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 Maragaret River Pro.
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I can think of no other event on tour that has undergone a more radical transformation in how it’s perceived by the viewing public, than the Margaret River Pro. This is larger due to the evolution of how the wave is surfed and the addition of the roving venue format. The event has always been revered for it’s woolly open ocean challenge, especially when the swell delivers. But over the past 6 years that has been coupled with opportunities for high performance surfing. Heroics at The Box and John John’s open face carves will be remembered in this 2019 iteration of the event, but there was also a subtle shift in the future of high-performance surfing. Tech airs on 3 foot waves in wave pools pale in comparison to Yago Dora’s backside full rote at Main Break. Big sections provide big opportunities, and they constitute big risk. You risk the wave, you risk the section, but more importantly, risking legitimate bodily harm. You’re going faster, higher, with a variable wind. It’s what makes the Maui air guys so relevant and conversely makes the airs at glassy 3’ Keramas look pedestrian. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Airborne tour locations shifted in future years to places like Main Break, where it can run simultaneously while the CT event runs at The Box. Imagine that, very little downtime for viewers, shorter waiting period required. Much more drama. Anyway, I digress.
This roving venue concept; having both The Box and Main Break as options is awesome and it’s different than going to Winki from Bells or Duranbah from Snapper. Winki is still a right hand point break like Bells. And running at Duranbah is always a downgrade from what we hope to get from Snapper. The Box on the hand is freakshow of a wave that tests competitors mettle like now other wave on Tour.
But before we got to The Box, Rounds 1 and 2, which by the way I’m just going to continue to ignore the Seeding Round vernacular until it gets changed back to Round 1. Rounds 1 and 2 for both the men and women ran in head high surf at Main Break. And guess what, nothing spectacular happened. We lost 6 surfers across the men and women, mostly wildcards and names that are inconsequential to the title. And all at the cost of 2 full days of completion. The longer I do these recaps, the more clear it becomes that the tour is too cumbersome. Too many surfers, requiring too much time and resource for moments that ultimately, won’t ever be viewed again.
For all intents and purposes, the event began on day 3 at The Box. And it did so in spectacular fashion. It was the pinnacle of everything we want in a surf contest. High drama. It proved a huge separation in the talent gap. It verified that otherwise world title threat Filipe Toledo still has a hole in his game. It validated why we all love Jadson Andre. And it reminded us that even the best surfers in the world are humbled by Mother Nature, which felt relatable.
It also allowed us to witness a savant feat performed by Italo Ferreria. Having never surfed The Box previously, Italo studied videos, visualized, and practiced his technique 3 hours prior, standing on his board on his mattress in his hotel room. Meanwhile, waves were kegging on the reef and fear and anticipation culled most of the men’s tour into the line-up for a rare chance to get some practice in before their heat. Leonardo Fioravanti dislocated his shoulder in that free surf and The Box reaffirmed how challenging and dangerous it is. World #3 Italo Ferreira paddled out in that first heat. A set marched into the line up, chasing it from behind Italo committed. The wave lurched to a square 8 feet. Italo stood up in a panic, staring at his feet while he knifed the drop with his front foot way off placement. This misstep projected him too far into the flats where he made an instantaneous and critical adjustment to barely correct his footing and his line, barley slid behind the lip, up into the middle face of the heaving barrel. We all assumed that this is where the heroics would end. Nobody is qualified to regain the composure required to actually do the hard work of navigating the labyrinth of The Box’s barrel. And yet, Italo emerged from the spit, gliding over the steps and let out a huge scream of relief. The drop was weightless. He had 1 chance and really 1 inch of margin to set his rail off the bottom. It projected him to the perfect line in the barrel where he stood backside without a grab, all the while absorbing tons of chatter through his legs. All in the whiteout conditions amidst the spit, and then he got blown out. It was his first wave ever at The Box and arguably one of the best backside waves we’ve ever seen surfed their. In what might be the biggest judging error of 2019, he was awarded a 8.17. The best 8.17 I’ve seen. He when on to trounce Soli Bailey. He would ultimately lose in the quarterfinals against John John Florence, but his performance at The Box will live on much longer than the implications of his result.
Gabriel Medina, normally known for robotic consistency and composure did not exhibit the same confidence we’re accustomed to. He charged a couple big ones at The Box, but just dropped in and locked in and not very deep, and then heavily claimed a 5.40. It was a lot of flexing for a lesser performance than what we had witnessed in the previous 4 heats. His opponent on the other hand, a sponsor less Caio Ibelli went deeper, weaved his way through challenging sections, over foam balls, alternating into brief soul arches, and then would casually kick out. It was poetic justice for the 2nd wave of the heat where Caio had priority but Gabe blocked Caio’s ideal paddling line and Caio consequently went late, free fell, cartwheeled at the bottom and then went over the falls. Gabriel continues his slide out of the top 10, down 2 spots in to 12th.
