Margaret River Pro: Day 3
Margaret River Pro: Day 3
Everything seemed to be setting up for another dream day for Kelly Slater, something even he acknowledged in his post heat presser.
Shades of '98 where the surfers in front of him - in this case Danny Wills and Mick Campbell - folded at Pipe and Kelly was last man standing for the World Title. The last of five in a row before he bailed out for three years.
In this instance it wasn't gnarly Pipe but a glamour day at Mainbreak, as pretty as it gets at 6-8ft, and it wasn't a World Title he was fighting for but to save himself from the ignominy of being cut from the Tour. The same theme was playing out. Wildcards taking out fellow cellar dwellers helped his cause.
Local plumber Jerome Forrest took out Carlos Munoz. Jarvis Earle dispatched Michael Rodriguez. Reef Heazlewood eliminated Rio Waida.
The competition below him all folded: Zeke went down to Connor O'Leary, Maxime was eliminated by Gabe Medina. In the logjam just above him the competitors dropped like dying flies in the window frame.
Sammy Pupo, gone.
Gentil, retired hurt.
Jacko Baker, cut down like an old dead tree by his best mate Callum Robson.
Nat Young, had a shocker and was easily handled by Yago Dora.
It was starting to feel like one of those crazy Slater days of yore, with a magical rail run from deep in the pack beckoning.
The path was being cleared by the cosmic forces which over the course of three decades have seemed to propel Kelly to greatness. The last minute rides that seem to appear from nowhere.
And the guy he was facing, Liam O'Brien, was a Margaret River rookie just a single spot above him on the rankings. A guy who would have been calculating that if he lost this heat it was back to grinding it out on the CS. Kelly would have been salivating.
By the time they got there - Heat 10 of sixteen overlapping heats - the offshore wind had died down. It was about as rippable and user-friendly as Mainbreak gets.
Kelly was chatty, he hovered around LOB before nabbing the first wave in the non-priority heat. LOB rode the wave behind. A strong Kelly wave with a big first lip hit for a 6.17. A point better than Liam's 5.17.
The wave-riding was insane but the jockeying and feinting decided the heat. LOB, feinted Kelly into the next wave, a dud for a two point ride.
With Kelly out of rhythm Liam smashed his two highest scoring rides of the heat on bowly mid-sizers. What LOB delivered was pinnacle style modern surfing - no weirdness, no bobbles, three huge turns per wave, each delivered like axe blows.
The contrast with Kelly's response was stark, reflecting differing eras. Kelly went harder on the bottom turn and pushed vertical lip hits and foam climbs beyond vertical, but without the killer power. He greased through long roundhouse cutties with huge rebounds. Carving three-o attempts. It was different, classic Kelly. But not in the same league.
Then it was Kelly's time to feint. LOB gave him a wave he thought was a dud and Kelly opened up with the big power snap to start and a weird recovery tail free close-outs turn that judges paid with a 7.83.
Minute and thirty – Kelly needs a 7.70. He's gunna get it, I thought. LOB had given him priority by catching a crappy wave, an overcompensation for the previous error.
Fifty seconds, Kelly gets his wave. Again, the past vertical hit/climb and a weird recovery. A million times I'd seen judges fall for the drama and the recuperation. Not this time. The 5.77 was well short.
The presser would have to be priceless, surely. By concealing almost everything, Kelly revealed his hand. Attempting to play dumb about the Surf Ranch, he admitted he “knew a guy”. There was not a single concession granted to retirement. Not a word. It was as classic a piece of Kelly Slater gamesmanship as we've ever seen, despite his name being on the screen with the words Did Not Make the Cut below them. Kelly will continue to create his own reality on this Tour for as long as he damn well wants.
Not so his fellow Cut-tees. All of them will be relegated.
It was shocking and a testament to the idea of the Cut itself how little resistance was offered by those below or on the line.
Only Barron Mamiya from below the line was able to rescue himself with a big three turn combo against Caio Ibelli.
Jackson Baker's turn timing has been impeccable. With a heat winning wave in the offing against Callum Robson it deserted him and he flubbed the two turns badly arriving way too late to the lip.
Kolohe, a dual Finalist here, unfortunately for him both times to John Florence looked impotent against Ryan Callinan. Back to Snapper.
The problem for fans now - post Cut - is twofold.
One, Surf Ranch even by Kelly Slater's estimation is boring and two, all the mid rangers who have solidified their jobs for a year go into cruise control. Jordy Smith being Exhibit A. In a classic piece of dry Saffa humour when told he had made the Cut, Jordy deadpanned “Means I can surf Surf Ranch - pretty frothing, nah.” Don't worry Jordy, Kelly will be happy to take your place.
There'd been some confusion all day from judges about how to score backhand surfing, which caused Ronnie Blakey to grumble about the scores being given to too-late pedestrian backhand hits. Windshield wiper 12 o'clock hits delivered with slightly off timing were paid if delivered with risk (see Reef Heazlewood's three-banger against Kanoa and Rio) whilst Yago Dora's nine-pointer against Nat Young seemed extravangantly scored.
Figuring out how they will parse these backside rides will become pressing with five goofies left in the draw.
For mine it was Italo one, Gabe two just for the sheer size of the turns. That won't be a popular opinion. Italo split the audience further by wasting a whole wave to launch a giant full rotation air on the end section. His first attempt failed, the second landed on an unbelievably treacherous set of rapids. He followed that with the two best backhand turns of the day.
The Box had been pumping all day. Yellow jersey holder Chianca referenced it in his presser, making a suggestion that perhaps the World's best should have been across the Bay.
Florence returned from his Box sojourn to close out the Men's action easily accounting for a game Jake Marshall with six huge turns on two waves.
Four Women's heats were hard to see in the afternoon glare but were taken out by Pickles, Bronte Macaulay, Carissa Moore and Lakey Peterson surfing for her spot on Tour.
Those cut today: Zeke Lau, Carlos Munoz, Kolohe Andino, Jake Marshall, Maxime Huscenot, Michael Rodrigues, Nat Young, Jackson Baker, Sammy Pupo, and Kelly Slater (provisionally).
With the glamour day behind us, the forecast gets trickier as the Southern Ocean throws a temper tantrum.
My pick: Italo Ferreira.