El Salvador Pro: Day 1
My mental picture of El Salvador is quite dated, as is most people's I suspect. Mine is stuck somewhere in the Reagan era, with the right wing death squads, illustrated by Hollywood in Oliver Stone's eponymous film about a drunken journalist who gets on the wrong side of gangs there. I still think of drug lords and gangs and a macho culture where respect is paramount and social interactions have to be carefully negotiated to make sure you don't get on the wrong end of a knife or a gun.
Not the type of place where the whitegoods, active wear, scrubbed clean version of pro surfing circa-2022 belongs, although I guess it does broaden the “kaleidoscope of worlds” the pros must navigate through.
Punta Roca, looks a B-grade point to my eye, one of the many cobblestone-lined breaks of Central America and Mexico. Not as perfect as your QLD sand-bottom points but juicy under the exposure to long period southern hemi groundswells.
Today, however, was distinctly C-grade.
The brownwater gurgle, janky, join-the-dots pointbreak was reminiscent of days and weeks of post-flood surf here, which was not a pleasant viewing experience. In fact, it gave me a mild case of PTSD watching surfers bob in the bacterial soup. Air temp 28 degrees, water not much cooler.
There's no denying the holes left by the non-appearances due to injury of John Florence and Kelly Slater. Particularly after the release of Episode 1 of Kelly's 'Lost Tapes' put the spotlight back on him. Is he really injured or is he just taking a breather to avoid another 17th place? Maybe looking for a circuit breaker to arrest the slide down the ratings which has gathered momentum since Sunset Beach?
Something like a week at Cloudbreak, maybe? That usually does the trick.
Is this how he retires? A series of no shows at events he doesn't like the look of? We are so used to the idea of a massive Kelly Slater retirement that the reality of a long slow fade out doesn’t seem quite right. But that is where we are.
As for John Florence. We may not see John again this year if he decides the risk to the knee does not justify the investment in the last two comps of the season. A fresh start at Pipe with at least five events to make the cut with the body as good as it can be, may seem far more attractive, especially if the Finals Day is moved somewhere more advantageous to his style of surfing.
Wildcards were in abundance today. Most failed to fire, including The Ultimate Surfer WC Tia Blanco, who was swiftly dispatched by Carissa Moore in their Elimination Round heat. That does show women's surfing in a good place for mine. No disrespect to Tia, but they obviously picked her for The Ultimate Surfer because she's a babe. The integrity of women's surfing has been called into question by mainstream journalists because of this “sex sells” element. Moore ground that fantasy into the cobblestones and showed that skills and competition is what counts.
Caz Marks was back, with the high swinging arm style a little toned down, and the turn placements as dialed as always. She is through to the Quarters.
The high point of the women's heats was Steph Gilmore's 8.73 in Heat 4 of the Elimination Round against Tatiana Weston-Webb. Have a look at it. It seemed vastly over-scored to me, with the fall at the end, but judges were so smitten with the seamless read on a set wave it's hard to find fault.
A “tricky wave” according to Jackson Baker.
“The worst I've ever surfed it,” was Caio Ibelli's estimation.
Another surprise to the mental model was how many of the Brazilians were familiar with the wave, having laid down campaigns there. Apart from Ibelli, Medina has done his time here. “I've been here a few times,” he said. “It's a good country, the people are lovely.”
If you want to watch one heat from today go watch Gabe murder this jumbled up right. He caught a ton of waves and shredded them all, in a performance he claimed later was all about “letting go”.
He wants to do good, he asserted, “I wanna shot at Trestles”.
It'll be a strange Finals Day if he is not there. No John John, no Medina would have to put a very large asterisk next to the Champ's name for 2022.
Jack Robbo got through with a nice tweaked air. Every heat he makes now, puts him on the cobblestones at Trestles.
The highest score of the day, for a single ride, went to Yago Dora, who pumped around the large submerged rock just past the take-off and launched a super inverted tail high rotation. What's the completion rate on airs like that? Super low.
What did the judges give it? A flat 9.
Like G-Land, and unlike Bells, judges don't appear to have decided how to score this wave.
Is it a point to be judged in its entirety or will single turn beachbreak moves get the bikkies?
The brown water and gloomy low cloud didn't have me racing to book a ticket to La Libertad and the loss of John and Kelly lent a low energy feel to opening day. Somehow, and counter to our intuitions, the post-cut tour has been less exciting, not more.
Good surf fixes all problems.
We tune in tomorrow to see the first of the Men's field sent home. The Women are already at the Quarter Finals.
// STEVE SHEARER