Welcome back to Post Script, a quick concise overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a recap of the Surf Ranch Pro and review John John Florence’s new film, “Space”.
The 2018 Surf Ranch Pro marks an inaugural event. Just prior to the start of the event, the WSL released it’s schedule for the 2019 and Surf Ranch was included, showing an optimism for how the event would play out and a commitment to their technology and engineering marvel. This event also marks an opportunity for the WSL to capitalize on ticket sales. For the first time in WSL history, an entity owns the playing surface and the real estate that surrounds it. This allows for a brand new revenue opportunities, new ways to engage with fans, and it also creates completely new dynamics for the competitors to contend with.
As if this wasn’t already monumental enough, the points earned in this event would contribute to one’s world rankings. And the WSL introduced a completely unique contest format, only to be used at this event. Gone are the bracketed, multi-round, elimination format, and instead there would simply be a qualifying round for everyone to surf an equal number of waves, the best 2 would count towards you combined total for the round, then the top 8 men and top 4 women would advance to the final, where again, everyone surfed the same number of waves, and the surfer with the highest combined left and right would be the winner.
Going into the event, Filipe Toledo and Stephanie Gilmore were ranked 1st, with Gabriel Medina and Lakey Peterson in 2nd. Leaving Lemoore Filipe and Steph are still in first and Gabe and Lakey are still in 2nd. Gabriel Medina won the Surf Ranch Pro so he’s closing the gap on Filipe’s lead. Carissa Moore won Surf Ranch, which moved her from 5th to 4th on the rankings. Steph got 2nd and Lakey got 3rd, which creates slightly more separation for Stephanie as we head to France.
One concern going into this event was validated is that the wave is predictable and therefore boring. I think we’ve all decided that as a viewer, the wave is just too long. Watching it live, there is no good vantage point. If you’re watching the wave come at you, it starts so far away that you can’t even tell who is riding the wave. I’d watch the jumbtron for the first half of the ride, then turn my head to watch live during the second half. If you are along the side of the pool, only about 100 yards of the 700 yard length are viewable and exciting.
The other reality is, on the left, the first 3/4 of the pool are pretty repetitive. It presents the same section over an over again and not a gnarly enough section to really get radical on. Surfers just repeatedly banked off it for 500 yards, until they got to the section that we all really wanted to see. It had me wondering, if a surfer just belted it maybe twice and then did a big finishing move on the inside, would that be scored any lower than someone doing 8 repetitive turns before the big move? And if not, why not just take off half way down the pool, save all that energy, and not risk falling on foam climbs for the first half of the ride?
Caroline Marks did the maneuver of the event on the women’s side. A huge air reverse. I’d argue the most critical we’ve ever seen from a female surfer. She did it on the inside barrel section, went vert, grabbed rail, held on through the landing where she laid back to the extent that it appeared she fell, but then came up from the whitewash claiming with a dab. It was sick. The layback recovery prevented it from being scored excellent, she earned a 6.2, but the recovery itself was amazing. It was a contorted effort. She leaves Lemoore in 5th place, an impressive ranking in her rookie year.
Kelly Slater made his return to competition in Lemoore. I posed a ethical dilemma about the fact that he owns the property, developed it and the technology, and this presents an unfair and never before seen advantage. The internet responded with examples of home court advantage for John John at Pipeline or Kanoa Igarashi in Huntington, but never have we seen an example where someone literally owns the keys to the property. Kelly responded on Instagram by saying, “Griffin, Keanu, Gudang and Conner have ridden more waves then myself this year just off the top of my head. I’ve also been injured, hardly even surfed it at all last year and skipped the open practices the past few weeks. My two cents if they’re valid amongst the gossip here.” Whether or not the athlete is capable of performing at the level of the other athletes isn’t relevant to the ethical dilemma. The NBA would never consider hosting a game at an arena that one of the players owned. Especially when engineers are dialing up waves that we know have slight variation, some presenting better opportunities for scoring than others. My favorite comment on that INstagram post was from Ken Ziegler who said, “Kelly has an earned advantage.” Which I agree with. I was to see Kelly compete. I was glad to see him safety surf to 3rd place. But if the WSL wants to position itself along side the NFL and NBA, this would be an obvious misstep. In my personal opinion, surfing is unique to all other sports and it’s uniqueness should be embraced. Kelly should absolutely be allowed to surf the inaugural event in his pool, but that event should not be a world tour event. And the points definitely should not contribute towards a title. Embracing the uniqueness of the sport begins with the fundamental challenge of human versus nature. Man and woman versus nature has always been a core tenet of of surfing and of competitive surfing, be it 2 feet or 20. I wasn’t convicted of that last week, but I’m resolute about it now. An athlete’s dominion over their board is not unique to surfing; it’s the main tenet of skating, snowboarding, wake boarding. Doing it while contesting nature, that is the essence of surfing all surfing prior to September 2018.
