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 Corona Bali Protected.
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Coming from Bells Beach, John had leapt into first place in the rankings, Italo had dropped a spot into 2nd after winning the Gold Coast event. Jordy retained 3rd, Filipe was in 4th, and Gabriel in 5th. Spoiler alert, everything has changed. Filipe was the only surfer from that top five to make it into the quarterfinals. But before that happened, new storylines emerged.
For the 3rd time this season, in 3 events, the WSL was plagued by mediocre forecast and 4 days of competition spread over the corse of 11 days. The event sputtered to a start on the first day of the waiting period and then ended in absolute fireworks with every surfer from the quarter finals onward bringing full throttle surfing and dramatics. The end justified the means and the no one will remember the doldrums of those early rounds. But there are still a few points to discuss from those rounds.
Round 1 has been renamed “The Seeding Round” which is meant to be descriptive but the reality is, even John John Florence admitted in his post heat interview that while he was glad to win the heat, he didn’t understand exactly how the seeding worked. WSL, please hear me, we the viewers should understand what a win or loss means. And for goodness sakes, the altheletes themselves should now. The onus is probably on John for that one, but beyond the complicated math, “The Seeding round” is simply weird to say. It’s straight out of The Handmaid’s Tale. And it’s almost always followed with the reiteration that it is indeed Round One. I’d expect a rebranding in 2020, if not sooner.
Only 3 surfers scored over 12 points in the entire round. This was mostly a reflection of the mediocre conditions. If you missed it live, you didn’t miss much. The one notable performance of the day was Filipe Toledo, who reaffirmed that he is the best surfer in the world in waist high rights for the 4th year in a row. He secured his 9 point ride, the highest score of the day on a wave no one else even looked at, smaller and closed out, but he hucked a giant air.
Kanoa Igarashi earned the lowest score of the day with a heat total of 1.77. This a learning opportunity. The reality is, through the course of the year, these things will happen and the lesson is to not let it rattle you. Entire careers have been derailed by letting a external fluke lead to negative headspace, lead to a bad decision, and then things begin to compound. The next external obstacle came for Kanoa on the second day when the event went on hold through the entire morning and until the afternoon when competitors were relegated to windy but rippable surf. Kanoa Igarashi, undeterred, click into form. His consistency and focus cannot be overstated. I’ve completely underestimated him since he qualified. I have not run the stats, but it seems that he is always guaranteed to post a pair of 7s. And that’s been true at all venues from Keramas to JBay to Pipeline, where he has finaled. His boards look incredibly sharp and he only seems to be adding weight to his frame and more flair to his surfing. He set the highlight performance on day 2 and then posted the 2nd highest heat totals in the following 2 rounds, only bested by Kolohe Andino and Filipe Toledo. The one caveat that I’ll state amongst my endorsement of Kanoa is the omission of 10 point rides in his young career. That extra gear, or the magic that Italo, Kelly, Filipe, John John, Jordy, Gabriel, and even Julian all possess has yet to be displayed by Kanoa. The good news for him is he can win events and world titles without 10 point rides. Consistency is his strength and the current structure of the system is designed to reward that. Further, as the only Tour surfer flying the Japan flag, he’ll continue to develop hoards to his fan base without posting 10’s. More on Kanoa later.
Another highlight surfer was Wade Carmichael, who always seems to be on the best waves in a heat and never blows an opportunity. His surfing is predictable but his power is so undeniable and unbridled that it inspires awe every time. However, if he doesn’t figure out how the sling an air when the section presents itself, it will prevent him from being a top 5 contender. Mick Fanning closed the that door on the chapter of surfing. This 5th place finish moves Wade into equal 10th on the rankings, alongside Gabriel Medina who slide down the rankings 5 spots.
Kolohe Andino started the season when a near win and a very hotly contested 2nd place. He finished 17th at Bells, entered this event in 6th and really never fully unleashed. He paced himself. He lacked the fireworks of Michael Rodrigues and Filipe Toledo, just slowly making heats with modest totals, and to be honest, was pitted against less complete surfers. Again, the seeding a still a mystery to me, but I wonder if the even keeled pacing of Kolohe and Jordy is actually a tactic to draw easier matches through those early rounds. He eventually lost to Jeremey Flores who somehow resurrected a level of surfing we haven’t seen from him in years. Inconsistency and poor decision making has always plagued Kolohe and he’s admitted that lack of confidence was the culprit. This is only the 3rd event of the season, but if Kolohe can maintain this pacing, his surfing is worthy of a top 5 finish where he currently sits, but it will not put him in contention for a title.
After the first 2 events I made a similar argument for Jordy, that he’s in marathon mode, with his sights firmly placed on a world title secured at Pipeline through a foundation of 5th place and better finishes throughout the entire year. He’s calm, relaxed, and slowly increasing his intensity level through each heat of each event. Other than the big day at Bells, his boards look better than ever, a quiver refined and shaped by his coach Chris Gallagher. Unfortunately, Jordy hit a hiccup in the 3rd round at Keramas. The Internet blamed the judges, but it was self inflicted. He posted 2 solid scores in the first 5 minutes, held the lead and sat for 15 minutes until Jesse Mendes edged him out by less than a point. The Internet pointed the finger at the judges here, claiming Jordy got robbed. The truth is, if you watch all 4 scoring waves on the Heat Analyzer, it’s very close and could be argued either way. I think the confusion is more a psychological phenomenon, but still worth addressing for the WSL. Jordy got his 2 important scores within the first 5 minutes. Often, the judges score those waves lower than if the exact same surfing happened later in the heat. Their concern is that they want to leave room in the scale for what’s to come. Maybe the set of the day comes through and allows for something spectacular, so it could be argued that Jordy was underscored. BUT . . . the judges scored Jesse’s waves in reference to Jordy’s and still deemed Jesse the winner. With the benefit of hindsight, I agree with their decision. The other glaring truth here is, Jordy under surfed his 2 waves and never should lost a heat against Jesse Mendes at head high Keramas. He had his 2 opportunities and he bogged on both waves and his scores reflected it. He leaves Bali in 6th place, down the rankings 3 spots and will need to utilize this result as a throw away if he wants to maintain his world title hopes.
Another major storyline was Kelly Slater’s return to classic form, classic foam, and a classic tenacity to decimate his competition. The last time we saw him at Keramas was in 2013. One of the reasons why Kelly is the greatest surfer of all time is that, when he’s on, his surfing exhibits a tension of power and deftness. There is an exacting precision to the raw explosiveness. He displays it equally at 10’ Pipe, 8’ JBay, and he delivered it once again at sub 6’ Keramas, perhaps when we least expected it. Two turns in the early rounds were absolutely searing. You’ve probably seen imagery of them both. They are hugely impressive on video and baffling to dissect in still imagery. He executed both at full speed and employed a level of torque that is simply unmatched. And the speed by which he executes them belies the power. Jordy, Michel and Wade have power, but Kelly’s is just wrapped in tighter, less bulky package. There’s a tension between the power, lightness and speed that was so refreshing to witness again. When he’s surfing at this level, his surfing compares and contrasts beautifully with the top 5.
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There’s a very low percentage of surfers on the @wsl tour who really do this kind of power surfing today! “What can I say, I wouldn’t be here today if the old school didn’t pave the way.” 2Pac… @kellyslater continues to make the surfing world watch with power rail envy. Thank you @sunnygarcia and the power rail surfers before for the foundation of power surfing. #power #surfing #ageless #respect #bali #indonesia ? @_jackbarripp_
In the 5 lay days between his searing turns and the final day of competition, Peter King jammed a camera in Kelly’s face and got him to confess his headspace about his upcoming heat with Filipe Toledo. Firstly he admitted to being thrown off his game by the Internet’s criticisms. But more importantly, and for the first time in years, he professed a bloodlust for beating Filipe. More than a dwindling athleticism, more than a diffused focus, Kelly’s lack of cutthroat competitiveness has been the reason for his poor results. I believe that he intellectual has desired a 12th world title, but not the desire to kill that he had for the previous 25 years. Gabe, Italo and Filipe have a complete disregard for their opponents. And they learned that from watching Kelly win 11 world titles. Kelly showcased that in the first 5 rounds at Keramas. His quarterfinal heat against Filipe was the most entertaining heat of the year. The waves turned on and Kelly baited Filipe into battling for barrels. Filipe’s adept and knows to pick great waves, but Kelly’s strategy in barreling surf has always been to pick the imperfect ones, the one’s that look like closeouts, that allow for magic to happen, that allow for 10 point rides. He very nearly made one of those. It had the commentators hooting with each section he made. In the end, he beat Filipe by less than 2 points, but we all are left to wonder if he actually beat Filipe 5 days ago through his infamous Jedi mind tricks. He lost to Kanoa Igarashi in the semifinals. Kelly hunted the barrel, which he got 2 mid range scores and barely didn’t make another potential 10 pointer, while Kanoa stuck to comboing 4 turns to the beach for another pair of 7.5s. This 3rd place finish boosts Slater into the top 10 for the first time in recent memory, into 9th place, headed to Margaret River, a long time nemesis from Kelly, perhaps just the adversary he needs.
A friend of mine texted me something about Jeremey Flores early in the week and I responded by saying that if I never saw Jeremy Flores surf another heat, I wouldn’t miss him. Considering that he made the final against Kanoa, you might expect me to retract that sentiment. But, the truth is he deserves a huge congrats and surfed beautifully, but I still wouldn’t miss him. I don’t remember a single of his waves and they won’t end up on any highlight reel. His biggest asset is his barrel riding in big scary surf, but those days are few and far between. He utilized that same skill set to pick the best barreling waves throughout the event and paired it with his trademark forehand hack. It was solid and beautiful, but not exactly thrilling nor moving the ball forward. This 2nd place finish catapults him 9 spots forward into 7th place.
And that leaves us with Kanoa Igarashi, the first Japanese surfer to win a championship tour event. Kanoa claimed 80% of his scoring waves through the event. He wanted this win. He’s wanted others too, and when he didn’t clinch, he hit the gym, he went on surf trips instead of going home, and he filmed every session to study the footage. He’s been doing this since he was 6 years old and he’s only increased he level of intensity in recent years. He is the surfer that Visa is using in their marketing campaigns for the 2020 Olympics in Japan, where surfing’s popularity is at a fever pitch. These are all details that have the potential to either derail or empower a 21 year old. Very interestingly, Kanoa has opted to simply focus on getting two 7.5s in every heat he surfs, and that really seems to be an overlooked equation for success on the current championship tour. He goes back to Australia in 2nd place.
John John remains in 1st, Italo in 3rd, Filipe in 4th, and Kolohe in 5th.
Margaret River starts in 4 days on May 29th. We’ll see you there.
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Host, Writer, Producer: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales
Music: Atlas Sound feat Noah Lennox, Walkabout