Rip Curl Pro Portugal: Finals Day
Rip Curl Pro Portugal: Finals Day
Happy endings, we all love them.
The much maligned Supertubos delivered one last night. The joy emanating from the suit (the Mayor?) that escorted Finalist Jack Robinson to the beach before his Finals clash with Brazilian favourite João Chianca was palpable through the screens. Fans on the beach, sunshine, a glorious afternoon with the stormy Atlantic coast finally delivering a dose of mute calm and glassy shacks.
It was almost a straight 50/50 day. The first half was gurgled out closeouts featuring low-scoring affairs and a certain dreariness about it, only leavened by two insane buzzer beater heats. First, by Caity Simmers in her Quarter Final against Sophie McCulloch. Caity was cooked, and admitted it in the presser. Sets came relentlessly in the last three minutes. Ugly, ugly closeouts which left the lineup a complete dog's breakfast. Final seconds and a shapeless lump stood up in the rip with both girls paddling side by side. McCulloch with inside position and priority looked to easily have it covered. The weird, wobbly thing produced a little whitewater chip in for Simmers and within a fraction of a second she was dropping into a wave that now looked double overhead on the diminuitive Simmers. Hard off the bottom and a fiercely whipped backside snap in the pocket and that had to be the score. Judges concurred after a suitably tense interlude.
The second grandstand finish was performed by Callum Robson in his Round of 16 heat against veteran wildcard Joan Duru. Cal-tex had a whole bunch of nothing and a lone 4 - just a straight out garden variety shocker with the clock ticking down. Again, Duru had priority and pole positioning before inexplicably letting Robson into a wave, which he duly tagged and smashed for the winning score. Robson said he understood Duru's decision making: the wave looked crap from the water, he assured us, but it sure looked like a winning wave from a camera perspective.
Remember when Kelly seemed to have that magical ability to transform surf? It would look like shit then he would paddle out and destroy it with huge scores. Jack Robbo did the same thing on Finals Day. There had been less than a handful of made barrels, then Jack paddled out and started getting shacked every wave. He paddled north to a right sucking in on itself as the tide bottomed out and made it look like a fun day at Rabbit Hill.
Once the best surfer in the world (can we all admit that now?) released the shackles the day acquired a wholly different flavour. What had been a slog to watch became a pleasure.
Callum Robson spiked an absolute beast for a 9.57 against Sammy Pupo (who also had a dramatic buzzer beater win in Round of 16). Where did Cal-tex get these skills from, I wondered. I know his home breaks well - heavy beachies that hold size are rare. Once a blue moon stuff when all the planets align. He wasn't a feted junior who enjoyed sponnoed trips around the globe. Instead he was on the tools with his Dad the year before he qualified as a complete unknown. Now here he is as a Top 10 surfer finishing ahead of John John Florence and Gabe Medina in heavy beachbreaks with a rock solid mindset and skills to match. It's all a bit baffling.
As is João Chianca, or as he is known to YouTube audiences, Zhao-Shi Anchor. Zhao-Shi has hit the tour both fully formed, and, like Italo Ferriera in 2015, almost a complete unknown to western audiences. We knew his brother Lucas - AKA Chumbo - far better than João. The insanely high energy act is straight out of the Ferreira playbook but the confidence seems even more preternatural. Quizzed about his upcoming Quarter with Connor O'Leary he said Connor had been getting through heats well and “so have I”.
That may have sounded arrogant if coming from other mouths, considering what a crap shoot the conditions had been, but from Chianca it just seemed a simple statement of fact. He rolled through Connor with a ten wave count. Smashed Robson in the Semi-Final with an eleven wave count and blitzed Jack Robinson in the Final with another ten wave count. In all, He rode 38 waves on Finals Day, with fourteen rides above 5 points, ten of which came in the last two heats. An incredibly dominant display. We haven't see the Anchor at J-Bay or Teahupoo but we already know he's going to charge and possibly dominate. Thus, with Jack and João sitting in a breakaway with clear air to the followers, we should get our heads around a João world title.
World Champions João Chianca and Molly Picklum. It's not implausible. In fact, it's highly possible. Two rookies who didn't make the cut last year. What signals would that send to ELO in terms of his upcoming tweaking of the tour format? Future World Champs sent back to the bush leagues, to a second tier standing on very wobbly legs.
What to do? Ditch the CS? Ditch the cut?
Pickles got stranded in closeout city in the morning gurgle despite professing the victory at sea conditions suited her. “I'm a raw and rogue person,” she told us, a self assessment more than backed up after she took a heavy beating going upside down on a heavy left and wearing the explosion on the head. Even though she lost to Tatiana Weston-Webb that heavy commitment made me think, can't wait to see Pickles in Tahiti.
There's no more boring storyline in sport than the one about generational change. New Guard, New School blah blah. Every so often though, it does whack you in the face. Simmers shares that rawness with Molly Picklum - there's just an unfiltered quality to both the surfing and on-land personalities which is making women's surfing, if I can use another dreadfully cliched phrase, so fun to watch.
Judges did drop their bundles a little over Caity's surfing as the emotion of the buzzer beater lingered. Her 8.67 in the Semi with Macy Callaghan was severely overcooked. Even allowing for the distorted spread she still won.
In the Final with veteran Courtney Conlogue, Simmers didn't quite get that super tube she'd been chasing. The best wave and threaded barrel went to the Sea Tiger. With twelve minutes remaining Simmers released the grip of a soft combination with a 7 and followed it up four minutes later with a scrappy two-turn combo for a 6. They were winning rides - a fraction of what she is capable of - but good enough.
Momentum is a very real thing and Pickles in yellow and Simmers on her shoulder in third place are at the leading edge of it.
The Australian leg, with its lumbering Southern Ocean venues will suit veterans hoping to rescue themselves from oblivion before the tour once again undergoes some kind of morphological spasm. It's final shape is unknown, and that extends to the very top as they make it up on the run in a scramble to wring profit from a sport that has always run deep in the red.
// STEVE SHEARER