El Salvador Pro: Day 2
As it turned out, good waves did cure all.
Not immediately. A mountain of surfing in overlapping heats was done in pretty scrappy surf, albeit with strong sets and a better line available than yesterday.
But the day really started with a marked quality upgrade at the Men's Quarter-Finals. We'll skip ahead to those Quarters for the bulk of the recap after a couple of quick observations.
The highlight heat of the day, aside from the Quarters, was the Round of 16 pitched battle between Jackson Baker and Jack Robinson. Baker had Jack tied to the bottom with concrete boots for most of the heat before Robbo responded late in the heat with a flurry of wild rides.
Our two Final 5 contenders, Ethan Ewing and Jack Robinson, could not have more contrasting style and approaches. Ewing smooth and silky on the rail, rarely looses the fins, dynamic but very controlled. Robinson all raw aggression and an unpredictable repertoire which has caused judges to sit up in response.
As for the low energy vibe. Aside from the Quarters and the real Final 5 contenders, there seems a sense of complacency and absent consequences. For a large chunk of the roster, fear of losing a spot on tour seemed a far greater motivation than the desire to win. Which has translated to a feeling of lower stakes for the viewer. That may be illusory, but despite the hype in the booth it's a real thing for the fans. A rethink may be required for the post-cut tour to reintroduce some higher stakes.
We learnt from Make or Break that Steph Gilmore thought her surfing style was threatened into irrelevance by the approach of more athletic (read: strong) competitors. Her approach on a Mexican pointbreak last year and now at La Libertad shows that concern to be unjustified. The deep lines and the edgework are not being matched, and she has shut down most heats with excellent opening scores, including her Quarter with Bella Nichols. Excellence in edgework, repertoire, finish. It's hard to see Gilmore being beaten here, except by her own hand, if she has one of 'those heats'.
Opening rides decided most of the Women's Quarters. Defay shut down Fitzgibbon with an opening ride, who gamely threw uncompleted airs at end sections for insignificant scores, but was never really in the heat.
Caz Marks won comfortably over Riss Moore with her opening ride containing the usual multiple backside hits. Moore safety surfed a last wave needing a 7 and getting a 5. A brief presser after the heat revealed a lack of understanding when Moore stated she thought her surfing had been good enough, but the lack of waves had cruelled her. Team Moore needs an honest look at those rides in the light of a pattern of consistent over-scoring of Carissa when she is surfing well within her limits.
As for the mystery of Caz, we are no closer to a reveal, even allowing for the new spirit of openness in the Make or Break era. She claimed she didn't know if she would have the whole year off while Carissa said she was glad to “see her healthy.” Of course, it's her call to reveal what the issue was/is.
The gloom deepened for the start of the Men's Quarters and in the gathering dark the surf turned on. Double-overhead sets rumbled through as the oily-smooth sea surface became one with the horizon.
Three times this year boards have been snapped in half during turns, all three equipment failures leading to heat losses. For John Florence at Sunset Beach, Connor O'Leary at G-Land, and now Jack Robinson at Punta Roca.
Jack hit the opening turn so hard on the opening ride of his heat with Gabe Medina the back two-thirds of the board went fluttering up in the air like a disturbed white butterfly. Medina almost ran it over on the next wave.
Medina was off. His opening ride looked positively sleepy for a mid-3. A very un-Medina like opening. He feinted and tossed off a couple of non-scoring rides while Robbo put in a heroic hustle to be back in the lineup with priority (somehow!) within three minutes.
Medina's two 6's were likely under-cooked and under-appreciated but they were clearly signs of a Medina whose digestive system was lacking a little stomach acid. A set wave had 9 written all over it and Gabe looked a little wonky on it. It's rare to see Gabe turn a 9 into a 6 but that's what happened. Robbo sliced and diced a two-turner for a mid-5 and then got marooned by a lack of sets.
The final minutes were classic Medina, paddling up and down, dragging Jack this way and that, a process he called “testing the guys”, trying to “get in his head a little” before claiming, “it's easy to surf with no pressure”. Given the heat over again with the counter-factual of Jack's board not breaking and him shredding the opening wave for a 7 it's likely the result would have been reversed.
Four Quarter-Finals, three Brazilians through. Time in the lineup paid dividends for the winners.
Filipe sizzled against a hapless Callum Robson. The best rides started with an insouciant high-line - a performative gesture that would have looked a little fey on anyone but Toledo, who followed it up with high speed finners, deep cuts, flared snaps or combinations thereof. No-one will be shocked if Toledo finals and wins tomorrow.
Judges overcooked the spread on the opening exchange of Quarter-Final 4 between Italo and Ewing. No doubt Ethan's wave was a mid-8. It was beautifully surfed, with the same QLD formula used by Steph of edgework, line, and repertoire. I felt like his next ride could be a high 9, given a slight uptick in risk.
Italo's ride was all risk, but little reward. He bombed the ending and the 6 seemed to foreclose a good heat.
Night fell and a row of blue UV lights on the bleachers ushered in a lineup transfused into something mystical, magical even. Paddling back out from the 6, instead of slapping the water in a show of annoyance, Italo was smiling, transfixed by the fairy lights onshore.
He attacked the next ride; a double overhead bomb. Two huge vertical blasts with tail drifts on the outside had to go up past Ewing. Which they did.
Ewing had the waves to answer back but bobbled the final two turns on his set. A mid-8 became a mid-7 and when Italo repeated the dose with two more huge hits on a set, it was game over.
Contra other viewers watching who weren't moved by the Griffin/Kanoa Quarter-Final 2, I have to agree with commentator Mitch Salazar. It was one of the heats of the year. Multiple set waves traded off on, swinging lead exchanges and each scoring ride better than the last. Griff's extra power in the down-carve was the difference, but the will to win was even more evident.
Match-ups between Final fivers are now way more intense than the low consequence heats for guys just stoked to make the cut.
Here's a big word for a Friday afternoon: Bildungsroman.
Yep, German. Typically a book dealing with a protagonist's coming of age. His/her spiritual and physical travails as they move from childhood to adulthood. Invoked during the presser when Colapinto was asked about dealing with Medina in the Semis.
"Good, great," he said, or words to that effect. “Last time I faced him I was a boy. Now I am a man.”
We'll see how far he has developed once Medina starts walking him up and down that lineup.
On current form though: advantage Colapinto.
And he's already beaten Toledo in a Final once this season.
// STEVE SHEARER