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 Oi Rio Pro.
I started off our Post-Script to the Maragret River Pro by stating that no venue changed more drastically from the way we perceive it than Margaret’s; from a soft and mushy bore to one of the more exciting and high-performance waves on Tour. Well, the Oi Rio Pro has earned the dubious distinction of having the most scattered identity. Thankfully we’ve left the beaches of Rio proper, and while Saquarema still offers the WSL all the fan activation opportunities to justify this otherwise unjustifiable stop for the world’s best surfers, it’s identity is equally as schizophrenic.
The thumping, quasi closed out barrels of Barrinha are thrilling and absolutely separate the best surfers in the world from the other 25, but only when it’s overhead and off shore. Which, by the way, it was during the first 2 days while the competition was being held down the beach at Itauna. The barrels made during these freesurf sessions trump anything that happened during the actual contest. And while I’m aware of the logistical constraints of moving the contest venue, the WSL has been spot on with their calls in the previous 4 events this season; the Box being the most apt comparison where they maximized the potential of that swell and timed their move perfectly. In Saquarema, by contrast, when they decided to make the move up the beach to Barrinha midway through the 3rd day, the wind shifted onshore and the swell would only have about half of juice left.
Those first 2 unmemorable rounds that ran at Itauna did introduce us to new level of fandom for professional surfing. The Rio event has always been known to be well attended, but this year seemed to set a record level of intensity. The mass of humanity and the raucous cheering creates an energy and influence over the event that is immeasurable and undeniable. I’m sure it works as an advantage to some and a disadvantage to others, but it’s fascinating to see and could be an indicator for what professional surfing can expect as we move into the Olympics and beyond.
Wanna hear what surfers we lost in that first day in a half of competition; Alex Ribero, Peterson Crisanto, Ace Buchan, and Jeremy Flores, for those of you who said I was too harsh on him back in the Keramas Post-Script. It’s also worth noting that eventual finalist Jordy Smith barely survived that Elimination round.
The main upset in the round of 32 at Itauna was Frederico Morais over Italo Ferreria, who was nursing an injured ankle and intentionally selecting the smaller, cleaner waves and trying to surf them safely. This is his second 17th of the season and moves him 3 spots down the rankings to 6th place.
Frederico isn’t even on tour this year. He got the call up as a injury wildcard replacement for the 2nd time this year and surfed impressively, albeit very predictably to a semifinal finish. He got a 33rd at Margaret’s.
For all intent and purposes the event really got rolling in the Round of 16 for the men at Barrinha. After running the women at very mediocre Itauna while Barrinha was firing, they put the event on hold for a few hours to relocate midday.
Heat 1 of the round of 16 featured what might be a brewing rivalry between Filipe Toledo and Kelly Slater. They had one of the best heats of the year thus far at pumping 6 foot barreling Keramas. The event was on hold for multiple days which allowed tension to simmer. Most people thought Kelly’s only chance would be if the waves were barreling and 6 foot. Kelly publicly responded to that adversity stating that he was going to try rip Filipe’s head off. He didn’t quite decimate Filipe, but he beat him. He out surfed him. He out wave-selected him. And he psyched Filipe out. We had seen moments of Kelly’s surfing return to form in recent years, but this was the first return to form of Kelly’s classic mental warfare. Something that no one has ever come close to rivaling him in, BUT something that is completely contingent upon his being able to back it up with surfing.
Their rematch at Barrinha live up to all the hype. The waves were again, pumping 6 foot barrels, but much less perfect than Keramas. Lots of bad ones. Lots of water moving. Filipe opened the exchange at the 9 minute mark with a big snap in front of Kelly and then an incredible full rotation, whipped at an incredible speed, on a section where most CT surfers would have placed a snap. He landed in the transition and went straight into a bottom turn and then a closeout slam. It earned him a 9.17. Undeterred, Kelly used priority minutes later to masterfully thread a wonky overhead shifting barrel for a 9.50. The heat was on. A real rivalry where opponents are not only worthy, but they actually elevate the other’s game. They both surfed 5 more waves, all inconsequential, until Kelly free-fell from the sky on a double overhead bomb, snuck into the barrel for a moment and garnered a 5.33 and the lead. With 6 minutes left and Filipe needing a 5.66 he took off on the best wave of the heat, a 6 foot tall and 5 foot wide barrel, which he surfed adequately. It was an 8 to 10 point wave and he surfed it to 8.67, and beat Kelly 17.84 to 14.83. I’m not sure what their record is against one another, but it’s 1 to 1 since this rivalry has officially formed and JBay would be the ultimate venue to continue pushing one another’s limitations. If the WSL cannot script them meeting man-on-man, hopefully fate does. Kelly’s 9th place finish at Rio moves him 2 positions forward into 7th.
