Welcome back to Post Script, a quick overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a review of the off season and recap of the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast.
When we signed off the 2018 season, Gabriel Medina reigned as our unequivocal Pipe Master, and our world champ for the second time. Julian Wilson and Jordy Smith both left us wondering, as they have the last 3 years, if they are aging out of contention for a world title. 3rd and 4th place, Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreria left the impression that they are still on the upswing; room for Filipe to improve in larger surf, and room for Italo to improve consistency over the grueling 9 month stretch of a season.
In the off season, the WSL made some changes at HQ in Santa Monica. Erik Logan left his position as President of Oprah Winfrey’s OWN Network to become President of Content, Media and WSL Studios. Pat O’Connell steps in as SVP of Tours and Head of Competition, a role formerly titled The Commissioner.
The inaugural events of 2019, The Quiksilver Pro was designed to be run at Snapper Rocks on the Gold Coast of Australia. It would signal the return-from-injury of 2 time champ John John Florence who had rented out Surf Ranch for 9 straight days in March to train for this right hand point break.
It would also signal the potential swan song season for Kelly Slater, who spent the previous week competing in the 6 star Vissla Sydney Surf Pro at Manly Beach, a surprising appropriate training ground for would ultimately transpire in this event.
Gabriel Medina would be defending his 2nd world title and attempting to maintain position at the eye of the Brazilian Storm.
In what I incorrectly presumed was an April Fools day joke, the event opened at Duranbah, the punchy beach break around the corner from Snapper Rocks.
The WSL introduced a somewhat new format. The 2 person heats would be overlapping 40 minute heats, which puts 4 surfers in the water at the same time. This allows the comp to run in less time and simply improves the viewing experience by double.
There was a slight restructuring in elimination rounds vs non-elimination rounds and seeding, not worth detailing here, but again, a change for the better, both in terms of time and allowing the best surfers more surfing.
Day one delivered what the WSL and fans would hope; spectacular and high energy surfing with dramatic battles.
Gabriel and JJF looked fiery, energetic and determined. Both on opposite sides of the draw, signaling a potential blockbuster final and a potential rivalry that we’ve begging for.
Wildcards and rookies upset legacy competitors.
The RedBull Airborne event completed it’s first round of competition. While it somewhat held my attention, the only noteworthy air was a backside full rotation by Filipe Toledo where he went upside down on take off, rotating through the inversion and landed cleanly after the full spin. It was the air of the event, and would be the best air of the entire week.
On day two, Slater was eviscerated. It wasn’t necessarily that his competitors surfed tremendously better. It was more grueling, with Slater stubbornly surfing a bank that would ultimately never deliver the right he had seen Ricardo Christie get in the previous heat. Owen Wright and Peterson Crisanto surfed to the south, essentially in a one-on-one battle for 6s.
The painful truth that was highlighted through this heat, and I would argue has been slowly being revealed for the past 5 years is that Slater simply isn’t in contention to win this type of event. He isn’t in contention to win any of the events on tour that aren’t in maxing, flawless surf. And in the moments after the loss, it seemed that Slater himself was confronting that realization.
What we love about him is his ability and willingness to articulate his state of mind. He wanted to cry in his post heat interview. It was frustration, and he verbalized it about the conditions and his choice to sit on the north sandbar, but in reality his frustration was more likely about him conceding that his body may not be nimble and nubile enough to compete on Tour in meager conditions. And maybe more importantly, his desire to trounce competitors isn’t as fiery as it was in his 20s, nor even in his 30s. Or, more to the point, his desire to smash opponents isn’t anywhere near Gabriel Medina’s.
Day two also marked the completion of The RedBull Airborne event. Italo won. He also ended up doing better airs in the Quiksilver Pro, but still nothing as good as Filipe’s air in the earlier round. All things worth noting. It became evident that Filipe, Gabriel, and Italo’s air prowess is directly correlated to their athleticism, their fitness and their training. The “free surfer” air guys can definitely bang out an entertaining clip with the benefit of lengthy surf trips and editing, but when compared side by side with Italo, Filipe and Gabe, they look sluggish and inconsistent at best. Their next event is a month away at Keramas and they’d be wise to take this month seriously and train like it’s a real job, because it is. In fact, it’s a brand new opportunity and a potentially better job than they’ve previously had access to. This Airborne Tour is an experiment and it presents a very viable way for these aerialists to showcase their talent and vastly improve their earning potential and ability to pursue their dream. If lack of training and athleticism allows for Italo to show up on a whim and take their job, then it might time for those free surfers to reassess their career options.
