Sophomore Slump At Snapper

freeride76's picture
By Steve Shearer (freeride76)
Photo: WSL/Miers

Sophomore Slump At Snapper

Steve Shearer picture
Steve Shearer (freeride76)
Form Guide

The opening Challenger Series event of the season is wrapped and in the books after a week of playful, good enough, bluewater peelers at Snapper Rocks. Taken out by Sammy Pupo for the men and India Robinson the women.

The rejigged tour puts Snapper in May. The shift from late summer to May is significant. May is practically its own season in the sub-tropics. On land, the tea-tree (Melaleuca sp.) is in full flower and the showy, cream-coloured blossoms fill the air with a thickly-honeyed scent, as evocative as the pungent smell of Gudang Garams in Indonesia. The day begins and ends with the screeching cacophony of nectar eating birds, primarily Rainbow Lorikeets. Clans and peoples of the Bundjalung nation know it as mullet (jullum) season. Contra the Northern Hemisphere, as we approach the winter solistice, food chains are at their seasonal maxima.

But the swell angles change too. The cyclone season is over. The monsoon trough has retreated, tropical depressions become a rarity, the tradewind belt shifts north. The Tasman Sea comes to life meaning that swells shift southward. All of which we saw last week. The famous bank was still there but, while an hour south the surf was six foot everyday, by the time the swell had got around Cape Byron and Point Danger it was half the size and much, much weaker.

Crowds were light on through the week and the field seemed weaker and less exciting than last year - lacking the novelty of 'fresh faces' like Ramzi Boukhiam, Nolan Rapoza, Joshe Faulkner, and Caity Simmers. The CT'ers failed to fire, for the most, apart from those who seemed genuinely frothed on ripping into playful Snapper, chiefly Rio Waida and Joao Chianca.

After enduring weeks of late-season east swell through April, the Snapper lineup fell quiet during early May, contestants relying on heavily refracted south swell that ran along the less organised inner banks (Photo WSL/Shield)

2019 was the last time I attended Snapper, and it felt like a lifetime ago. It was pre-pandemic, when Snapper was still the opening event of the year. The entire comp was held at D-bah and the beach was packed daily despite the mediocre surf.

The latest tourism propaganda must have got to me; a Finals Day site visit seemed in order. I'm a worst case scenario for the tourism suits. Going up the Goldy is visiting the work site for me. I took a packed lunch and thermos of coffee for a zero dollar spend.

A moderate crowd swelled Rainbow Bay - enough to fill the cafes and keep the deep fryer's humming but less than the day at the Superbank a couple of days before last New Year's Eve. The surf looked much more energetic in real life compared to the webby. Lots of waves going unridden and the sense of scale which had been so compressed through the screen was greatly enlarged. The area between the classic behind the rock takeoff and where most surfers sat was vast.

Finals day crowds gather at Snapper (WSL/Shield)

It was so much harder to decipher the rides from beachside viewing. In the Semis, a Steph Gilmore speed run through Little Marley/Outside Rainbow punctuated by seamless hits and carves easily looked the 7+ score required to overtake India Robinson yet was adjudged a 5-something. Also, the crowd on the beach was curiously disengaged from the surfing action. Apart from rowdy contingents of coaches/friends/team members, such as the Californian 2 per centers led by Kolohe Andino.

After that victory, India Robinson came up the sand with little fanfare while a crowd mobbed Gilmore on the beach, including an elderly couple from Cairns. Here for the spectacle and in all likelihood spending generously - a dream for the suits. The only surfer in the draw they knew was Steph. They finally got their photo and left the beach.

Steph illuminating the Snapper lineup (WSL/Shield)

I asked Challenger Series surfer and 2% principal Kolohe Andino what the Australian surfing public needed to know about this movement. Andino, a much bigger man in real life than appears on webcast, hooted the winning ride from 2 percenter Sawyer Lindblad and, when the dance steps and high fiving finally died down told me: “It's just a San Clemente version of Chapter 11. It's not a big deal. We're just having a lot of fun; we're trying really hard in the comps. Trying to stick together and hopefully get some momentum."

How did it start?

“Basically we are going to make a movie at the end of the year and thats how it started.”

OK, so how did it translate from making a movie into a pro surfing movement? They're two different things aren't they?