Caio became the positive differential for everyone’s Fantasy team. He was surfing in the event as an injury replacement for Adriano de Souza, as he has been all year. He himself was injured in 2017, sat out for 2018, and with only 2 injury wildcards available for 2019, he was relegated to not compete when those were given to John John and Kelly Slater. Bad luck for Caio, but he’s ended up surfing all 4 events so far and his performance at Margaret will likely ensure that he’ll be the 1st replacement as we proceed through the season. He looked equally comfortable at The Box and Main Break, and more importantly, he did so despite who his competitor was. He was all over the line up and his high energy never ceased and also never comprised his style and graceful flow once up and riding. After taking out Gabriel, he beat Kelly by a full 4 points at Main Break, and Jordy by just 2 one-hundredths of a point with just less than 4 minutes left on the clock. High pressure and totally unfazed, sponsor less, not on Tour and with everything to lose, Caio smoked everyone except the best. He ultimately lost to John John Florence in the semifinals, a surfer who he’s has beaten more often than not. Caio leaves Australia in 20th position, headed to his home country of Brazil.
All eyes were on Kelly Slater after his blistering performance at Keramas. He revisited that form in the Elimination Round 2 with a pair of 8’s at Main Break and then expressed a giddy excitement to surf The Box, where he was lucky to draw Willian Cardoso. It took them both about 25 minutes to post meaningful scores, which were both low 4s. Kelly then clinched it with an insane 5.83 double up which he claimed. A 9th place finish at Margaret’s leaves Kelly in 9th place on the rankings headed into Brazil, an event that he has opted to skip in the past.
The most thrilling heat of the event was Jack Robinson’s heat 9 of round 3 against 4th place Filipe Toledo. Jack is a local and entered the event as a wild card. He’s so local, in fact, that he checks the surf each morning with a drone that he launches and operates while still in bed at home!! That’s not a joke. And Jack’s local prowess is well known and undisputed. Everyone was expecting to see something special from Jack, and he delivered nearly beyond expectation. As in days of yore when Kelly Slater or Tom Curren entered a line up and the clouds parted, the sun came out, a double rainbow appeared on the horizon and dolphins began frolicking; Robinson is similarly attuned with the ocean around Margaret River. The biggest, widest, longest wave of the day came right to him at the start of the heat. He surfed it to an 8.5. And then 3 minutes later backed it up with 7.6. Within 5 minutes Filipe was comboed. 3 minutes later an even better wave approached. Filipe Toledo had priority. He didn’t even make an effort for the wave. He paddled straight over it, let Jack spin and go uncontested and Jack posted a 9.27. With 10 minutes left he did it again for 9.30. Strangely, those 4 waves were the only of their kind seen throughout the event. The Box is slab, but Jack’s waves peeled down the entire reef. The looked more like Backdoor than The Box. Jack would have smoked anyone in that heat, except maybe John John, but it cannot be overlooked that Filipe only posted a 6.73 combined heat total. Each season there is one heat of the year where Filipe is put on the spot to prove that he can compete in scary reef break barrels. He’s improved improved over the years. I remember a low tide heat at Teauhupoo where he sat on the shoulder without even paddling for a wave, albeit modestly injured. The following year at Pipe he got barreled, but again, taking off on the shoulder. He now looks comfortable in scary surf, but just comfortable. He’s not confident, and he’s definitely not a threat to anyone. And the world title will be reserved for those who are. Jack Robinson has equal prowess at Main Break, but unfortunately for us viewers, he also illustrated the difference between a CT surfer and a non-CT surfer. Talent is not the difference. Showcasing that talent on command, in a variety conditions, consistently over the stretch of an event is the difference. After posting an early 7.10 in the first minutes of the next round at Main Break against Seth Moniz, he simply bogged and fell for the next 25 minutes. He got the waves he needed, plenty of opportunities, and simply didn’t capitalize. Jack’s performance at The Box will be long remembered. And his goal is to qualify for the CT in 2020. He’s committed to the WQS this season where he currently sits 5th. He has a natural talent to stand along side John John, he’ll just need to distribute it evenly through an entire season of varied conditions and moods.
My favorite moment of the entire event and maybe even the season was seeing Griffin Colapinto get sucked over the falls and Barton Lynch not being able to contain his laughter. Griffin had bagged the highlight of the warm up sessions and it went viral on social media, so we were all expecting fireworks. He was matched against this mentor Kolohe Andino who is having a banner year and desperate to assert dominance over his grasshopper. They jockeyed for position for 6 minutes, Griffin insisting on being inside and deeper. Kolohe pulled back on one and Griffin took one additional paddle before attempting to pull back by sitting upright on his board and pulling the reins. He went straight over with the lip in the worst way possible, on a 6 foot square-el while sitting on his board! Barton tried so hard to give an earnest recounting while watching the reply but couldn’t stop the intermittent giggles. It was perfect. It was unbridled, so relatable, so human, and so unscripted. It reaffirmed that the ocean humbles all of us. We’ve all had that happen and know the horror of the feeling and the pure morbid comedy of seeing it happen to a friend. Griffin actually got sucked over on another wave too, although not sitting on his board. He eventually found his feet and posted a pair of 6s. The heat ended up being exciting to watch. There’s a real tension between those two, but Kolohe got a sick wave, surfed it to a 9 to win the heat. Kolohe did make a priority mistake at the 1 minute mark and Griff got an opportunity at potential 10 point ride but couldn’t navigate the 12 steps in the face mid barrel. Kolohe went on to defeat Owen Wright, Seth Moniz, and then Julian Wilson in the semis.