By day three John John retroactively made me miss him last year on Tour. His style, grace and poise in the midst of radical surfing highlighted a void from 2018. He doesn’t have the tenacity that seems to provide omnipotence for Gabe and Italo, but strangely, John’s grace subverts that. His power seems to lie in a cerebral grace that doesn’t need to convince judges of it’s relevance.
These first three days of competition showcased the highest level of surfing we’ve seen ever and a significant increase from 2018, led mainly by Gabriel and Italo and JJF. It seems as though the various components of the industry that are experiencing growth and momentum have coalesced, and the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts. It was a high energy, positive few days of surfing, that was until day five. But before the let down, let’s detour for a positive story.
Wildcard Reef Heazlewood showed up in Hawaii last year, stomped some airs and left a big impression on the North Shore and surf media. He won the trials event at DBah and then beat Julian Wilson in round 1 and round 3, landed some huge airs in the RedBull Airborne event before losing to Seth Moniz in round four. He did all of this with a stickerless board, calling into question the state of the industry. That is until Bob Hurley posted an Instagram from dinner on Sunday night with a photo of Reef and a caption stating, “Welcome to the family”. So congrats to Reef. And bravo to Hurley. Hopefully we’ll see more from Reef as a result of that partnership.
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All the while the event had been running at Duranbah, the sand had been filling in at Snapper. With a couple of successful free surf sessions and an increasing swell, the event organizers made a decision to move the contest to Snapper and were eagerly waiting to call on the first heat of the quarterfinals. They waited each hour for a little more swell and a little more sand. It turned out to be an ill fated move. The swell never fully transpired and instead the wind slowly increased. To add insult, Duranbah was firing, arguably the best day of the contest window, without a single heat surfed.
The final day was marred, not only by the stench of the previous day’s botched call, but by meager conditions, and then by very questionable judging.
The first questionable call came in the final minute of quarterfinal one: JJF vs Conner Coffin. Conner needed a 5.88, did the best turn of the heat, a single maneuver, and got a 5.43. It wasn’t an egregious mistake by the judges, and could be argued either way, but it did signal a series of similarly dubious calls through the day, which brings us to Kolohe Andino.
Kolohe has said in the past that he wants to draw the best surfers and be put in challenging situations to elevate his surfing. He certainly got what he asked for, perhaps in ways he didn’t expect. Firstly, he beat an in form rookie Seth Moniz who staked his claim for the Rookie of the Year.
Kolohe then took down John John, but with neither surfer accumulating 10 points.
On the other side of the draw, Jordy stopped Gabe. And while it could be argued that Gabe and John John did their best surfing in the early rounds, Jordy quietly increased his performance and succeeded in making Gabe look human, that is to say fallible, something we haven’t seen from Gabriel since Keramas last year, again at the hands of Jordy. Might that be the new rivalry? Jordy delivering Gabe’s two most meaningful losses of the past year.
Back to the judging.
Italo opened Semifinal number two with a 7.33 backside flat spin. Jordy answered back with a frontside inverted whip to garner a 8.67. Then backed it up with a combo carve and straight air for 6 points. Italo stomps another spin for 8 points and took the heat. Less than a point separated their final scores but heats like this harken back to 2010 in Brazil when Jadson Andre beat Kelly Slater in the final doing the exact same frontside air reverse regardless of what the wave was doing or what the section called for. Something that, with the benefit of hindsight, looks terribly stale, trite, and doesn’t account for some of the fundamentals of the judging criteria; power and flow, things that Jordy executed beautifully on his waves.
The final saw Kolohe Andino against Italo Ferreria. Should Kolohe win this event, it would be his first CT win and be the first event won by a Californian in 10 years. In the end there would only be a tenth of a point difference between the two surfers, with Italo getting the tiniest nod. With two minutes left, Italo needed a 6.93. Kolohe had priority, was tracking Italo, and let Italo go on a mediocre waist high wave. Can you guess what he did? As if showing a replay from his heat with Jordy, again on a less substantial wave than others in the heat, he pumped down the line and hucked a fully rotated backside flat spin. He needed that 6.93. He got a 7.07. The easiest way to highlight the judging error here is simply to say that they awarded that wave the highest score of the heat. It could be argued that Italo’s first wave was underscored and perhaps this score was meant to rectify that. Either way, both surfers surfed really amazingly in very challenging conditions, and brought fire and drama all the way to dying moments. Italo won both the RedBull Airborne event and the Quiksilver Pro. Kolohe got what he wanted when he asked for adversity that would challenge his mettle. In response, he elevated his surfing but was probably unaware that it’ll actually be his mental fortitude that faces the greatest stress. We’ll see how that fares in Bells, where again, Italo Ferreria is the defending champ.
That event kicks off on April 17th. We’ll see you there.
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Host, Writer, Producer: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales