Margaret River Pro: Finals Day
Margaret River Pro: Finals Day
Lopsided encounters in wonky 6-8ft Mainbreak defined Finals Day today, with the potential of juicy match-ups generally not translating into meaningful competition.
Event winner Gabe Medina looked strong from the opening ride, which was the first of the day, a three-turner for a 6.33. He sealed it with carves into the lip line for a 7.67 which defeated a hapless Toledo whose legs seemed to surrender like warm custard in the morning lump and bump.
It was Medina's superior leg strength which really set his path to victory - the ability to sit down on an extended bottom turn drive until the section presented itself. His preparation, two physical trainers from hometown Mareisas for physical conditioning and Coach King for mental/moral support is looking like an incredibly strong combination to take into the back half of the tour.
Completely unrelated but the importance now of physical conditioning and strength (big turns win heats, especially at Margaret River) has changed my thinking about the potential advantage of PED's in pro surfing. You could literally see the advantage of holding a rail and turning bigger, withstanding the impact and G-forces of colliding with the end section and it would be no great stretch to imagine how even a tiny physical advantage gained by pharmacological means would mean heat wins. Not that I am suggesting anyone on tour is juicing, just that pro surfing would be no outlier as a pro sport where that would confer an unfair advantage.
Joao Chianca will wear yellow to Lemoore, but he did not look strong and in control. His points came from tail release and exuberance in hitting the end section against Connor O'Leary who could not find a decent wave to answer back. A common theme.
Joao almost won his Semi-Final, engaging Medina in the old dark arts of hassling and unwarranted aggression scrapping for priority. They spent half the heat out of position, duckdiving sets, paddling back and forth trying to psyche each other out. Medina's ego and sense of wounded machismo has always been his Achilles heel, costing him the 2019 World Title which he could have wrapped up in Portugal if not for a massive error against Caio Ibelli. Eventually, the New Medina settled into surfing and with a minute remaining cooly iced the heat-winning wave.
We all wanted to see Ethan vs John. It was not a competitive heat. John picked better waves - mid-sizers on the bowl and lacerated them with huge turns. Ewing could not compete, turn for turn, caught crappy waves and had an “old” Ewing heat. One where he fell apart. I did detect a little more sting in the John John attack, perhaps a bit of wounded pride seeking retribution after the implication Ewing was now the man out at Mainbreak.
If pride was restored for the main man at Mainbreak, then it was quickly humbled in his Semi with Griff. John explained later that the strategy was to get some mid-range scores on the board early and then attack. Which he did, although judges were suddenly hesitant at giving single turn waves more than a 5, which is fair enough. While we were contemplating the beautiful record and waiting for the fireworks, Griff spiked a set with three turns and a closeout hit for an 8.50. Eyebrows went up at the score. Minutes later he rode the biggest and bowliest wave of the heat with a big, clean carving top turn and a tail release, then an early hit on the end section. The 9 seemed an even bigger over-score to me and with John in a heavy combination the heat was essentially over, both by lack of waves and over-cooked scoring. Three Finals have been dominated by John: 2012, 2017, and 2019, while last years loss was a split decision. The only other thing to defeat John at Mainbreak is the dicky knee.
It was a shock to see him forlornly looking out to sea after being combo-ed.
“Like trying to run in a nightmare,” was how Ronnie Blakey described the often impotent attempts to outrun the end section convergence. It described perfectly Bronte Macauley's entire heat. She could not fire a shot and a conservative but solid heat from Carissa Moore was enough to progress to the Final.
Caz Marks did slightly better in her Semi against Tyler Wright, but an 8.50 dished out by the judges for a great wave but safe surfing also made the heat essentially uncompetitive.
Competitive integrity. Is that just a hopelessly naïve concept in pro surfing?
They sure weren't trumpeting the GOAT wildcard today on the webby. One single mention during the entire day. Even the most reliable sycophant in pro surfing, Joe Turpel, could not rouse any enthusiasm for the announcement.
The cornerstone of professional sport is fair competition. Aspirants work their way up through qualifying events, make the main tour and when they are no longer competitive, they retire - either on their own terms (rarely) or by failing to qualify at the elite level of competition. That makes way for the next crop to come through to compete at the elite level. People who have qualified via fair competition and deserve their crack at it.
Slater himself said, if they wanted his spot on tour, they would have to come and take it off him.
Well they did. A mild mannered engineering student named Liam O’Brien came and took it off him, fair and square.
Instead of respecting the competitive architecture of the sport which has given him a livelihood for thirty years Slater has chosen to make a mockery of it. And deny those below him who have earned their right to a fair crack at it. Yes, it's a private league and they can do whatever they damn well want, make up whatever rules they want as they go along.
They should keep a little eye over their shoulder though, especially at the taxpayers who bankroll the sport via government tourism funding. They are prone to long memories and vengeful attitudes to those who play them for suckers. Dispense with fair competition at your peril.
The Finals were not really competitive either, although oddly, despite being on the end of dominant performances both runners up had heat winning waves at their disposal in the last minute.
Griff was smoked really, by Gabe Medina's extended sat down bottom turns to lip explosions, even if some of the following turns were kooky and awkward. He stayed on his feet and forced judges to pay the high moments of the ride.
Needing a 9-plus ride Griff suckered Gabe into a wave and then stroked into a doubled-up blue wall, very remiscent of the double-up Carissa got against Lakey Peterson. It threw out perfectly and stayed open, but Griff dodged the tube and went around it, laying into a turn and getting smashed on the closeout. That was a 10-point ride if he pulled in.
Tyler's opportunity was less dramatic. The wind had finally swung southerly and in rapidly deteriorating conditions she only needed a 6.
She got the wave and only needed two clean turns for the score. She flubbed it and the reaction from brother Mikey on the stairs said it all. He jumped to his feet with his head clutched in his hands. She'd blown it. Carissa had won another heat, this time the Final, with essentially safety surfing. That's all it took.
Gabe is back, into “competitive mode” in his own words but the personal transformation is now complete. From old fashioned heel – loathed by many - to good guy. Loved by all.
His presser speech was peppered with feel good words and phrases: “friends", "taking care of each other", "appreciating the journey", "feels amazing"” etc etc. And it all sounded genuine and not a bit corny.
Not at all like Slater's post-heat presser the other day when a sporting public sold on the (fake) drama of the cut watched a smug, grinning Slater who clearly knew he was exempt from the cut told us he might be at Surf Ranch because “he knew a guy”.
Weak sauce and, until he gets his shot, #JusticeforRamzi.
// STEVE SHEARER