Kanoa Igarashi came off his win in Bali and executed the exact same strategy at Margaret. Doing a variety of 4 turns on his forehand, aiming for midrange 7s. It continued to work until he actually fell in his round of 16 heat against Ryan Callanan. Blaming someone for falling seems like an obvious critique, but it’s actually quite unusual for Kanoa. A lot of surfers fall, but they will also make 2 waves a heat and that can be enough to get them through and for us to forget about their falls. Kanoa’s got a way tighter game. He doesn’t waste that energy. He’s exacting and he’s sure footed. Many surfers have multiple weak points and various wheels can fall off at any time. Various elements need to align for them in order to make heats. Kanoa’s equipment is always dialed. He picks the right waves, surfs them to their potential, and he doesn’t make priority mistakes. Falling is his only concern. Everything was aligned for Kanoa to beat Ryan on the final wave of their heat, he blasted the first turn and then blew the tail out on the second as the wave folded on a weird boil and he went down on the landing. He entered this event in 2nd place and leaves Australia in 4th. That’s three 9th place finishes and one 1st..
The women never got a chance to surf The Box. Their entire event ran at Main Break.
Event favorite Courtney Conlogue, with a newly sticker less board, never really found the form that she’s shown in past years. She was also riding a larger board than seemingly everyone else, something that’s helped her here in the past and also to that 10 at Bells. This year however, the waves weren’t that big and the bigger board seemed to inhibit her ability to react quickly and get the same torque she normally applies. She lost to Tatiana in the Quarters.
From the beginning Caroline Marks, Lakey Peterson, and Carissa Moore all looked destined for victory. Caroline faltered to Sally Fitzgibbons in the quarters. Sally’s been a perennial 2nd place finisher over the years, with the same beautiful fundamentals of the woman who have bested her, but she lacks that extra gear; it’s power for Courtney, a seamless grace for Steph, progression for Carissa and Lakey. I’m always rooting for Sally because her work ethic is unreal and she’s arguably the finest athlete on Tour, but the competition for the title is too fierce to not have a show stopping point of difference in your surfing. I’m going to suggest that speed could be Sally’s ally. Nobody has branded speed on the women’s tour. Maybe Silvana is the fastest by default, but she hasn’t branded it in the way that Mick did on the mens side until Filipe stole the baton. Sally has the physique and the repertoire of maneuvers, connecting it all faster than her competitors could be her angle to stand apart and access that 5th gear. She too was beat by Tatiana Weston-Webb, who if we’re being honest, got a couple of gifts in this event. Tati made mistakes in each heat, just not quite as egregious as her opponents.
By contrast Carissa Moore and Lakey Peterson surfed error free, with confidence and conviction, even when they matched up in the semis where Lakey beat Carissa by less than 2 tenths of a point.
Lakey’s highlights came in her quarterfinal heat against Stephanie Gilmore. First, when she jammed a very critical vert snap that she transitioned straight into a bottom turn and then straight into a torqued frontside gouge. Two turns net her a 9.8. She then backed that up with 9.03, leaving Steph comboed for the highest heat score of the event. Shirking the concern that she had left it all in that heat, and with the benefit of a day’s rest, she delivered a similar combination of turns to another victory against a formidable Carissa Moore in the semis.
In the final Lakey met Tatiana Weston Web. Tati again had moments, but also foibles and only posted 1 meaningful score despite having multiple opportunities. Lakey wasn’t required to surf as critically as previous heats. She found softer waves with safe sections, nursed some cutbacks and completed her rides for a 13.33 heat total. Her first final and win of the season, moving her up 2 spots into 6th place. Stephanie remains in 1st and Caroline Marks remains in 2nd.
The mens final followed and saw Kolohe Andino against John John Florence. I haven’t given John John enough talking time yet, suffice to say, he’s won here twice in the past and redefined how the wave can be surfed in his 2017 performance. This year, he delivered on all our expectations. He did it at The Box and Main Break. He employed that same forehand rail carve that we saw in 2017 and this year at Bells, but in a much tighter radius on this year’s smaller canvases. He blitzed waves with a speed and venom (thank you Barton) that his opponents cannot achieve. Once he faced the added challenge of Italo, he added a dirtiness to his otherwise comfy and casual approach. It was a classic example of peaking at the right moment and showing a point of difference from his earlier surfing; an added desire. And a level that, simply put, no one else is on at Main Break.
This roving venue format allowed for wide variety of very good, very difficult conditions and ensured that the winner was the most complete surfer on Tour. John John Florence left no question that he is that person. He sits in 1st position on the rankings with a 6,000 point lead over Kolohe Andino and 7,000 over Italo Ferreria.
The Oi Rio Pro starts on June 20th for both the women and men, where Stephanie Gilmore and Filipe Toledo are the reigning champs. We’ll see you there.
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Host, Writer, Producer: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales