G'Land Pro 2022: Day 3 - Finals Day
It seems fair to say as preamble that as we started Finals Day no-one had yet got a hold of G-Land. Not properly. And the numbers back me up on that. Just handful of rides in the good range. One or two excellent.
By the time Gabe Medina had surfed his first set wave in the QF against Jadson Andre I had the words of a tune from recently deceased rocker Mark Lanegan in my head. In his song 'Methamphetamine Blues' Lanegan proclaimed he “ain't gunna leave this heaven so soon”. Which is how I felt experiencing Medina at G-Land. Wanted that heaven to last to the end. I'm sure I wasn't the only one.
But ejected from heaven we were. Medina was beaten. Before we leave, we need to note that six months down the track from one of the more dominant years in pro surfing history, in which Medina opened a gap to the rest of the field, the gap still exists. On the basis of pure performance Gabe was still streets ahead at his first comp back from stress leave.
How the hell did he lose then? You ask.
In the same way the unbeatable John John lost at Margies: a performance of incredible composure from Indian Ocean native Jack Robinson. Medina sensed the ocean had gone quiet in their Semi Final and roamed up and down the expanse of reef at Moneytrees, collecting mid-range scores while Jack sat still as Buddha in the forest. Medina paddled up the inside of him, tried to drag him up the reef in a move familiar to every unscrupulous reef break surfer hoping to soft hustle an unwitting opponent out of position. You 'burley' them up the reef, then slyly double back to the take-off.
Jack held nerve.
Needing a mid 5 as the clock wound down the ocean corrugated in the afternoon sun, then lifted on the reef. A perfect wave. Medina took it, but as he ripped down the line we could already see Jack dropping into the wave behind, bottom turning as the buzzer sounded.
Medina's flow and execution was perfect. Jack's was not. He drifted the tail through the second turn then had to hop and pump to get around a section, to pull into a tricky but clean tube.
Like Margarets, where this raw approach was preferred to John's flawless execution, judges favoured Robbo's ride over Medina.
Incredibly, Jack repeated the buzzer beater heroics in his Final against Filipe. The scoring seemed even more generous than the previous two instances but the judges are now sending a consistent signal. Robinson is now considered the avant-garde in professional surfing.
Incredibly, Jack did not claim his Final ride after the buzzer in the Final.
He did not claim.
Despite the preternatural calm, three times Robinson uttered the secret of his performances was “unpredictable to me” before explaining in the Final presser that he had been rehearsing these moments since he was a kid - he “took it that seriously.”
Extraordinary chilled, tripped out dude. Who now sits in the pocket behind Toledo in yellow with a Final 5 position almost guaranteed. Paying homage to recently and dearly departed Margaret River surfer, G-Land stalwart, and genius ding fixer John 'Duttsy' Dutton, Robbo suggested maybe Duttsy had sent him those magical winning waves.
Filipe had been complaining of being underscored all day, a grievance I believe he was entitled to litigate, especially if his rides were taken in aggregate. Johanne Defay did one turn and a closeout hit for a low 6. Filipe did two or three at insane speeds for a brace of low 5's. When judges finally did break the 6 point ceiling in the Final, the 7.83 seemed an overscore, as if the pent up low scores had finally broken through like magma from an exploding volcano.
The third place finish gave him 6085 points and a boost to 23rd position. Assuming four third place finishes in the remaining four events he would sit at 34,000 points, a slender lead over Toledo, who currently sits at 32,240. Obviously that ain't going to happen; Toledo will likely end up somewhere near 45,000-50,000.
5th place Ethan Ewing is currently 22,905.
By those rough approximations Gabe will need to win multiple events and have luck on his side to make Finals Day. Paradoxically, after being most in danger of the Finals Day concept last year he is now poised to be one of the biggest beneficiaries.
The Women are in a much tighter race, made artificially close by the cut to ten surfers. Win one heat, as Steph Gilmore did and you are in the Quarters. Two heats at G-Land for a fifth place and $20K USD seems ridiculously easy money, but you have to get there first. Steph's backhand looked spicy enough but she sat and waited too long against Johanne whose winning formula carried through the contest. Wave quality was immaterial. Waves that were too square closeouts she turned into scores with one or two quality turns and a solid hit. Scored for thirty yards of reef out of a potential five hundred seemed sacrilegious to me, but judges locked in behind the strategy and it proved a durable formula.
Carissa waited for the bombs with the good angle and did the best womens surfing of the event. Some of the top to bottom flow was sublime, and she only came up one wave short in the Final.
For a comp that seemed to lack drama in almost all the match-ups until Robbo/Medina, that clash did seem to offer a potential fuse to light for the rest of the season. Jack said it several times but it wasn't until later that it resonated. I'm paraphrasing but he referred to clashing with Medina as something that would now be a regular fixture.
Is this the rivalry we have been looking for?
John and Medina seems to have fizzled. Julian is retired. Could Jack be the dog to wrestle the bone with Medina?
With Charlie sidelined, the more mongrel aspects of Gabe's competitiveness have been quietly retired. It's a more sedate Medina who is content to win happy. More's the pity for mine. I enjoyed the raw aggression and rule testing, from a safe distance to be sure.
But now that Jack has figured out a way to “manage my mind” the potential for epic encounters with Medina through the back half of the tour is real.
Jack grew through Finals Day, no doubt, and the buzzer beaters were genuine sporting highlights. Let's take a moment though to savour his best ride of the comp. A bomb set against Kanoa Igarashi in their QF. Running a perfect reef line he backdoored a section at top speed, very difficult thing to do. Clean as a whistle exit, then leant into a huge snowboard carve, the mirror image of Gabe's grab rail carves. Pure surfing from Jack. The 8.5 was a low-ball score for the most sublimely ridden wave of the comp.
A comp where, according to Luke Egan, “surf culture clashed with surf competition”.
Maybe he didn't mean that, but that is what it was. G-Land sustained that clash for three years in the pre-webcast 90's.
Can it sustain it now?
When Ulu's and Keramas are there with all the attractions of Bali and waves almost as good?
Good enough anyway.
Give the jungle back to the hardcores and the mystics.
What do you say?
// STEVE SHEARER