Corona Open J-Bay 2023: Finals Day
Corona Open J-Bay 2023: Finals Day
It was too much to expect the Woz to score two consecutive days of good waves, and Finals Day turned out to be an anti-climactic display in highly inconsistent, sectiony 3-4ft surf under grey skies and rain. A far cry from the bluebird perfection of yesterday.
Goofy-footers were distinctly disadvantaged as they raced sections and found the soft corners unable to support a vertical attack. Still, there are levels to the backside game and Gabe Medina proved he's still ahead of his peers via creativity and detailed and accurate reads on tricky sections. Not enough, however, to best the forehand of Ethan Ewing.
At the start of the season with two Hawaiian events looming I noted that physicality was becoming increasingly important to the modern pro. Medina, Ewing, O'Leary, Dora, Jordy, John Florence, Jack Robinson, Ryan Callinan et al: all beefcakes with physiques that could withstand the rigours of a full contact sport.
Carissa Moore has the athletic build. As does Tyler, Lakey, Molly Picklum, Caz Marks, Defay.
Given the equality of technique and equipment at the elite level, the human body remains the biggest variable and a stronger body can do bigger turns. Big turns, turn heats, win events.
Of course, there are outliers; exceptions that prove the rule.
Say what you want about Filipe Toledo, but this small man has opened up a meaningful gap to his nearest competitors when it comes to rail surfing. No-one is doing bigger turns on tour than Toledo. His dominance at J-Bay was astounding.
The closest anyone got to him was Jack Robinson in their Quarter-Final. Filipe strafed a small wave to open up and judges showered him with champagne for a 9.63. He seemed almost too content with that score and Robinson was subsequently on all the best waves in the heat. Even so, he couldn't get better than 2 points to Toledo's highest score and Filipe only needed a modest back-up to win. The one-and-a-half point spread at the hooter was indicative of Jack's superior wave selection.
Otherwise, the dominance of Toledo was massive: 6 points against Rio Waida in their Round of 16 heat, 5 points better than Kanoa in the Semi, 6 points ahead of Ewing in a very one-sided Final. Those are incredible numbers.
Toledo could now do a Slater, get 'sick' before Tahiti and spend the next month and a half sleeping in his own bed and surfing Trestles. If Pip started to treat Tahiti the way Slater treated Brazil it would be a blackly ironic legacy of the Slater approach.
Toledo will enter Finals Day as the shortest price favourite of all time.
Carissa is having a similarly dominant year, even if her event wins haven't felt quite as dominant as Toledo's and her performance levels have at times felt shaded by newer surfers on tour like Caity Simmers and Pickles. Carissa seems vulnerable at Trestles in a way that is foreign to Toledo. A rampaging Marks or Pickles, both of whom are less reluctant to employ more progressive repertoires under pressure could see Moore subject to another humiliation on the cobblestones. Carissa has to get comfortable breaking out of that 70% zone where she has won so many events.
Molly Picklum has made it clear she won't back down and be guilty of “over-respecting” her opponents. She'll scrap if needed, compete for every wave, and smash anything that moves.
Her QF against Gilmore was the best heat of Finals Day. Judges paid power, repertoire, and a big finish. Like most of the day, the surfer who won the opening exchange carried huge advantages on a dying swell for the rest of the heat. Pickles iced her opener for a 7. Gilmore fell for a 6.33. That fall almost certainly cost Steph the heat and a chance to defend her title. She fought back brilliantly with an 8.77, featuring the full gamut of Gilmore carving and tube-riding but the initial deficit generated by the mistake could not be accounted for.
Pickles then cooly dispatched the only good wave that came through in a wave-starved Semi against Carissa which really didn't offer up much information for future clashes. Moore was marooned, nothing came through. Mother Nature decided that heat.
23 waves were ridden in the Women's Final. 11 from Lakey, 12 from Pickles. Exchanges were crucial with both the 6th and 9th waves for both surfers being the highest-scoring rides after a very scrappy start. Surf became more consistent, offset by a higher tide which put most waves right on the rocks and too sectiony to make more than one turn.
The heat really started halfway through after Pickles flogged Peterson in a paddle battle. Molly caught the only real bomb set of the Final and fell after two big turns. That proved a critical fall. The 7.50 for two turns should have been a 9+ if the whitewater hadn't grabbed her rail en route to another turn.
Pickles won that exchange but the 9th ride exchange was decisive for Lakey: an 8.50 to 6.00 spread for three crisp turns and a clean hit vs Pickles swoop and big closeout carve in the lip. In the 12 minutes remaining Pickles was unable to find another quality wave.
A Pickles world title would seem an incredible outcome. After being cut last year to making the Top 5 this year (a courtesy we also have to extend to Joao Chianca of course). Her form at Trestles remains unknown; we'd have to assume she would decimate the rippable walls.
It's easy to barrack for Molly. She shreds, charges, and has a down home Aussie openness where she makes a constant point of thanking the fans staying up to watch her and support her.
Toledo and others in the Top 5 have more problematic relationships with the fan base.
I think we will all have to accept though, that in the current era ,Toledo's potential multiple World Titles are legitimate achievements.
Despite the lacklustre Finals Day surf there's been a subtle but noticeable shift in the commentary, led by the irascible Strider Wasilewski towards a little more truth, a little more colouring outside very proscribed lines, which has made it very much more fun to watch.
// STEVE SHEARER