Rip Curl Pro Portugal: Day 1
Rip Curl Pro Portugal: Day 1
First rounds of Men's and Women's completed in gloomy brownwater onshore closeouts. No surfers eliminated.
I deliberately avoided watching the free-surfing edits in pumping Supertubos knowing the clash with the competition reality would be crushing, but even with fresh eyes it was an incredibly mediocre watch. Rio Waida topped it out with an agile performance for a 15.16 total. My dark horse pick for this years world title, Griffin Colapinto, was close behind with a 14.33 heat total. Otherwise, it was just a calvacade of grindy heats and single-digit heat totals.
Watching the best surfers in the world have their performances retarded by shitty closeouts has to be a unique aspect of pro surfing amongst world sport. Current best surfer in the world Jack Robinson won his heat with a 9.17, current world champ Filipe Toledo advanced with a 7.34. Triple world champ Gabe Medina goes to the Elimination Round with a 7.10 total.
Is this the best product the Woz can come up with at the elite level?
This is equivalent to watching F1 drivers only allowed to drive at 60 clicks an hour, Olympic swimmers forced to swim the 100m towing a besser block, boxers forced to fight with one hand tied behind their backs, Olympic sprinters competing in an egg and spoon race etc etc…you get the point. It ain't elite sport.
Yet here we are, watching heats with one turn and a closeout reo just like a local club comp. The QS vibe was reflected in the scoring. Parsing mediocrity means results come down to pure luck more often than is seemly. Tatiana Weston-Webb pushed Gabby Bryan to the elimination Rd by 0.21 of a point. Pickles did likewise to Sally Fitz by 0.84. To use the scientific jargon: that is a result within the margins of error.
These European beachies look great in the free-surfing clips but the chances of nailing even one good day in a shortened - just eight days - waiting period with two comps to run quickly becomes a losing proposition when you consider the storminess of the North Atlantic (the stormiest ocean basin on Earth), the tidal ranges and the vagaries of local winds. It ain't Snapper in Feb/March with tradewind swells every day and benign winds for the most part.
There were clear front-runners. Leo looks right at home in the QS conditions: happy to grind, get barelled if it gets good, whatever. Griff, as mentioned, likewise bringing a very high energy attack to dreary conditions. Rio Waida looked quick and reactive, reprising his Manly CS performance from last year. None of the women really got a piece of it - Carissa looked the most solid, albeit uninspiring.
To be fair, the mid year cut has increased interest in these dreary closeouts. It's provided an obvious and ready to hand answer to the question which kept leaping to the front of my mind: what the fuck are we doing here?
To cut the tour in half (almost).
To that end, of course, all eyes on Kelly Slater. Elo, as the Woz CEO has repeatedly stated in a series of mainstream media puff pieces that he wants the sport to be narrative driven. Fair enough.
I'd prefer it to be performance driven, but I can live with 'story-telling' as long as there is integrity and transparency in the process.
He wants to attracts eyeballs to glass with stories, and to achieve that aim they have invested massive amounts of narrative capital in Kelly Slater, an athlete clearly at the end of his career - whether he likes it or not.
It's shocking to say, but a good heat for Kelly now (outside of Pipe and Chopes) is one where he makes double figures.
Last night's 5.10 would have seemed absolutely unthinkable even five years ago.
Imagine all those new fans (millions of 'em!) tuning into watch the GOAT for the first time and that's what they see.
'What?' They might think, 'This guy is the GOAT?'
Each single-digit heat total puts the mid-year guillotine closer to the neck of our beloved Robert Kelly Slater and creates a bigger existential problem for the Woz. Leave their biggest star climbing the Margaret River stairs in despair before drowning his sorrows with a full-bodied Merlot coupled with goat's cheese, quinoa, and beetroot salad?
No, the Sally Fitz precedent almost guarantees the integrity of the sport's competitive architecture must be sacrificed to keep Kelly on Tour.
And how will those new fans have their sensibilities massaged upon seeing Kelly get another 17th after a single-digit heat total? What will they be told they are seeing..?
For that, I have no clue, but I know reality will present no barrier to the story-telling.
Anyhow, we chug along in this increasingly strange sporting landscape, more and more, through the looking glass where what the WSL tells us is happening and what we see with our own eyes are further and further separated by the gulf of reality.