“It just seemed everyone was really excited for the movie and the boys started sticking together on the regional series and they all started doing really good cheering each other on - almost like a Brazilian Storm. We're picking up other people too now, we've got Eli [Hanneman, from Maui]) and the Geiselman's [Florida]. We're just having fun, lovin' everyone!”

“We do this every day at home so why wouldn't we do it on the road?”

Kolohe and Jett Schilling bro down (WSL/Miers)

As someone who has seen Snapper open the Championship Tour to it now opening the Challenger Series, how do you perceive the difference?

“Everyone misses it on Tour. Having a wave that was so high performance start the tour was huge. is what it is. The WSL is the only game in town so we're just gonna enjoy it, have fun and try our best.”

Would you like to see it come back as a CT event?

“Oh, absolutely! Everyone would love it to."

(Loud hoots and screams as Lindblad beat Sally Fitz, with Andino giving a credible Aus accent: “She just beat the little Aussie battler!”)

Note: In real life was Sally Fitzgibbon absolutely shredding.

Victorious India Robinson throws a fan to the sky (WSL/Miers)

'New' Coolangatta is where the tourism suits pitch their marketing. The glitzy high rises sprouting up over the bulldozed cinder block or fibro flats; the fancy new cafes and boujie restuarants.

That's fine but my tastes run to Old Coolangatta. There's no finer living representative of Old Coolangatta than Tommy Peterson, brother of the best to ever do it in the 'Gatta, Michael Peterson.

Tommy was in the pole corner spot in the Rainbow Bay Surf Club, with an expert punters eye view of the action. This was during the Semi-Finals, Jett Schilling was comfortably ahead of Sammy Pupo.

“Anyone caught your eye?” I asked Tommy.

“Yeah, this Pupo kid,” he growled, "I put fucking twenty bucks on him at 5-1 for a win yesterday."

Sammy P shakes his money maker (WSL/Shield)

Tommy settled into his speciality: a classic Coolangatta roast. All delivered in light-hearted jest of course.

He took aim at Bug's thinning hair, apparently a great place to view the sunrise or sunset through due to the lack of interfering follicles.

Sixty years he'd known Bugs and in that time he'd never seen his wallet: “Probably still got his fucken school lunch money in it."

His expertise on pro surf gambling had come from his Mum once owning a racehorse - named Gunsyn - in a third share with the butcher and grocer.

Tommy's role: “Go down the paddock every afternoon and give Gunsyn a bottle of beer."

The next fifteen minutes or so was unprintable magic.

Old Coolangatta. None of which will make the tourism pitches and dies with Tommy's generation.

Tommy was on the money of course and got the W, along with Sammy Pupo who lit up the wonky walls with edgey cuts and tail high airs. Hawaiian ex-CTer Imaikalani deVault missed out on the sets he needed to answer back. India Robinson won an even more one-sided Final when Sawyer Lindblad couldn't find a clean wall to hit.

With the forecast for Sydney looking grim and Haliewa off the calendar, Snapper may well the high point of the Challenger Series. The same thing happened last year so once more we will get the same paradox. Qualifiers chosen for their abilities in QS-level surf facing down Pipeline and Sunset to start the year.



sales-rep's picture
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sales-rep Monday, 15 May 2023 at 10:15am

I think that photo is India Robbo, not Sally.

stunet's picture
stunet's picture
stunet Monday, 15 May 2023 at 10:25am

Yeah, you're right. Way more sponnos on Sal's board.

Have changed caption accordingly.

dawnperiscope's picture
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dawnperiscope Monday, 15 May 2023 at 10:37am

Love the Tommy insight, thanks FR.
Really interested in your comments about watching real life 'v' webby. I went to a few comps back in the day and recall the opposite experience where people watching the webby didn't think the score was warranted but in real life everyone watching was on board.
My understanding is the judges are watching the telly these days.. is that correct?

freeride76's picture
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freeride76 Monday, 15 May 2023 at 12:54pm

They have both.

