Sunset 2023: Finals Day
Sunset 2023: Finals Day
A baffling Finals Day as what at first looked like a grind-out in weird Sunset Point morphed into groomed, pumping six foot Sunset, albeit wildly inconsistent.
First up, the right guy and the right gal won their respective divisions, despite some controversial judging mostly circling around Mens Winner Filipe Toledo. He was pushed hard by Joao Chianca in the Semi, and then Griffin Colapinto in the Finals but always seemed able to lift another notch over his rivals when it came to rail turns. Toledo leaves Hawaii with a fifth and a first, perfectly slotted in second place behind Jack Robinson.
Early, early days but those two solid results set him in cruise control now with every event favouring him bar Tahiti. He could no show it if he wanted and spend his time with the fam, surfing Trestles everyday, and playing with the kids in the backyard.
Others, of course will be feeling immense amounts of pressure. Kolohe Andino, for instance, who's below the cut-line and not ready to call time on a career before he even wins an event.
Kelly, sitting on the cut with the salvation of the Surf Ranch and Tahiti off in another dimension.
On the Women’s side, Steph is below the cut, although doing better than she did last year. Wildcard Sally Fitz, well below.
The Women's Quarters were held in very fickle Sunset Point, with an unfavourable swell direction shutting down waves at random, while others ran off into deep water. Pickles was happy to catch waves and grind. Fours, fives, and sixes were enough for Pickles to get the job done today. That scoring seemed right on in her win against Brisa Hennessy. Her best wave against Tyler: A sick little pit, rail carve and hit, seemed destined to broach the 7-point mark. Not so. She rode a couple of bomb sets in the Final against Caz Marks but couldn't get touchdown on a late lip hit which would have gone excellent. Pickles admitted to a combination of nerves, confidence, and excitement after her Quarter which got into her legs and made them a little shakey. That shakiness never quite dissipated but pure surf froth got Pickles over the line.
I wanted a Pickles/Simmers Final but with less than three minutes on the clock against Caz Marks and holding the lead she inexplicably gifted Caz the winning wave.
Carissa had a shocker, gifting Gabby Bryan an easy win, and we were into the Men's Quarters.
Weird and wobbly Sunset Point was not an impediment for Jack Robinson. He played cat and mouse up near Boneyards with Nat Young, threaded a neat little tube and belted it twice for a mid-7. Perfect join-the-dots surfing with a roaming remit.
Any chance that Ethan Ewing was taking notes were dashed when twenty minutes and change elapsed without catching a wave had passed. Yeah, it was slow. There were breaking waves. He could have put something on the board. History shows that when Ewing marinates in sleepy heats he usually loses. Griff belted a closeouts for a generously scored 6 and when Ewing finally got a wave he bobbled the weird sections. Clear lessons for Team Ewing to learn from that heat about how much pressure he wants to apply to himself. I recommend watching fifty Kelly Slater heats from 2008-2011 or Medina heats from 2021.
I marked the change from Sunset Point to Sunset bowl proper as occurring during QF 4 between Joao and Matty McGillvray, yet Heat Analyser clearly shows the change during Toledo/Ibelli so I'll take a 'Slater' and blame low blood sugar.
If you did not see the clear upgrade in rail surfing that Toledo bought to the day during that heat, notably first turn in his 8.67 then we'll have to agree you are blind or stupid or both. No disrespect intended, some of my best friends etc etc. Watch the turn speed and then the rooster tail get picked up by the offshore breeze and blown out the back. Huge turn. Fully wrapped at speed. Different level.
Griff was raving on at the time. Finding yourself, gaining spirtual knowledge, keeping a journal, all that stuff. Good for him. I personally have a low tolerance for therapy-speak but everyone is different and if it's working for him then right on, right on.
I preferred the Toledo family man approach. He maintained a “cold heart” and “strong decisions” in his Semi against Chianca and said his preparation for the Final would entail, “water, banana, and hugs from the kids”.
Therapy-speak aside, Griffin Colapinto is my dark horse pick for World Champ this year. He has an insane work ethic, can beat Toledo in small waves (first among equals there), on airs and repertoire, and is strongly motivated to make the five after just missing out the last two years. He's also forecast and location agnostic - he can win anywhere in any conditions.
He dragged Jack Robbo deep in their Semi and then won the moral victory when Jack broke too late and took off too deep for the first wave of their match-up. It was here the judging got a little whack. Griff smashed a single turn closeout for a mid-4 - looked like a 3. Then laid down three nice turns for a 5.83 - looked a mid-6.
Robbo on a wave behind, a bomb that had 8 written all over it, over-cooked the opening turn and seemed to dangle in the breeze for a long time.
Griff started smashing him, turn for turn while Jack “retreated” to a tube-riding strategy that never paid off without the supplementary turns needed to match Griff.
In the end, a very comprehensive victory for Griff with a scoreline that flattered Robinson.
By the time Toledo faced off against Chianca judges had already laid down a template of what was excellent surfing and both surfers provided it. 16.33 Toledo, 15.44 Chianca. Less than a point between them. That seems fair. Could it have gone the other way? When it's that close it could always go the other way. The 'problem' was judges had already paid close-out smashes so heavily meaning Toledo's flawless finishes had to get the extra point. Happy to hear alternative points of view on that observation.
Caz Marks has cleaned up the style a bit but it's still a struggle to watch, especially now with Caity Simmers, Gabby Bryan, and Pickles on tour, not to mention Steph Gilmore. She got the best wave of the heat in the Final, a 7.50 with big backhand turns in the bowl. Inexplicably she tried to paddle-out back through the line-up and spent the crucial part of the heat wearing waves on the head while Pickles casually did laps and rode them. She ran out of time for a back-up.
The opening exchange for the Men's Finals was a classic. Toledo on a smaller wave with perfect execution on three turns. Griff on a bomb, had to race a section he could have pulled into then unleashed a big turn and a too-late closeout hit which he recovered from.
I saw this as a close spread (a point or so) and most judges agreed with me. The outliers overcooked the score and the spread and the whole Final looked distorted from the get go.
A long, long period of nothing then followed when it seemed to dawn on the judging panel what they had done. They'd lost all head-room; paid out too heavily for a (recovered) mistake. Weird scoring was almost inevitable from this point on.
Toledo paddled up the point, then back. Griff sat still then followed him up and back. In pointbreak parlance we call that laying down a burley trail - dragging someone out of position. The strategy failed. Pip would have to rely on surfing.
With six minutes to go, judges gave the next exchange to Toledo by a full 2 points after a huge closeout smash, something he had correctly identified they were now paying.
They then gave the last exchange to Toledo by almost two-and-a-half points - 9.47 to 6.93 - for an even better finishing turn from Pip and that was it.
Did the judges get the final result right..?
Yes, but in a roundabout way.
Sunset delivered. Big time. Continually punching above forecast with its ability to transform any scrap of North Pacific energy into challenging and sometimes perfect wave shapes.
No wavepool will ever be able to replicate that.
// STEVE SHEARER