Surf Ranch Pro 2023
Surf Ranch Pro 2023
The opposite of love is not hate but indifference and it's incredible to behold; just five years down the track of the massively hyped introduction of wavepools to professional surfing just how indifferent the surfing public has become to Kelly Slater's Surf Ranch event.
It's incredible too, measuring up against the breathless hype of five years ago and observing how stagnant the whole concept has become, on every level. In 2017, then-CEO Sophie Goldschmitt proclaimed the league had already, “targeted six [wave pool] developments that have begun, or will shortly be underway”. Of those six, not one has had a shovel turned on it.
Journalist Nick Carroll could barely contain the froth after the Founders Cup in May 2018: “…it’s all downhill from here. It’s done. It has immense momentum. Who can’t see the pool as part of professional surfing’s future? The Founders Cup was the critical turning point the WSL needed. They’ll be fully convinced now of their direction and will pursue it with all the considerable energies at their disposal."
Heady stuff that has aged like a bucket of prawns left in the summer sun.
We were promised an incredible surge in surfing performance as surfers learnt “routines” on a repeatable wave. Snowboarding, skateboarding, gymnastics were repeatedly invoked.
If anything, performance has gone backwards. No-one has surfed it in a more progressive fashion than Julian Wilson in the opening 2018 event. Toledo has gone backwards, as has Medina. Safety surfing reigns supreme - the opening day of this 2023 event was shockingly boring and conservatively surfed. Ninety-six waves were ridden in the Men's Qualifying Rounds - objectively all perfect, predicatble waves - yet just six of those waves scored over 8. Which means, by the numbers, 94% of waves ridden were safety surfed.
We were further away from a perfect 10 this event than we were in 2017.
By the time the 2021 event had wrapped, the fans had spoken. Even Kelly Slater admitted his own creation was boring. Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity so when the WSL came back to the Ranch, even they could not ignore the backlash and indifference. “We hear the comments online about what people think of the event,” said Kelly last night. CEO Erik Logan accused disgruntled fans of being jealous.
Circling the wagons like that is a great tactic for defeating an enemy, be they a rival sporting code or team for example. But when you are circling the wagons against your own fans it should provide a clue that you are heading in the wrong direction.
What was new this year..?
Not damn much. They made the water bluer, which added to the aesthetics. No real change to the waves: the left still slopey and crumbly and ran off on a lot of surfers.
The opening day format with four-man heats did not work in my eyes. Heats took forever and were hard to follow because surfers did not surf a left and then a right in succession. Safety surfing ruled and removed the purity and honesty of the cut line.
Night surfing, which reintroduced the cut-line, did work.
It was, by far, the highlight of the event. Drama-filled as only one wave counted, and with a cut line very easy to follow. The wave was obviously trickier to read in the night lights, which looked patently inadequate for the job. Lots and lots of falls, including Kelly Slater who went over the handlebars mid-ride on the right and then botched the barrel section on the left. Following the wildcard gift for 2023/2024 Kelly was not competitive in his own pool. His best ride was a 7.20, with an average wave score after six rides of 5.93.
The freshest lines were drawn by Caity Simmers, who somehow managed to put some old school steez onto the mechanical platform.
What was also different this year was the judging. In previous incarnations it's been consistent and comprehensible. It was neither this year. Judges previously wanted performance, progression, and a completed ride. This year they wanted everything and nothing.
They seemed to be low-balling Medina for cruising. So he amped it up, but they refused to go into the 9's for him.
By contrast, Carissa Moore surfed exactly the same every wave, exactly the same as she surfed in 2021. Even by her own admission in the post-Final presser she said she still had much more to give. She was not required to show it because judges went excellent and beyond for her despite the repetition which was clearly within her comfort zone.
Commentators were zero help in parsing the scoring. They were far more focussed on amping up the pro-pool propaganda. Circling the wagons, little lies, untruths and omissions were the order of the day.
For example, John John Florence put in a tepid performance over both his day and night runs. Commentators kept telling us it was because he had never competed at the tub before. Yet John competed at both the full-scale trial Future Classic in Nov 2017 and the broadcast Founders Cup in May 2018 where he won best air. He is no tub virgin, as they continually asserted.
Also, we were continually told how “physically demanding” the tub is, despite the opening rounds removing even the requirement to surf waves back to back. That is just pure cringe. It would be one of the least demanding sports on Earth. You'd have to go to chess, or checkers, or E-sports to find something comparably undemanding.
The biggest change in terms of performance from the current roster was by Italo Ferreira. Italo has never made the cut to Finals Day in previous starts; the tub has been a clear weakness for him. This year it looked like he had traded places with 2019 Gabe Medina. Smoked the rights with huge hits and danced all over the lefts with unparalleled repertoire.
That was enough for him to easily exceed Ethan Ewing's total in their Semi (with two rides to spare) and bought him to the Final against Colapinto.
Both of his first two rides looked superior to Colapinto's, but the left was clearly dominant. Griff had surfed safe and repetitive, and got an 8.70. Ferreira should have been a point and half ahead. He received exactly the same score.
The Final was cooked. Daylight robbery. A hometown decision. The worst Finals decision I've ever seen.
As it happened we heard not a word in the booth.
This is why surfing can't be UFC, or Formula One, or any other of the sports it covets so desperately. A bad judging call in UFC is acknowledged: rematches can be assembled to rectify the error. F1 has cameras and objective rules which can be protested if broken.
Pro surfing cannot even acknowledge an error has occurred, let alone try and rectify it. It's scared of its own fans, able only to compound error with more error and denial.
Meanwhile, the sunk cost of the wavepool debacle grows deeper every year.
// STEVE SHEARER
Surf Ranch Pro Women's Final Results:
1 - Carissa Moore (HAW) 16.53
2 - Caroline Marks (USA)15.43
Surf Ranch Pro Men’s Final Results:
1 - Griffin Colapinto (USA) 17.77
2 - Italo Ferreira (BRA) 17.13
Surf Ranch Pro Women's Semifinal Results:
HEAT 1: Caroline Marks (USA) 15.53 DEF. Caitlin Simmers (USA) 15.00
HEAT 2: Carissa Moore (HAW) 18.00 DEF. Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA) 14.77
Surf Ranch Pro Men's Semifinal Results:
HEAT 1: Griffin Colapinto (USA) 15.60 DEF. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.10
HEAT 2: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 16.60 Def. Ethan Ewing (AUS) 16.36