Even though Kelly lost that heat, his 14.83 would remain the second highest heat score of the day, until Jordy posted a 15.63 to beat Griffin Colapinto.
Current #1 John John Florence looked spry throughout the event and would be a top contender against Filipe at Barrinha in any conditions. He drew Wade Carmichael in the Round of 16 and posted 12.66 points while attempting a couple incredible airs, including a double grab backflip rotation that he landed but didn’t ride out of. Which reminds me, in my Post-Script to Margaret River I posited that, moving forward, “progressive surfing” will be defined by the waves that maneuvers are performed on; waves of consequence. Big sections with big risk. The surfing at Barrinha verified that theory. Julian went huge. Filipe. Kolohe too. And Jordy. Some of the photos of Julian’s unlanded straight airs look like he was being dropped from a helicopter. Anyway, John was getting closer to pulling something significant. He took off on a closeout set wave, hit the end section with projection into a flip. The moment he did he felt something snap in his knee. The same knee he injured last year at Keramas and that sidelined him for the rest of 2018. He exited he heat and eventually reported that he feels okay, but it gave him a scare. And he decided to he would withdraw from the rest of the event just to play it safe. Wade Carmichael wasn’t able to find his 6.17 point ride through the remaining 13 minutes of the heat, so John John made it through that heat and secured a quarterfinal finish. His choice to withdraw potential saved his knee from actual re-injury and it should also allow him time enough to rehab and be healthy for JBay where he can defend his 3rd title campaign where he still holds 1st position.
The other surfer who we’ve been tracking through each episode of Post-Script is Kolohe Andino who drew the local favorite, most followed surfer on Instagram, and current world champ Gabriel Medina. Gabriel has looked unflappable for nearly all of his career. He’s one of the most feared competitors on tour, but he’s looked very human in the past couple of events, with 17th place finishes at Keramas and Margarets. Even though he finished 5th in Rio, his surfing looked uninspired and lower energy that we’re used to. He cobbled together 2 scored to advance through heats, but he also squandered a lot of opportunities and when he comes up against someone who does what they are supposed to do, he ends up losing to them. At Rio this person was Kolohe Andino, who to his credit, stayed really busy, which was a key to success at Barrinha. He got barreled, comboed waves, did a super sick straight air, and most importantly capitalized when he was given the opportunity. He doesn’t have the speed and whip of Filipe. He doesn’t have the excitement of Italo, nor the raw power of Jordy. But he is consistently making semifinals and that was enough to win Joel Parkinson a world title in 2012. He’ll just need John John to loosen his grasp on 1st, or perhaps decide to nurse the knee through a couple more events. For now, Kolohe remains in the 2nd position.
The first 3 rounds of the women’s event ran at wonky Itauna. By the time the commissioner shifted the quarters finals over to Barrinha the swell had significantly diminished. The women were relegated to surfing shoulder high, semi closed out rights, hoping for a two turn combo. Sally Fitz, Carissa Moore, Stephanie Gilmore and Courtney Conologue looked to be the top performers through the event. The best heat of the event would be heat 2 of the semifinals, but only in the final 12 minutes. The waves turned on and Carissa belted a set wave for a 6.5. The wave of the day then came to Steph and she styled through a long tube and then smashed the end section for a 9 point ride. Unfortunately she wasn’t able to back it up, a trademark that has plagued her throughout her career, and Carissa three-turn comboed her next wave for a 7.8 and the win.