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Kelly is into finals day at the #SurfRanchPro. Does he have an unfair advantage? @boardroomshow and @david_lee_scales discuss with @ncarrollsurf, @jakehoward76 of the WSL, @marcus_sanders of @surfline, and @joecarberry of @theinertia analyze and share what pro surfers are criticizing behind the scenes. New episode of #Spit! just went live! ?? #podcast #iTunes #applepodcasts
One, among many, contradictions in the WSL’s desires for the event versus the outcome was in the contest format. Julian Wilson entered the event in a 3 man title race with Filipe and Gabriel. All 3 surfers found themselves on finals day, with 7 waves each to surf; 3 rights, and 4 lefts. Kieran Perrow added a left for each competitor due to a funky wind and inconsistency in the lefts. It seems like all surfers attempted to go huge on their first waves, knowing they’d have a couple more waves to either try again, or safety surf for a score. Gabriel landed his Kerrupt flip that we saw earlier in the event, and it would ultimately be the wave that secured the win. Julian Wilson on the other hand attempted a massive backside varial big spin, 4 times, on 4 separate waves. Each time, landing on the top of the wave, and just barely not riding out. Each would have been the absolute highlight of the event, the single greatest maneuver, and arguably, a 10 point ride. As each other competitor realized their opportunities to solidify big scored diminishing, they abandoned game changing airs, and opted to instead complete rides. Bank an 8 point ride, instead of going for broke. With world title points on the line, this proved to be a very smart move for Filipe. He earned his 2nd place finish and holds on to his 1st place ranking. Julian however, gave us what we wanted. I was watching the situation unfold live, knew that he was close to landing the trick, and each time thought, “He’ll stomp it on his next attempt”. I, and Julian himself, both knew, if he didn’t land the trick it would mean he’d be certain to finish with a lower result in this event and potentially threaten his world title campaign. Which is precisely what happened. Julian attempted the spectacular. Reinstated the drama that we get through man on man competition. The drama bred from imminent ruin. I knew what was on the line for Julian, and it heightened my interest. Julian was the best surfer of the event for me. He was unquestionably in the top 3 with Gabriel and Filipe, and yet he finished the event behind Kelly, Kanoa, and Owen, in 6th place and only earned 4,745 points. Had he simply gotten barreled at the end of any one of those lefts, and bettered his 6.57, he could have easily finished 3rd. He had the second highest scoring right of the final round, and he only needed a 7.47 for a left. The judges scored it correctly. But the contest format created a reward for safety surfing.
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All that said, Filipe and Gabriel earned their positions without safety surfing. They went huge and landed, Gabriel on rights and lefts. Filipe on rights, never really landing a left.
Kanoa Igarashi continues to be a highlight for me. He really set the pace for the event the slogged through the first day of the qualifying round, doing critical airs prior to the barrel, and even into the barrel. He’s finaled at the Pipe Masters, made multiple finals serious. I’m not sure why any of use are still surprised. He finished 4th and jumps forward 7 places, into 9th.
Italo stays in 4th, Owen’s into 5th, and Jordy’s into 6th.
There are 3 events left in the season, France, Portugal and Pipe. Filipe, Gabriel, and Julian all have success in Europe. Gabriel has finaled twice at Pipe. Julian has a Pipe Masters. We have much to look forward to.
The Quiksilver Pro France begins on October 3rd for both the men and women. Carissa Moore and Gabriel Medina are our defending champions. I’ll see you there.
But first a word on our current 2 time world champ, John John Florence.
The timing of SPACE casts a shadow over Gabriel, Filipe, & Julian; their pool battle, and their title race.
