Welcome back to the 5 Minute Recap. A quick concise overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a recap of the Tahiti Pro Teahupo’o.
All eyes were on Filipe Toledo as we approached the 2018 Tahiti Pro. The only diversion we ever took was to check the swell forecast, but even that was mainly in relation to Filipe. Filipe is currently the most exciting, uninjured, surfer in the world. And on a world tour with 11 stops, he would be considered a favorite at 8 of those stops, and unstoppable at some of them. To Filipe’s credit, he wasn’t always favored at those 8. When he first qualified on tour, there was a question regarding his power and rail surfing, but over the last 3 years he’s developed a fuller repertoire and now he only question that remains is his ability in large barreling reef breaks. On the current tour, that means Teahupo’o and Pipeline.
In 2018 he’s won 2 events, Rio and JBay. This put him in 1st position on the rankings going into Tahiti. With a full 4 week break between JBay and Tahiti, Filipe wisely opted out of competing in the US Open and instead went to Tahiti early to gain some much needed experience. A decent swell greeting him and 2 of his waves were publicized. 1 was a fun-sized left that he surfed successfully. The 2nd was a proper, 8 foot double up where he successfully navigated the drop, pulled in, and the got obliterated by an inescapable foam ball. He was dragged across the reef and sustained session ending scraps down the length of his back, followed by the traditional fresh lime disinfectant. This took place 2 weeks before the start of the event and benched Filipe until then. It also only served to inflame the debate; Filipe fans using the wave as proof of his bravado. Critics, myself among them, using the wipeout as evidence of his lack of experience.
Filipe’s 1 publicized wave at Teahupo’o was lauded by legacy surf media (and the Internet at large) as proof that he’s well qualified to defend his 1st place position. But let’s get real, this wave would be a 3 point ride in a heat. How will he contend with the bravado and prowess of Gabe, Italo, and Julian? I’m claiming a round 3 loss, at best. Where will he finish in Tahiti? @boardroomshow and @david_lee_scales debate ?? in today’s episode of #Spit #podcast ??
The event has since finished and we still haven’t resolved the debate. The event was plagued by a less than ideal swell forecast. There were a few good barrels, but nothing scary nor even close to proper for Teahupo’o. Most of it, in fact, ran in rippable lefts, when they came that is. Consistency was an issue. Many heats only had 2 good waves. Only 2 heats garnered 16 point totals through the entire event. It became a contest of wave selection and priority usage. And the timing of this wave deprived event sets up our next debate perfectly. It will stand in contrast to the Surf Ranch Pro where otherwise finite resources are on dial. The question awaiting revelation: in the ocean, is the scarcity of the perfect wave a liability or an asset?
Italo Ferreira is another title contender who should have skipped the US Open. He was en route to a potential victory in Huntington Beach when his back foot slipped off the tail of his board while attempting to land a floater in the shore break, resulting in a stretched or possibly torn ligament in his hamstring. He withdrew from that event to recover for Tahiti. He looked fine in Tahiti, and succeeded in making the quarterfinals, but you’d have to question his confidence, coming off an injury, especially in conditions that required the precise agility he was exploiting in Huntington.
In the rookie of the year race, Wade Carmichael gained distance over Griffin Colapinto and Willian Cardoso, both who lost in round 2. Wade lost in the quarterfinals to eventual finalist Owen Wright. This increases Wade’s overall ranking 1 position where he now sits in 5th. Owen’s 2nd place finish bumps him 5 spots and into the 6th position on the rankings.
Julian Wilson drops a spot into 3rd, but painfully so. At the end of the season, only athletes best 9 results count toward their compiled score, they drop their 2 worst results. Julian already has two 13th place finishes this season, Gabriel and Fiilpe each only have 1. Julian finished this event in last place, with an equal 25th, a round 2 loss to Tikanui Smith, in a heat where Julian only caught 1 wave. He started at the 28 minute with a perfect barrel and the highest scoring wave of the heat, and then sat for 27 minutes. Tikanui got his first wave right after Julians and then sat needing a .34 with 6 minutes left. Julian had priority, but knowing it wasn’t going to be a high score, he let Tikanui go. He got a 2.41 and the lead leaving Julian needing a meager 1.84. Not a single contestable wave came in the last 5 minutes. Julian’s world title dreams potentially dashed, yet again.
