Corona Open J-Bay: Day Three
One of the main occupational hazards of this gig is coming up with a hot take under conditions of mental fatigue, sleep deprivation from antipodal time zones, emotional reactivity etc etc.
Chances are you'll get it wrong. At any given time though, I'd rather make the call than shrink away or reproduce the accepted wisdom/company line, and then trust the readership below the line to call BS as a method of self-correction. The philosophy my Grand-pappy taught me, 'don't dish it out unless you can take it', leads to a few bruises but good sleeps at night.
Yes, I was one of the main heralds shouting from the rooftops that Aussie surfing was at the bottom of the outhouse, getting covered in excrement from the ascendant Brazilian Storm. The evidence was compelling. In the Aussie Quaddy last year there were no Aussies in the Semis at Margies or Narrabeen, one at Newy, and two at Rottnest, neither of which are currently on the CT.
The last event I witnessed live, before the COVID shutdown was the Quikky Pro, held at D-Bah. On Finals Day, there were no Australian Semi-Finalists, the beach was chokkas with flag-waving Brazilians and the takeover had seemed complete as Italo was chaired up the beach after spinning his way to victory.
No, I didn't dig it either, but you couldn't deny it was happening.
Boy, how the worm has turned. After a spectacular Finals Day at challenging 6-8 foot J-Bay we now clearly have the best rail surfer on Earth in Ethan Ewing. He may have changed the judging criteria, especially after a wave in the Final against Jack Robinson where he finally demanded greater recognition from the judging panel - and got it.
With John John on the sidelines and Medina out injured, not to mention his former animalian competitive instincts now thoroughly domesticated, the most well-rounded skill set on the tour roster belongs to Jack Robinson. His paradoxical blend of zen composure, extreme aggression, and unpredictable explosiveness puts him in perfect position coming into Teahupoo. Right in the pocket, slipstreaming Filipe Toledo.
How great to see the best challenged by an unruly pointbreak overloaded by a maxing swell that demanded every facet of the skill-set be employed to its maximum capabilities. The rock-off was intense, equipment failures demanded tests of endurance and skills.
Firstly by Kanoa Igarashi in his Quarter against Italo. I'd thought Italo was unbeatable with the heaviest of end section upside down belts. Those hits carried heavy consequences and one that went horribly wrong pancaked him before detonation. Italo was injured and that led to the pivotal moment in the heat.
Igarashi snapped his leggy, then ran up the point. Sets repeatedly bombed the lineup and it seemed the contest was over. He managed to rock-off, then push through mountains of heavy whitewater to reach the take-off before Italo and get priority. That gave him a shot at turning the heat. With two minutes and change he got a mid-ranger and unleashed the repertoire for an 8.33.
Meanwhile, the injured Ferreira, unable to ride the second wave, staggered up the beach, barely able to walk.
J-Bay exacted punishment on the Brazilian Storm: Toledo cooked his shoulder; Italo suffered a back injury on his slam; Dora almost dislocated his shoulder getting pancaked in his Semi with Ethan. That injury saw him unable to duckdive and commit one of the cardinal sins of pointbreak surfing: letting a loose board into the lip, which almost collided with Ewing as he rode past.
That Semi-Final was incredible with Ewing turning up the rail game a notch, while Dora hit the vertical hooks time and time again. We also had Kelly in the booth. It was something close to heaven for a surf fan.
Ewing's rail game was, according to Kelly, “technically perfect” and the opening ride was scored accordingly. Dora threw a high, corked air reverse on the end and asked the question of judges with an extended, imploring claim that involved an elaborate piece of play-acting as he pretended to write the score on the back of the sled.
Look...claims. People despise them. I loved Kelly's subtle shade as he mocked Jack Robinson's patented mid-wave claim where he points to the beach (to an imaginary critic in my mind).
“Who are you pointing to?” Kelly joked.
I love them. But not the big ugly ones. I like Italo's tinkling the ivories claim after a huge belt, Medina's three-pointer, Slater's wetsuit tug, Ethan's subtle nose wipe.
And yes, I loved Dora's writing-the-script-out claim.
However, it didn't work. He didn't get the score.
The Women’s Final was conclusively won by Tatiana Weston-Webb. The only woman to employ the upside down backside belt on the end section....in fact, the only woman to go anywhere near the big end section hit.
Steph had a shocker, much as Jordy Smith earlier. Couldn't find a good one. Was not helped by a highball call for Tyler Wright’s opening wave which cooked the spread.
Carissa ended up on the wrong end of a lame interference call.
The Woz need to revisit this rule and introduce some head judge discretion. Tati was not impeded. That call effectively ended the contest and led to 35 minutes of dead air and non-spectacle on Finals Day in pumping surf.
Pumping point surf is a rare and precious commodity and should be cherished to the highest degree by the Woz. You can't afford to artificially eliminate the contest in those conditions except for the most egregious rule infractions and Carissa's “interference” was nowhere near that.
Tati took that decision though, and attacked set waves in the Final against Tyler. It was not a competitive Final with Tati's big turns a league above anything Wright mustered.
Most Finals are pretty anti-climactic. The Men's Final was not. Robinson, who asked who he preferred to surf against after his Semi victory over Kanoa, demurred “either/or”, saying, “it's a new generation and I'm excited”.
He bought a shocking level of aggression and energy to his opening ride. It's fucking on, I thought.
The contrast in style and approaches - Robbo aggressive and unpredictable, Ewing with perfect edge-control rail turns - seemed to wash away a litany of over-coached and predictable surfing which has dogged the Australian pro surfing aspirants for years.
It could have gone either way, except for Ewing's aforementioned animal appeal to the judges. They threw the best number of the Final at it, a 9.13. He demanded respect and got it. It was so well deserved.
I ain't got a jingoistic bone in my body but it wasn't possible to watch that Final without something like nationalistic pride thudding in my throat.
Will you bet against Robbo at Teahupoo after this?
Give Ewing a shot against Toledo at Trestles?
You'd have to. Reality demands it.
// STEVE SHEARER