Margaret River Pro: Day 2
Twelve rounds of non-elimination heats run today - costing roughly eight hours of run time, approximately four times the average running length of a Formula One Race.
Yes, we got to see our pampered pooches in some onshore, ragged juice and by and large it was an entertaining spectacle.
Admittedly I felt a little dizzy towards the end, after a day in which the new docu-series 'Make or Break' was spruiked hard by anyone on set with a heartbeat and a functioning larynx. For years we've been pummeled by Turpel and Co about the blessed existence of Pro Surfers: best job in the world, Dream Tour, sunshine and unicorns flowing like honey out of the backsides of anyone who gets near the CT etc etc.
Now, all of a sudden, the talk is of sacrifice and hardships and this Kokoda Track of endurance which makes up the CT. The theme is war, according to seven-time World Champ Steph Gilmore.
Pardon moi for feeling a little spun sideways by this sudden reversal in fortunes of the fortunate few paid to travel the world and ride waves.
Callum Robson had never surfed Mainbreak before today's heat. Let that sink in. One of the trickiest, idiosyncratic stops on the schedule. Ethan Ewing called it “harder to ride than Bells”. Jack Robbo on the broadcast promo assured us it took “year and years of doing it to help us get through it”.
Meanwhile C-Rob waltzed in and took a heat win first crack at it.
My whole operating philosophy on pro surfing had been rookies needed to get a solid grounding at the tour stops before they got on tour. Get prepped and come on ready to show up and blow up. Ethan Ewing's disastrous first year on tour being the prime example of an under-cooked rookie not having the necessary experience at each stop.
C-Rob has blown that theory out of the water. Using local coaches to quickly acclimate and get accustomed to the vagaries of each location, sucking dry their surf IQ, and then backing himself to execute to the word the plan they give him. It's been an extraordinary method of success.
Not new, but the extent to which he has done it and the mental stability he has shown in being able to execute on it has been mind-blowing.
Jacko Bakehouse has similarly impressed, throwing marketing genius into the package. The pink boards. So simple. So memorable.
Big turns, pink boards. It feels completely punk, completely original.
Baker is below the cut and referenced the struggle to stay on top of mindset, saying mid-heat his thoughts went rogue and he would have to sort it out with his sports psychologist.
Good on him. Share those insights around Jacko, we can all use some help in that area from time to time.
More genius from Bakehouse: He made sure in the presser to let it be known he had won all his Round 1 heats so far in his CT campaign. That's quite a stat.
By contrast, Kelly has been sent to the Losers Round three times already this season. Including today. He didn't surf bad. Just weird. At fifty, a portrait of the Artist as an Old Man, Kelly tried to backdoor the peak on the right. Not once, not twice, but three times he had a swing at it. All of them fails. Two big turns on any of those waves and he might have got through. Zeke, clearly very rattled by the cut, surfed incredibly, with the ride of the day. Ryan Callinan was only a shade behind him.
Incredibly, neither surfer signed the petition to axe the cut.
Yeah, we all wanted to see Johnny Florence (as Jack Robbo calls him) have a crack at raw and ragged ten foot Margs. Nothing much has changed. The secret to Johnny's Marg's line is a peculiar reversal to the normal line in bigger waves. Instead of an extended, deep bottom turn, he starts it shallow and early. Gets to the lip earlier and with more speed and then lays down the deep cut. Still, five years later, no-one has figured out how to emulate it.
In my mind, there are only two relevant questions about John's MR campaign.
Is he getting better?
And, will the body hold up to the G-force stresses?
First question. I answer with a question. Does he need to be? With such a clear performance gap to the rest of the field, he doesn't need to improve, or innovate. Numerically, and objectively, the answer is a clear no.
In 2017, the benchmark year, he laid down fourteen excellent rides over the comp. His winning margin was six points in the Final, almost ten points in the Semi.
In 2019, he laid down five excellent rides, with a three point winning margin in the Final and a half-point margin in the Semi.
Last year in ten foot surf he was only good for one excellent score, one of which came from turns and a barrel.
This is a story of a surfer struggling to meet his own benchmarks.
Second question. The knee? Lets take JJF at his word: “I feel completely back to normal”.
One last observation. Without Medina, JJF has seemed listless and a little lost competitively. Hopefully the return of the Triple and Current World Champ at G-Land brings back the best of John John.
Filipe waited patiently as the ocean settled down and cleanly bagged two scores. It feels like another clash between Filipe and John could set the tone for the rest of the year, absent a rampaging Medina. Toledo seems hungrier, obviously aware a title day at Trestles is his best bet to put a World Title in the trophy cabinet.
'Make or Break'. At times over the last few years, and judging by the wild convulsions the sport has indulged in trying to break into 'mass market' sport, the WSL itself has seemed on the cut line. I doubt the double-meaning has penetrated the filmakers' consciousness. The problem with the Woz bubble has always been a pernicious groupthink, which manifests as a total refusal to piss in the tent, in case the dream itself was put in doubt. If 'Make or Break' can breach the walls of that insecurity they will have made an impressive achievement.
Can Ethan Ewing take down JJF? His turns are sufficiently delineated from the JJF template that judges may decide a fresh interpretation is preferable to a slightly smudged version of the Champ's own 2017 masterpiece.
Connor O'Leary looked awesome on a board brought over from Hawaii and tested at Sunset Beach. Very smart strategy.
Issy Nichols offered the most honest appraisal of the (hoped for) impact of 'Make or Break'.
“Look what it's done for F1,” she said, “Hopefully we get a few more people tuning into surfing”.
I call this strategy: To know them is to love them.
At the time, I was a believer. Joao Chianca was giving another thoughtful, heartfelt presser. There was a sadness in his words despite the positive message, “I'm not thinking about it [the cut], just cruising, enjoying my friends and the company.”
He alone, would make a great subject for a doco.
The war talk continued as the day ran out in deteriorating, slowly easing surf.
A tipsy and emotional Shaun Tomson compared the cut to the guillotine of the French Revolution. There was talk of surviving the convergence as Jack Robbo took heavy doughnuts smashing the end apex.
“They are entertainers,” said Bugs.
“All this, said Leo Fioravanti motioning with a sweep of his hand, and presumably including the guillotine, the convergence and the whole damn thing, “all this is part of it”.
Make or break? This feels closer to a make than it has since Kelly had hair.