Despite marginal surf, 3 seasoned Teahupo’o vets found their way into the final series; Jeremy Flores, Owen Wright, and Gabriel Medina, with Jeremy losing to Gabe in the semifinals along with Filipe to Owen, but in contrasting fashions that are important to note. Filipe made the semis on surfing ability, ripping whatever waves he got harder than his competitors. Jeremy got the best waves of every heat. Jeremey Teahupo’o IQ is genius level and a reflection of his 15 years of visits. When Filipe develops that level of experience and couples it with his freakish ability once standing, the size and conditions will cease to matter. Regardless, a semi final is a proud achievement for both.
And I actually expected a very similar approach from both Owen and Gabriel in the final; Owen waiting patiently for the best 2 waves, Gabriel utilizing his priority on the best waves, but staying busy bettering scores on less waves with airs and turns. And that is, in fact, how it played out, but with an excitement and drama that’s hard to overstate. The final was the crescendo of the event, and encompassed precisely what want; we, along with the competitors, eagerly anticipated waves in the unpredictable line up, and when they came, the surfers used reasonable tactics to secure them and then surfed to their full potential, going blow for blow. It was a 40 minute final, with 14 waves ridden. Each surfer was given the opportunity they needed and it came down to the final seconds. They each had to use ocean prowess to find the barrels, which were being rewarded significantly higher than non-barreling waves. And if they picked a wave that didn’t barrel, they belted it and tried to out-surf the other for a backup score. Owen maintained a half point lead and priority for 37 minutes. Gabriel was sharking the line-up, going on any potential scoring ride and only needing a 4.54. Every wave he stood up on was a potential heat winner and yet he failed on 6 attempts in 25 minutes.
And then, for the first time in 25 minutes, a proper set appeared. With priority and starved for a head high wave, Owen went on the first. Within 10 seconds it would prove to have been a mistake. But this is worth analyzing. Can this legitimately be called a mistake? Coaches and experts time sets, try to predict which waves will be best, but I’m not convinced that our brains have enough computing, nor even the requisite information, to actually make right or wrong decisions in this moments. At this exact moment, without knowing what was out the back, the “right” decision seemed obvious, go on the first wave. Certain locations are known for the second wave being better, but with a fading swell, less than 2 minutes on the clock, it seems obvious to go. But, especially in this event, wave selection was the key difference between heat winners and losers. Owen picked the wrong wave with priority, the first wave of the final set of the event.
With 1:40 seconds on the clock, Owen led 10.70 to Gabriel’s 10.10. Owen used his priority to take that first wave in an attempt to better his 4.20. It was a ripple left and he succeeded at his goal by garnering a 5.57. But, completely unbeknownst to him, Gabriel was already barreling toward him on the 2nd wave of the set and the best wave of the entire final. Gabriel surfed his wave near flawlessly, finishing the ride with 1:25 on the clock. Those remaining seconds expired while we awaited scores, but everyone knew Gabe earned it. The score was finally read as everyone waited in the channel . . . 7.33. Gabriel Medina, the 2018 Tahiti Pro champion.
After 7 events, we have 6 Brazilian winners. Italo with 2, Filipe with 2, Willian and Gabriel with 1 each. And of course, Julian Wilson is the 7th with his unexpected win at Snapper. Filipe retains the yellow Jeep Leaders jersey and a 6,000 point lead as we look to the Surf Ranch Pro where there will be a precisely equal amount of rights and lefts. Every wave will be 4 feet and reel for 700 yards, starting with a crumbly section that will allow 3 turns, a long barrel, and an air section at the end. Ocean prowess and attunment will be rendered impotent. Opportunity will be distributed equally.
This experiment, surf competition in wave pools, was meant to eliminate variables, provide a consistent surface, and thereby measure surfing ability. Yet, “surfing ability”, as we’ve known it up until 2018 has included positioning, ocean attunment, and one’s response time and reaction to an unexpected and unpredictable surface. What we will be able to measure in Lemoore might better be defined as one’s gymnastic ability and dominion over their surfboard on a wave. Undeniably, something that’s worth measuring. And I am thrilled to discover who will reign supreme at this new expansion of surfing’s definition. But I’m even more curious to validate what I already hypothesize, and what we were reminded of in Tahiti; that scarcity of a perfect wave is, in fact, our greatest asset.
I’ll see you on Sept 9th in Lemoore. I’ll be reporting onsite and publishing daily recaps each evening, including interviews with athletes and fans. Introduce yourself if you see me.
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Written, Produced, Hosted: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales