Rip Curl Pro Portugal: Day 3
Rip Curl Pro Portugal: Day 3
Sixteen heats of women's surfing completed in onshore 4ft scrap and the remaining two heat dingleberry of men's Round of 32 scraped off the carcass to end the day after another long break which saw no great improvement in size or quality.
Strider Wasilewski damned the surf quality with the ultimate in faint praise, declaring, “if you hadn't surfed in a month, you'd be psyching to get out there”.
While highlights were few and far between in the women's Round of 16 it did provide a reasonable snapshot of the state of play. You could easily identify a rough top three who should be at Trestles. To wit: Pickles, Carissa Moore (even though she lost), Caity Simmers, with the final two spots taken by Caz Marks and Steph Gilmore (even though she also lost).
Wait, what? That can't be right, you say, Steph is outside the cut line.
She was this time last year too and came home strong. Bells, Margies, Slater's Tub, and J-Bay all massively suit her. OK, she stays in.
Despite getting bucked off the ski and headbutting the bank, Pickles made it look very, very easy. Hunting little tubes, spiking onshore lefts with vertical hits, all done in that loose, relaxed free-surf style.
Wildcard Sally Fitz edged out Steph Gilmore by sitting on her for the last five minutes as she protected a small lead. Sitting on a pair of 4s and preventing the eight-time and current World Champion from riding a wave in the closing stages of the heat wasn't exactly scintillating entertainment for the viewing public but at least Fitzgibbon had the grace to acknowledge she hadn't really bought her best surfing to the table.
Easily the best heat of the round was between Caz Marks and Caity Simmers. Caity won it with big vertical backhand hooks, but to be honest, when rewatching the heat, it could have gone either way. Marks' big turns on both rights and lefts were just a little under-loved by judges. C'est la vie.
The fans started to show up, as is the European diurnal rhythm which favours the slow start. Why are we on the western edge of Europe at the end of winter under grey skies watching the elite scrap around in freezing cold brownwater closeouts?
Because the people show up, and more importantly, the government pays up. It's got nothing to do with wave quality or eyeballs on screens.
In that respect, pro surfing shares a similar methodology to F1, where government tourism departments squabble for the rights and the race goes to the highest bidder.
It's the reason there's no functioning Indo leg, despite Keramas, Canggu and Ulus being the closest thing to shooting fish in a barrel.
It was the stated reason Fiji was dropped on Sophie Goldschmidt's watch one year into a three-year deal inked by Kelly Slater's Outerknown.
Not enough government support.
Also the reason the most reliable wave on tour, Snapper Rocks, was dropped during 2021's COVID revival year. Andrew Stark could not get the QLD government to pay an important bill relating to COVID quarantine and instead found succour with NSW politician John Barilaro who brokered back-to-back comps at Newcastle and Narrabeen after a proposed comp at Lennox Head was torpedoed by community opposition.
In his latest mainstream media blitz, Elo has assured us revenue is up, crowds are up, viewers are up, yet the sport still seems curiously unable to pay its own way.
I call that the 'car you drive' effect.
I've known an incredible number of skilled smoke and mirrors operators in my time. What folk singer Cat Stevens called “fancy dancers”. People who “move so smooth but have no answers.” If they are talking a massive game but driving in a 2002 Toyota Echo with missing hubcaps I usually take the ride as hard evidence of the real position. Sure, they might like driving shit-boxes (as I do) but more likely the big talk obscures a lack of liquidity.
Despite Elo's big talk, the tour has lacked a noticeable spark this year. Some of that at the top end is likely due to disaffection with the tour structure (JJF/Medina) and at the bottom end a looming insecurity about the career path ahead.
In less than eight weeks time, the cut will have occurred and the Challanger Series begins. For a professional sport to exist, at bare minimum you need an agreed upon time and an agreed upon place. We have just two such agreements for the CS with less than two months until the cut.
Sure, there are possible explanations. Maybe Elo wants to surprise us all and keep the prospective applicants in suspense. Maybe he wants to quell any potential rumblings of post-cut discontent by keeping his cards close to his chest. Maybe his dog came into the office and ate the only paper copy of the schedule off his desk?
Could it be more likely that the agreements don't exist yet? That the CS is an incredibly tough sell and they are frantically trying to stitch together deals with goverments, sponsors, and locations? That possibly the sport cannot support a three-tiered tour when the second level down (CS) has now been judged by fans and sponsor/partners as merely a rebadged QS tour?
Every day that ticks by without a full CS schedule being released increases the likelihood that my 'car you drive' schema fits the territory here.
The first heat of the men's was Gabe vs Seth. Gabe Medina is clearly in cruise control mode this year and I am very much enjoying his surfing. The no-hand backside tubes at Backdoor and Sunset being exhibits A and B. He boosted, floated and belted lefts and rights in his win over Seth Moniz - very much under-appreciated by judges IMO. It had the feeling of a very subtle masterclass about it.
An opinion shared by Peter Mel after what looked like Medina's best ride was only given a 5.50. Float to lofted tail high rotation seamlessly stitched by silky flow. Pete thought 7, as did I. Either way, Medina said later, he was happy with his scores.
Griff and Jacko Baker fought a pitched battle for the last heat of the day. It was back and forth - Griff's repertoire and airs against Jacko's power belts. Griff got the better of it, with no controversy.
Baker is who I think of when it comes to the dog who ate Elo's CS homework. He's in a deep hole and will likely need to step down and requalify. Is he looking at the (bare) schedule and making calls back to his old delivery driver boss and asking him if there are any shifts going?
Career insecurity for the mid-fielders and back markers has never looked more pronounced, again contra Elo's big talk.
Melville spoke in Moby Dick of the “tornadoed Atlantic of my being” amidst which he was able to “centrally disport in mute calm”.
Will Supertubos offer up a window of “mute calm” and give the remaining contestants the chance to, as Caity Simmers put it, “get Supertubed”?
Looks 50:50 to me.
// STEVE SHEARER