Margaret River Pro: Day 4
Well we finally got to see the axe fall and the limestone coast of South-West WA liberally salted with pro surfer tears. Those who failed to make the cut in 10-12 foot surf that was mostly challenging, and occasionally overwhelmingly beautiful in the afternoon light.
It was a tough day for those cut but the Woz surely over-egged the drama and the emotion. The talk was of it being “brutal” and “hard to watch.”
To which I cocked an eyebrow. Haven't surfers been getting knocked off tour since the damn thing began in 1976, or at least since the dual tour format came into existence sometime when Erik Logan was still wearing short pants in Oklahoma?
The fact that the cut surfers have four days to ruminate before washing off the hurt in glistening blue tubes at Snapper Rocks made the brutality call a little on the farcical side.
I couldn't help but think of the surfers who were cut last year, mostly Ace Buchan. Ace broke his back at Margarets last year. Broke his back in competition! Struggled back to compete in the last two events and was then unceremoniously cut, no injury wildcard. No teary interview afterwards. No recognition of his fifteen years on tour. Not a damn thing.
Now they get straight back into a pretty damn sweet little tour with a chance to step back into the ring in six months. No, save your tears for our pro surfing brethren. They will be fine.
The cut was the main thing, but the thing I was most interested in today was: Is there legitimate competition available for John Florence at Margaret River? Has the gap closed?
Yes, very much so.
John himself looked a little sleepy and unaroused in a low stakes heat with ImaiKalani Devault. Good enough, in tricky shifty conditions, without generating any real excitement.
That could easily work in his favour tomorrow as he comes in fresh to a marathon Finals Day where the winner will surf four times.
Three surfers left in the draw could beat John. Going backwards through the day:
Jack Robinson had the turns, the angles and a crazy psyched up energy which could see him easily get on a roll. The twitchiness and skitziness between turns is a problem, especially if John opens up and Jack's surfing starts to look skatey and adolescent in comparison.
Jordy looks the main threat. His turns were the biggest of the day. No skitteriness, nothing extraneous. Jords caught the wave of the day, a huge backlit cathedral that opened up like perfect Backdoor and he...dodged the tube. He went around the bottom of it and surfers worldwide groaned in protest. None moreso than Kelly Slater who surfed a woeful heat on a ten-year old Merrick KS12 Semi-Pro and would have scored a 10-point ride on the thing.
In the post-heat presser Jordy tried to justify the dodge: “I felt like I should have been pulling in, but in my mind it was like, “No, this is Mainbreak.””
That's victim blaming, Jordy: you get paid to ride 'em as they should be ridden.
Ethan Ewing is the other major threat to JJF. His heat today against Leo Fioravanti, who needed a win to stay on the CT, was ruthless. It was all over in the opening ten minutes after two clinical rides. Huge turns, seamlessly connected. That put Leo in deep combination and he was never out of it despite two 7's. Those 7's would have won him ten out of the sixteen heats today.
There's a point of difference at the moment between Ewing and the rest of the field, and if he ends up against John he will not like having those scores shoved in his face.
Ewing's near-perfect performance framed Kelly's heat and the picture thus presented did not look pretty for the current Pipe Master. The 6'6” looked narrow, stiff, and unwieldly under his feet. It refused to turn. He let good waves go by unridden at the start of the heat which Jadson Andre devoured with his typical alacrity. The scores were modest but Kelly could do no better than a 5.17, and a 4.07 for a nifty air-rev on a head high wave which looked like some sort of repositioning manouevre rather than an earnest attempt to get a score. On paper, Bells and Margarets presaged uninspiring results for Kelly and that is exactly what's happened - two consecutive 17th's. No big deal in the grand scheme but if he loses any more ground it'll be back to the booth for Finals Day.
Kelly wasn't the only one whose board choices looked sub-par. Owen flubbed it badly. His too-small board was all over the shop, very similar to his Bells performance, and he just fizzled out against Miggy Pupo, who only had one decent ride to hold him at bay.
Owen equivocated on his future after the loss, saying he “felt pretty devoed” but that he had no “long term thoughts” about requalifying explaining that he has “got a lot of life outside the tour”.
I must admit, all this cutting and not one genuine retirement felt like a real prick tease. For god’s sake, this is the big opportunity, I thought, barely a surfer who's ever dropped off tour has had anything like this. Announce your goddamn retirement!
I know this is a minority view but I continue to think Italo can get the job done. His waves - a series of ascending rides - were under-appreciated by judges today, almost as if they wanted to maintain a path to victory for Joao Chianca. But Italo shut him down, stalking him into the whitewater as the clock ticked down like a revved up bull shark. Chianca will be back. But the rumours of cracks in the Brazilian Storm continue to fester. Watch this space.
Most of the rookies and those under the cut went out meekly. Proving the worth of the cut itself.
One who did not was Matty McGillivray. Kanoa had the heat well in hand before Matty came back, needing a score with a few minutes to go. A skittering late drop, punched into a deep bottom turn before he smashed the lip. It wasn't elegant. On the descent he got lost in the cascading whitewater as if he was negotiating Niagara Falls in a barrel. Somehow he emerged still standing and the judges paid the derring-do handsomely.
Summing up the vanquished was Leo Fioravanti. “The cut sucks,” he said, “especially if you are on the wrong side of it."
Yes, that’s a feature not a bug.
“This result doesn't define who I am,” he insisted.
Well, that's nice therapy speak but it kinda does.
If you are a pro surfer then it absolutely does.
Or is that too harsh?
Another epic day beckons tomorrow. Elo must be sacrificing goats somewhere to get this much good luck.
// STEVE SHEARER