chance nature of competitions at the ranch. He goes one better with a bit of switch tomfoolery on the left, sets Kanoa a task he’s not up to, and mercifully the day is done and dusted. Lord knows I’m not going to stick around for the post show.
I would like to know, however, what the fark happened to the whole 'Rebate Wave' thing – the donating of waves to teammates as part of strategy to build the score? You know, the critical piece of scaffolding that the Woz had trumpeted was gonna inject drama and tactics into the affair? The omission didn’t even rate a mention.
Far out, you’d almost think the Woz was making this all up on the fly. But today was worth it just for those extraordinary trophies. They’ll add prestige to any embassy deemed secure enough to house them.
// DING ALLEY