Tahiti Pro 2023: Day One
Tahiti Pro 2023: Day One
Four women eliminated today, no men, in an opening day held in very scrappy 3-5ft Teahupoo. There were waves, there were tubes - made, dodged, and botched - and a Final Five drama that, incredibly, the WSL is managing to royally fuck up via the injury to Ethan Ewing.
Jessie Miley-Dyer came on the webby and solemnly swore that the rulebook (yes, the one they slavishly adhere to as they make it up on the spot) stated that if a Final Five surfer was injured there would be no replacement. There would be a Final Four instead.
Sport, particularly a Finals Series, only has one essential element: It can’t (or shouldn't) fuck up. To wit: Make sure you get the right guys or gals in there competing for Top Spot.
The Final Five is an arbitrary concept as it stands; the brain fart of Dirk Ziff, brought to life like Frankenstein via disgraced ex-CEO Erik Logan.
By making it a Final Four - one, two, or three of those outside the five (ranked 6th, 7th, 8th) will miss the chance to compete for the title. Those competitors..?
John Florence, Gabe Medina, and Jack Robinson.
Having those guys eliminated by fiat from competing for the title is a fuck-up of momumental proportions.
JMD has to go. She owns this.
As if to show the complete absurdity of not allowing a replacement for Ewing from this group all three surfers put on a clinic at small Chopes.
Immediately, Medina made it look like a different quality day by lacing inside runners which drain the most shallow section of the reef. A pair of 8’s. His 17th excellent heat total at Chopes.
Professional surfing seems to do funny things with time. Medina’s last showing here was 2019 - four years ago! How long can an athlete stay in their prime? The Slater experience of decades looks more and more like an outlier. Medina has already hinted he sees his future with kids, on the beach in the sub-tropics playing happy families.
If he can’t make the Olympic team we may be witnessing his last Tahitian performance.
We go back even further in time for John’s last showing. 2017, his second World Title year. Six years ago. On the wrong side of 30 it seems inconceivable John could go to 40, but too much of the good life awaits him. Too much risk of injury in competition. John has qualified (provisionally, whatever that means) for the 2024 Olympics so barring injury we will see him compete here again.
So much of that promised rivalry between John and Medina now seems unfulfilled, and will never be realised. Robbed by injury, pandemic, a piss poor schedule. There was so much we could have seen.
Justice would have seen a tour designed around these two talents and how best to showcase them, challenge them. We’ve seen almost the exact opposite.
And now a last decision, a legacy from the failed ELO years which will ensure one of them will not contest for a World Title via a rule.
Scrap the rulebook, Jessie! Make a decision for the fans and the betterment of the sport for once.
Medina went first, John followed with a feisty, fiery performance. He caught nine waves. Sat on foam balls, toyed with dry reef sections, opened up into full-throated backhand roundhouses back into angry sections. It was a statement of intent after J-Bay.
There’s a very narrow path for Medina, even narrower for JJF and Robinson. With a decent forecast and based on today's performances you’d expect one of those three to win, with all three making the Semis. A crap shoot outlook with turns playing a key role reduces the odds.
Meanwhile, it increases the odds for Toledo. His performances at Chopes are...patchy. He’s proven he can get the job done, but very far from consistently and very far from the mastery displayed by the trio of JJF, Medina, and Jack Robbo.
The webcast makes the wave look easier to read than it is in reality. Skill sets and reef knowledge are not evenly distributed, even in the Top 10 surfers in the World.
Toledo did enough today to win a heat. His 11 point total, up against 16+ for Medina, 14 for JJF, and 15+ for Jack is a fair indication of that spread.
If we are going to give Toledo a hard time, fairness dictates we must subject current Women's and 8-time World Champion Steph Gilmore to similar scrutiny. Her first heat netted a total of 4.73. Won by a proper tube threaded by Vahine Fierro.
She won the elimination heat against Lakey Peterson with a total of 4.60.
Her two heats last year garnered 7.50 and 4.16.
Amazingly, despite these pitiable numbers and not having successfully completed a single backside tube-ride Steph has now made two Quarter Finals at this venue.
For a professional athlete with no other obligations but to improve the skill set, the excuses twelve months down the track are sounding a bit hollow.
Steph has made marginal improvement to the technique but backside tube-riding is as as much about intent and positioning as anything, and in that regard she still looks woefully underdone.
Her hapless performance was only good enough due to an equally bumbling one from Lakey. Lakey caught the bomb, a lovely hollow nug, and got sucked straight up and over the falls. That was the wave, that was the year.
Say what you want about Tyler Wright - no need to really, she says it all herself in increasingly revealing pressers - but the advancement in skills for her backside tuberiding is very real.
She didn’t get deep, but she made whatever she pulled into despite what she described as a calvacade of strong emotions, primarily fear. Yes, even at 3ft it’s frightening.
Tyler said she had learned to “be honest with how scared I am”, and that fear is legitimate. She didn’t specify the injury risk, but Ewing could not have been more present in her mind.
The team of Coach King, a sports psychologist, and wife Lilly were enabling Tyler to perform free of judgement, to “feel the emotion and keep my hands on the steering wheel”.
I am as mystified by Tyler as anyone, but those are words of great practical wisdom.
Maybe we should all pay closer attention?
Pronunciation wars continued in the booth. Joe Turpel claimed his mandate from Michel Bourez for Tear-hu-po-o, which Flick Palmateer bravely tried to emulate.
No disrespect to Bourez but he is not from Teahupoo. On my last sojourn there I knocked on the door of the Mayor’s Office (little white building on landscaped grounds opposite the Supermarche). I asked the Mayor (born and bred Teahupoo) and she gave me the standard Cho-po.
Pete Mel remains the sole Cho-po holdout in the booth.
Kelly Slater got knocked and now faces an elimination heat with Ryan Callinan. A last place for Kelly at Chopes will make it harder and harder for him to justify holding a slot on the CT. Yes, he has been cruelled by the unrelenting skunkings. No, he is not competitive anymore except for the best of days, anywhere. Even hollow surf. Sooner or later even the last holdouts, like the Japanese soldiers who hid out on Pacific Islands for years post WW2, will realise the war is over. Until then we watch every heat hoping beyond hope to see a little magic before the final flame is extinguished.
// STEVE SHEARER