Rio Pro: Day 1
If you are of the wake-me-for-J-Bay school of thought you'd be feeling vindicated after Day 1 at Saquarema, held in rippy, closey wonky 4-5ft surf with a heap of top talent playing hooky.
The Women’s heats were a tough watch, consisting mostly of gals paddling against the rip flowing out against the corner at the Itauna end of the bay. The normally reliable soft and shreddable left had morphed into a right into the rip, the type of wave every East Coast Aussie surfer knows intimately. Fun when they are on, frustrating as hell when the water sucking out drags you every which way but onto the bank and the waves when they come are better for whitewater rafting.
Five-time World Champ Carissa Moore spent thirty five minutes getting a workout for a combined heat total of 1.8, which gives an indication of what was on offer.
Tyler was absent, apparently cruelled by visa issues, which I guess we have to take at face value, although Kelly's blatant BS'ing is making it harder to take what a pro surfer says without squinting up the eyes and asking “Huh?”
Injuries, visa issues, junky surf - the opening day was a tough slog to find a gripping narrative.
To be honest, the high point of women's surfing this year was the Challenger Series comp at Snapper in May. Pickles, Caity Simmers etc etc throwing down huge turns and sick combos. It feels like the future of women’s surfing is here already, but is sitting on the sidelines while the Woz plays a loyalty card to sponsors and keeps giving Sally Fitz wildcards. Since being cut Sally has surfed every comp. She has won two heats in total, which equates to two fifth place finishes and $40,000 USD in prize money. That surely has to be one of the easiest pay days in world sport. The women's post-cut tour needs a serious rethink.
We are in Brazil. Population north of 212 million, roughly ten times the size of Australia with a surf mad, mostly coastal-dwelling population. Where are all the surf girls? The sole Brazilian woman on tour- Tatiana Weston-Webb -was born and bred on Kauai. Not a single Brazilian female surfer could be found to fill a wildcard spot?
That spot was granted to 18-year old Peruvian Sol Aguirre who now faces Carissa Moore in the Elimination Round.
What is going on here?
Is it a cultural thing? Are we still back in the Puberty Blues days where the gals looked fabulous on the beach and kept the towels warm while the boys laid on the shreds?
The existence of Maya Gabeira would suggest otherwise.
Brazilians, if you are reading, chime in here and help us solve the mysterious lack of female Brazilian surfers on tour or up and coming.
An increase in action for the men’s heats. They seemed to make more of the rippy rights, and to be fair to the women, conditions did improve.
The top guys in contention for the five all fired, although Colapinto was just edged out of first place and relegated to the Elimination Round by former CT'er Michael Rodrigues.
Jack Robbo looked a million dollars against two dangerous young Brazilians, Sammy Pupo and wildcard Mateus Herdy. Against the rip and a breezy air wind Jack had plenty of options. Bountiful gaffs, fin drifts, and a very lofted straight air, ala Andy Irons in the 2006 Final at Barra de la Cruz. Every heat he surfs like this ups the odds for a Trestles win - where judges go gaga for repertoire and extended hang time. If he finished the year number one, or possibly two, the odds would have to shorten, even against Fil Toledo.
Fil was solid in his opener. This is happy place for Toledo. Unlike Medina who has wilted under the positive pressure, and has enjoyed more the villain role, Toledo thrives with the adoration. Another quarter or semis, a good result at J’Bay and Pip can relax at Chopes, knowing the Trestles Final 5 spot is locked in.
Medina looked sleepy. As the reality of missing the five dawns and sans Charlie whipping his young charge onwards, Gabe seems content to hang with the boys and enjoy the camaraderie.
The heat of the day was Heat 5 with Kanoa, Yago, and Kolohe. All threw up some scores, with Kanoa and Andino finding some throaty nugs against the rip. But it was Yago who embraced the left with smooth carving and who came away with the W. His 7.13 for a gorgeously surfed left - a complete rebuttal of the position that Brazilians have no style - was the best wave of the day for mine, even if it did lack the explosiveness of Robinson’s big air.
What Surf Gods have the WSL angered with the mid-season cut? The chief rationale, even able to be argued by Oklahoman VAL Erik Logan, was that the condensed tour would be able to utilise a single swell cycle. Which makes perfect sense. Except since then, in three separate oceans it hasn't happened.
It's angered the GOAT so much he can't even be bothered to get on a plane and show up.
The condensed field promised so much, and yet, absent Kelly and John and the great days we saw earlier in the year, it just hasn't managed to produce the excitement it promised.
I guess we will wait until J-Bay and Chopes to deliver judgement, but something seems to need tweaking and I don't know what it is.
// STEVE SHEARER