But they are a fair way from the action so the replay would be crucial.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Monday, 15 May 2023 at 11:12am

If the Wozzle could be flexible about the Oz leg they could've scored pumping perfection at all venues. You're right Steve of course as a pro forecaster and keen watcher, early autumn isn't the most predictable surf season but always has its moments and Huey did send a bunch of excellent swells our way from all directions. The wsl managed to dodge all of them?
It's about the bucks we understand that, maybe it's too expensive to have Bells, Margs & Snapper all set up for two months and go where the surf is but
do you want a dream tour or you just want to keep chasing dribble around the continent/globe?
It could be done but it has to be on Huey's terms.
C'mon, work it out for a win, win, win to the surfers, the fans and the wsl, you know you need it.
pumping surf = eyeballs

burzum's picture
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burzum Monday, 15 May 2023 at 11:43am

So true... If I was the contest director, I'd be crying right now...Surf on the pump again at Cooly.

Vince Neil's picture
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Vince Neil Monday, 15 May 2023 at 11:20am

Jamie and Johns little brother has the 'paid to surf' game figured out. Travel the world, surf the best waves, gently chide people of lesser ability for towing

Roopy's picture
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Roopy Monday, 15 May 2023 at 11:32am

Cracking write up, as always, Steve. Sorry to be pedantic, but there were four owners in the 'Gunsynd' Goondiwindi Syndicate. I lived in Gundy in the 1990s, which is one reason why I can't surf.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Monday, 15 May 2023 at 12:34pm

Take us all in the boot scoot comp no doubt

Roopy's picture
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Roopy Monday, 15 May 2023 at 12:54pm

I could probably outfish everyone for european carp, but that's about it

stunet's picture
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stunet Monday, 15 May 2023 at 12:45pm

Just read an article with Ace Buchan where he's mildly critical of the Woz and the direction it's going, including the mid-year cut. He ventured that they've taken criticisms on board and may soon make small changes to it. One option he voiced was possibly making the cut deeper into the season so all surfers get a legit swing at qualifying.

If that were to happen, and if Snapper were to remain the opening CS event, then it would get pushed even further away from the season.

mpeachy's picture
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mpeachy Monday, 15 May 2023 at 2:56pm

I thought the waves were pretty good. Obviously not pumping but the Goldy has had plenty of CT events in much worse conditions.

Surfalot67's picture
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Surfalot67 Monday, 15 May 2023 at 3:05pm

Nope - it was very average for the comp. Probably great if your local is Middleton, but not by Snapper standards. Look at the Greeny live cam right now to see what they missed by a day.

Standingleft's picture
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Standingleft Monday, 15 May 2023 at 2:58pm

Surfing has two sides.
One is typified in the gymnastics of the surf ranch and to a lesser extent lower trestles and also recently at snapper rocks, the waves are more like equipment, a pommel horse, a springboard from which to launch your routine.
The other is oceanship. Positioning, wave choice, and reading the chaotic, dangerous ocean. A great example was Luke Sheppardson hunting down and executing wave of the day at the Eddie contest. That's oceanship, that's the ultimate in surfing.
That's why the season must climax in Hawaii. It's a surfing competition. It's not all about you. It's not all about your performance, your tricks, it's not a look at me festival. The winner must win in partnership with the ocean, you share your credit with the wave by conquering the challenge it presents and that is the awe of the sport.
It just can't be won by gymnastics where the waves are relegated to the significance of a bowl in the skatepark.
If you love Huey and I know everyone on here marvels at the wonder, the ripples of liquid energy, surfing the surface tension as it tugs the sea floor and explodes on itself in futile fury, the unpredictable wildness that people of the ocean know and live always in respect of, its immense ambivalence to your insignificant, self adsorbed gesturing.
Finals at Pipeline in February. That's what we want WSL.

RockyIsland's picture
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RockyIsland Monday, 15 May 2023 at 6:21pm

Here here ......great comment spot on

bbbird's picture
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bbbird Monday, 15 May 2023 at 7:22pm

eloquent poetry

dastasha's picture
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dastasha Monday, 15 May 2023 at 7:48pm

Well said.
It ain't much of a league.
A bit more like a bubble.
Some of the surfing seemed... frantic
There was a vague carny vibe down at the contest site

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Monday, 22 May 2023 at 9:34pm


Tooold2bakook's picture
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Tooold2bakook Tuesday, 23 May 2023 at 9:59pm

Well said

Solitude's picture
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Solitude Monday, 15 May 2023 at 6:39pm

CS is like a pig with lipstick.
Reckon the whole shebang might come back to the old ‘QS system come ‘24

bbbird's picture
bbbird's picture
bbbird Monday, 15 May 2023 at 7:35pm

Great insights to the CS'show Steve, thanks.