The fact that SPACE follows traditional surf film formula; surfing set to music, starting with innovative airs (flips), then big turns, and crescendoing with a big barreling Hawaii section, allows for the profound greatness of John’s surfing to remain the central focus. SPACE almost immediately reaffirms John John’s position as the greatest surfer in world today, mainly because almost all his surfing is performed on waves of consequence.
The timing of SPACE marks a transition in surf media that is difficult to overstate. It showcases the value of a talented support crew. The filmmakers at Parallel Sea are nearly as talented and focused on their craft as John is on his. They understand cinema. They understand mood and character. They treat John’s surfing as high art without fawning over him. They include zero lifestyle shots. They fill those spaces with nature. I found myself wondering how we might perceive Gabriel Medina if he had a similarly talented crew reflecting his surf experience to us. SPACE marks a transition into an era where simply capturing incredible surfing on film will no longer garner audience attention. There is a glut of thoughtlessly edited, hi-fi surfing available. When was the last time you watched a 6 minute surf edit? We’ve had our fill. Cinema will now be required to capture our interest. We’ve seen examples of surf cinema in the past, SPACE now mandates it as requirement.
Parallel Sea’s choice to include the preaching of TD Jakes adds gravitas. In any other instance, it would feel contrived and cheesy, but it works here. There is no secret meaning, innuendo nor subliminal messaging in the preachings. It’s Jakes’ delivery style that adds gravitas to the piece. His baritone bravado and intensity accentuates the seriousness of John John’s surfing. And it is serious. So serious that one of his aerial attempts resulted in a year ending injury. In a year when John John would be defending his 2 back to back world titles.
The timing of the release of SPACE was undoubtedly strategic. Everyone will attribute John’s injury as the reason he was unable to defend his world titles in 2018. But let’s not forget that prior to injury John had a 25th at Snapper, three 13ths, and his best result was a 9th. He was not in position to win a third title. And specifically, his paddling incident with Zeke Lau at Bells Beach highlighted a shortcoming in his competitive game. He lacked zeal, fire, and tenacity. That moment also seemed to cultivate a mental fragility that followed John throughout the next events. He fell. He made odd decisions. He had 4 opportunities to better scores in his round 3 heat against Jesse Mendes at Keramas, and he simply didn’t. He went huge a couple times and fell, which is commendable, but it was round 2, and he could have easily out-surfed Jesse Mendes. Zeke exploited a weakness in John, and not just a weak moment.
Wounded athletes often return to competition stronger than ever, with a renewed focus. 8 months on the sofa breeds appreciation for what may have been previously taken for granted, à la Mick Fanning in 2005 or Lakey Peterson this year. We should expect a similar return from John. Moreover, John won his first 2 titles with freakish talent. Zeke Lau found a way to disable that confidence and injury has provided enough respite for John to reflect. He’s displayed humility in the past and he has a team of coaches, trainers, sponsors, and most important family who have proven to be focused on a very long game. They are watching every event and taking notes of other competitors weaknesses, tells, and blindspots.They are undoubtedly using this down time to formulate competitive tactics and strategy that will fortify John’s 2019 title campaign.
The timing of SPACE serves to redirect any attention that was focused on Surf Ranch and the world title race. As viewers of Surf Ranch found themselves looking away while surfers sat in the tube. The Ranch wave only rapt viewers attention once the end section approached. One is unable to look away from SPACE. The Phantom Flex 4k footage reveals intricacies of water moving and John’s contortions the closest approximations of real life viewing that we’ve ever seen in surf film.
One nearly motionless moment shows a barreling, overhead right gurgling with foam. The tip of John’s board appears, seemingly unmanned, spit veiling it’s rider. Then the wave breathes and reveals John casually levitate over a foam ball. It’s a genuinely brand new moment in surf cinema.
The timing of SPACE serves to remind us that winning world titles is an impressive achievement, but not a reflection of who is the best surfer in the world.
The timing of SPACE also serves to remind us of the irreplicable beauty and wonder of the ocean. SPACE offers a glimpse at the ocean’s majesty, harnessed by John John, and on display through the cinematography of Erik Knutson and Chris Bryan.
Never has surfing looked more at home in the ocean. And never has the ghost of an injured surfer cast such a long shadow over a world title race.