Second Thoughts On Finals Day
Wild haymakers often get thrown in the heat of battle and I'm one of the worst offenders. Now that the dust has settled from the Finals Day melee it's time to take a more sober assessment.
First, to address some of the more hyperbolic claims.
Let's start with Steph Gilmore's run from fifth place on the rankings to a record setting eighth World Title. The following statement is too much: “What we got from Steph en route to an 8th World Title was the most sustained run of rail surfing excellence ever seen in the sport. There is no comparison, no historical precedent to set her achievement beside. It stands alone."
I dearly wish it were true, and went looking for evidence to back it up, but alas, it's way out off the cliff edge, Wile E Coyote-style.
Her achievement does stand alone, of course, because in this second edition of Finals Day, no-one has made the run from fifth spot to World Champion - no-one's even done it from second spot - and her rail surfing was a cut above the rest of the field. It had to be seen and acknowledged in context from the start of the day to the end and appreciated as a whole body of work. It won't be something I forget in a hurry.
The magnitude of Steph's achievement was also heavily recognised in the mainstream media. Every major and minor news site in Australia ran with it. It made the LA Times, where “hundreds of fans” lined the cobblestones to watch it. It did not make the NY Times.
Gilmore's comments immediately following the title triumph were a weird mix of elation and delegitimising of both her achievement and the Finals Day format. She claimed Moore, was, in fact, the real champion. In saying this, Steph reflects a common sentiment, often seen below the line.
But sport doesn't work like that. The more I think about it, the more I'm liking the Finals Day format. It fundamentally bakes into the pie one of life's great tenets. Life is unfair.
What happened to Carissa is massively unfair. Despite what would've been an unassailable lead prior to this new format, no-one will remember she came second to Gilmore. All swept into the dustbin of history.
We've all had a shocker session in deteriorating surf and seen someone in total rhythm make it look easy. To have a whole year crumble under your feet in those circumstances is cruel.
Life is cruel. Bad things happen to good people.
Sport is at its best and most compelling when the contestants put all the chips on the table. You bring everything and either leave with everything, or nothing at all.
Now, lets talk about the show itself.
I'm so completely numbed to WSL presentations of, what might be termed, an American hype style that I barely noticed the Boxing/UFC style of walk-out they did before each heat, except for a momentary cringe. Ethan Ewing, in particular, looked like he had spiders crawling all over him. Since then, every person I've spoken to who watched the show expressed horror at the pure cheese of it.
The rest of the broadcast was up to the usual incredibly high standard. For the most part we caught the live action which is one of the great bugbears of normal webcasts. It was slick. Having Mick and Kelly in the booth for the Finals was epic. Once Mick loosens up and gets away from the 'company man' script he has a wealth of great analysis to share. Kelly has never seen a situation he can't steer back to himself, but his independent thought more than offsets any deserved self-absorption.
Kelly hinted several times that Finals Day may return to Trestles, potentially as a moreorless permanent location.
Which brings us to our concluding reflection on Finals Day. Trestles is a fun wave and deserves to be on tour. But as a Finals location it's too lame, too undemanding, too soft to carry the drama and gravitas of a Finals Day. If your Finals venue can be comfortably surfed by ten-year old kids, if athletes can surf five times out there without a fatigue factor to contend with, it doesn't make the cut.
Looks like we will have to suck it up though. WSL pressers in the following days were massively big-upping the numbers of viewers, etc etc. We are being buttered up to accept Trestles as a fait accompli, on the basis of a popularity contest.
It's a slap in the face to the greatest backer pro surfing has ever known - the Australian taxpayer. Most of Finals Day happened on the dog watch between 1am and 5am. A mid-Pacific timezone would be much kinder.
There's a strong sentiment to return Finals Day to Pipe. I can see why that is not feasible. January is just a better slot, which means it works now as the tour opener. There is no other slot available, especially early season.
But the solution is right in front of our eyes.
Cloudbreak has huge tubes, turns, and challenges all. It's a glorious, bluewater, amazing spectacle.
Recreational surfers there would lose one day, where they could easily go surf Namotu, or Restaurants. And September is still prime time.
Cloudbreak as Finals Day would also leave a tiny sliver of hope left for the most unlikely of unicorn outcomes: a post-50 Kelly Slater World Title.
Any beef with any of these more sober assessments?
// STEVE SHEARER