Heard that this maybe one of the best run of swells on the east coast Oz since 1986.... hope everyone has had scored some great waves.

These guys can spray lips, even on a pig....

"Corporate America has yet to figure out how to deal with "yes" men and women – the people who are fearful of delivering any kind of news that might upset their superiors. As such, projects continue to fail, costing companies time and money. "

A Pro Setup... complete between tide, traffic and show ponies.

zenagain's picture
zenagain's picture
zenagain Monday, 15 May 2023 at 8:02pm

Great write-up as we've come to expect now.

Sammy Pups a very worthy winner. Young fella is insanely good.

I don't think too many people missed the Swellian Army this year. I certainly didn't.

3vickers's picture
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3vickers Monday, 15 May 2023 at 9:34pm

feel for the wozzle - huey didn’t play ball with the window

…. i love snapper but i just couldn’t get into it this time around and ended up just checking in ad-hoc and tuning out somewhat uninspired

(my mum and sister were there and said they had a ball so that’s something )

More tubes please's picture
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More tubes please Monday, 15 May 2023 at 10:35pm

Promote snapper back to the CT, and have MR as the opener for the CS and sunset as the CS finale. 3 fat burgery rights in the first 5 events is just painful.

Also put Uluwatu in as a CT high performance left, demote El Salvador to the CS and just get rid of the surf ranch full stop.

Unfortunately a CT in Brazil is a necessary evil.

seahound's picture
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seahound Tuesday, 16 May 2023 at 12:38am

Good reporting Steve, thanks. The venue and waves, while not anywhere near its majestic tubular best, were still pretty good for a surf comp, even if a little too inconsistent. But there was enough speed for all competitors to execute two or three good turns each ride for the judges to decipher. And great to hear Tommy is still keen-witted and funny as ever...and picking winners too.

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truebluebasher Thursday, 18 May 2023 at 11:02pm

Qldurrz proudly welcomed the Team & now to Salute #1 swellnet for our Goldie Leg.

Sure! We copped WSL's Raw Prawn & with our Wave Pool War still raging!
GOAT giving us the Flick to dip in some lame exotic bath tub...goin' down the tube hopefully.

Swellnet saved the day & gave us a fair go to get our Gold shining again.

Thanks to World's #1 Surf Unit swellnet...
Live Goldie Comp links + Crew : Comp Booth Comments
Craig :
dandob + Andrew & (Local Goldie Photographers)
Steve + This Feature

Goldie looks & feels the better for it...we're super stoked with #1 swellnet
Good as it gets > top shelf & exactly what Goldie needed...Welcome back anytime crew...Yew!

WOTD ~~~~^~~~~/`~~~~/\~~~~/(~~~~/(`~~~~/(C~~~~/((C..[swellnet)


t-diddy's picture
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t-diddy Friday, 19 May 2023 at 6:21pm

Tommy sounds hilarious! But let's not let our dynamic memories (I have no memories of this but I'm a student of history) let us forget that the GC in MP's time was rough as...the cops busting everyone for weed only to have it replaced by heroin. Real estate sold to the most unscrupulous buyer with no regard to future coastal issues. The Fitzgerald inquiry didn't come out until '89

MGB's picture
MGB's picture
MGB Friday, 19 May 2023 at 9:09pm

Watched a bit of the comp live and online, and what i saw was a fair bit of good surfing, but fuck all well ridden waves.

truebluebasher's picture
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truebluebasher Saturday, 20 May 2023 at 11:08pm

Salute Goldie legend Alexis J Favenchi...thanx for sharing the Cool tune.

1965 A.J. Favenchi
Empty D'bah + a sneak a peak at Dreamtime, Snapper Sea Baths and Pet Porpoise Pool...
And not a Kook in sight...can't have everything huh!

upnorth's picture
upnorth's picture
upnorth Monday, 22 May 2023 at 9:20pm

'Contra the Northern Hemisphere, as we approach the winter solistice, food chains are at their seasonal maxima.'
Thats just the nature of the sub tropics, north or south of equator. Wouldn't be a Steve piece without a little Aussie one upmanship though - even the farkin food chains are better.

velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno's picture
velocityjohnno Monday, 22 May 2023 at 9:36pm

If Swellnet has a slow news week, you reckon you could give us that 15 minutes of unprintable magic as an interview?

Old Cooly crew are national treasures.