Tahiti Pro 2023: Day Two
Tahiti Pro 2023: Day Two
While watching the WSL, you sometimes get the feeling you're entering into its worldview, so to speak. That you’ve gone through the looking glass and down a very weird rabbit hole. Things don’t make sense anymore; down is up, up is down. The current World Champ and No 1 seed can’t surf a regulation barrelling day at a Championship Tour spot he has been attending for years. The best surfing, on perhaps the best day of the year on tour, was done exclusively by surfers outside the Top 5 plus a bunch of wildcards. The WSL on Instagram released a post welcoming Ethan Ewing to Finals Day with the Number 3 seed locked in.
That comp starts in 23 days and Ewing has two newly-fractured vertebrae in his lower back.
It’s all so higgledy-piggledy, cock-eyed, and out of touch with reality it makes you wonder.
What a difference a day of 'good' surf makes, even if thoroughly mediocre by Teahupoo standards. Seeing a motivated John Florence feeling “frustrated” because all his insane little tubes were clamping, only to drop out of the sky on an absolute bomb despite having the heat completely wrapped up summed up the day.
John Florence, Gabe Medina, Jack Robinson - as a trio, clearly the best surfers in the world - showed there is a gap, a gaping chasm, between them and the rest of the roster. Two of the three will miss out on Finals Day, and it's also possible all three will.
With no disrespect intended, pro surfers as a whole aren’t Rhodes Scholars or even that interested in the impact of the events that surround them. All three should have been royally pissed off at Kelly Slater who controlled 90% of the heat with Yago Dora and then let him off the hook with two catastrophic errors.
With around five minutes to play, Slater had a commanding lead and priority. He let a hollow nugget through which Dora seamlessly threaded for a deep backdoor tube, which Strider thought was the 7+ ride required to turn the heat. As did I. Judges shamelessly lowballed it with a 5.40, one of the most egregious underscores of the day.
Then, with under a minute to go, Slater took a shitty wave with priority and turned to see a much better second wave on which Dora threaded a long inside tube. He kicked out of it ropeable, waving his arms around and writhing like a drugged teenager tasered by an overweight cop. A mime performance worthy of Marcel Marceau followed quickly: writing the pretend score out in theatrical fashion and delivering it, in multiple versions.
Slater, meanwhile, had slunk off on his lonesome to the back-up board tethered to the buoy and looked incredibly sheepish and downbeat. The magnitude of the error had sunk in, and even though the judges overcooked Dora’s score to compensate, the right surfer was justly delivered into the next round. Slater will have to be kicking himself to let that one slip away and end the year without a single finals showing.
Leo Fioravanti made a penetrating if offhand observation in his winning presser after besting Jordy Smith. These were the first barrels he had surfed in a heat since Pipe, or words to that effect. That’s an indictment on the tour; both the schedule and the skunkings. The first is blameworthy, the second is bad karma or the luck of the draw, depending on your worldview. We don’t see enough barrels on tour and sometimes we fail to acknowledge it, but tube-riding has also evolved, is evolving.
Medina, JJF, and Robbo all demonstrated it. It’s as much mindset and hunting as technique, especially on a chaotic day like today where shorter period bits and pieces were all over the reef and the double up nuggets had to be wilfully prised out of a low grade ore. When they come though, the ID is often late, requiring under the lip drops as demonstrated by JJF’s 9.57 top scorer and Robbo’s messier but more difficult 9.40.
Tube-riding experts bend line-ups to their will, they make waves appear, especially at Teahupoo where inside runners stay open across the shallowest sections of the reef and appear invisible to all but a few exponents.
None better than Gabe Medina. He opened his heat with a scintillating ride across thigh-deep reef, with a kick-out delivered right on top of the hard - as mariners refer to dry land. He was barely pushed by Seth Moniz, who managed a mid-6 to break combination but never looked in the contest. Gabe suckered him into a crappy insider then turned and spiked a hollow set, emerging with spit over Seth's legs. That was the heat.
Our current World Champ did not rise to the occasion. He is perfectly within his rights to hold fire for Trestles, in which case, why bother paddling out? With Teahupoo the site of the Olympics next year, Kaipo Guerrero mused that the chance for some uncrowded reps may offer motivation to the current champ and No 1 seed for Trestles.
It did not.
Tahitian wildcard Mihimana Braye caught waves all over Toledo's watch and the world champ’s annoyed response was to paddle into a 2ft closeout to hand priority back to the Tahitan and end the harassment.
A minor 4 was the best Toledo could manage - a tube you and I could have ridden. Thus endeth another embarrassing showing at the end of the road for Toledo.
You can’t understand it until you paddle out and surf it but that reef is an incredibly complex lineup. It’s not Ulus, it’s not Bingin, it’s not the Mentawais, as Rio Waida demonstrated. The waves you want, look like closeouts, or ones you don’t want. The best waves seem to rise out of nowhere. The energy flow of certain waves along the reef - the way select waves get bigger and hollower - is hard to fathom. There doesn’t seem to be a short cut for time on the mat.
When you dive a tropical reef and watch a reef shark hunt - imperceptible, effortless movements punctuated by explosive predatory attacks - you understand how Teahupoo needs to be surfed.
Dora’s win makes it harder for the other aspirants. Jack Robbo vs Dora. Medina vs JJF. They are the greatest match-ups we will see this year with the most on the line. Then again, a Tahitian wildcard could easily win the entire thing.
After that, we'll head to the manufactured anti-climax of Lower Trestles wondering when, or whether, this strange-looking glass world will survive another year, or another wild swing from a new CEO.
// STEVE SHEARER
Tahiti Pro Men's Quarterfinal Matchups:
HEAT 1: Kauli Vaast (FRA) vs. Leonardo Fioravanti (ITA)
HEAT 2: Yago Dora (BRA) vs. Jack Robinson (AUS)
HEAT 3: Mihimana Braye (PYF) vs. Barron Mamiya (HAW)
HEAT 4: Gabriel Medina (BRA) vs. John John Florence (HAW)
Tahiti Pro Women's Quarterfinal Matchups:
HEAT 1: Tyler Wright (AUS) vs. Tatiana Weston-Webb (BRA)
HEAT 2: Caroline Marks (USA) vs. Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
HEAT 3: Carissa Moore (HAW) vs. Vahine Fierro (FRA)
HEAT 4: Molly Picklum (AUS) vs. Caitlin Simmers (USA)