She’d meet Sally Fitzgibbons in the final where the conditions remained sunny and glassy. Carissa got a head high barrel for a 7 then comboed a small one for a 5.57 and held the lead over Sally for 30 minutes. I mentioned in my last Post-Script that Sally is going to need to develop a point of difference in her surfing if she wants to stand apart from Carissa’s power and progression, Stephanie’s grace and style, Courtney’s power, Lakey’s technique and progression. Sally did not develop that since our last event, but she did capitalize on every opportunity that presented itself. She is known for having the most disciplined training regime on tour, for being a beast of an athlete and the benefit of training is having the stamina and confidence to deliver your fullest potential throughout the marathon that is an event. This moment came in the form of a barreling 4 footer with 5 minutes left and Sally needing a 6.61. She nursed a tube and smashed the closeout. The judges awarded a 8.67. With this win Sally leaps forward 3 positions and into 1st on the rankings. Steph slides down to 3rd where Carissa moves from and into 2nd. Sally has finished 2nd place on Tour, I believe 5 times and never won a world title. This is the exact halfway point of the season for the women and it’s the most diverse and tightest title race we’ve seen in years. Right now the top 6 surfers are within an 8000 point spread and people are jumping forward and back 3 spots each event, so it’s really wide open right now. Sally will undoubtedly be training harder than anybody as we charge through the back half of the season.
The mens final saw Filipe Toledo versus Jordy Smith who had an equal record of 4 wins and losses each against one another. Jordy looked strong through the event, but Filipe looked unbeatable, was the strong favorite, and the defending event champ. The waves had diminished in size and quality but were still definitely rippable.
Filipe utilized 1st priority on a closeout and while he was paddling back out, Jordy was too deep for the next wave so opts not to take off. Filipe, paddling out, spins at the last second, gets barreled and then does a huge boned out straight air, lands perfectly in the transition, straight into a bottom turn, tail drifts the end section and then immediately does the Wolverine claim. The exact claim that Jordy did when he won this event back in 2013. Toledo got a deserved 9.37 and whipped the crowd into an absolute frenzy. Within 5 minutes he backed it up with an 8.67 for a total of 18.04 from which Jordy would never recover. In fact, Jordy barely put up a fight. It seems he was mentally defeated, perhaps before even entering the final. And this is a point of distinction between these 2 surfers. Filipe seems to gain confidence as he rolls through an event, always doing his best surfing in the final and often getting a 10. Jordy is always subject to whims, and I’m not sure what triggers his shockers nor his peak performances. It is mental though. The conditions of the final suited him equally as well as Filipe. Or you could argue that Jordy’s size and power offered him opportunities on bigger sections than Filipe. Filipe is fast and spritely, but Jordy can go bigger, both on the face and in the air. But he didn’t. He just looked somewhat apathetic. But it is in line with a hunch I suggested from the first comp, which is that his pacing is set in marathon mode. And Rio is only mile 13. Maybe he succeeded by simply making the final.
Filipe’s inescapable plight is that he has to out surf his potential. Even when a contender is a lesser surfer, Filipe has to prove to the judges that his airs are challenging for HIM to land. The degree of difficulty is measured against what we know he’s capable of, so his scale is vastly different than Willian Cardoso’s for example. Had Willian done the exact barrel to air combo that Filipe did in the final, Willian would have scored a 10, no doubt. Jordy has been around long enough and suffered enough underscoring, remember his 9.17 at Bells that should have been a 10 against Julian? So I’m predicting Jordy’s intentionally rolling at 80%, knowing that reduces his fall rate and knowing his 80% surfing is good enough to make semifinals at almost every venue. Then we’ll see him push towards 90% in Europe with do perhaps the best airs of year. The airs we’ve seen him do since he was 18. Let’s not forget his rodeo’s. He’s done a backside superman in competition at Lowers. All of that stuff is on lock and if he partners it with his power, there’s not single surfer on tour to who could contend with that repertoire. He moves up one spot into 4th, just behind Filipe who’s in 3rd, up 3 spots from 6th.
Jefferys Bay starts on July 9th, an event both surfers have won twice, BUT Jordy not since 2011. Filipe is the man to beat, having won in the past 2 years. But he’s made an enemy in Kelly. John John is due for a JBay performance. Kanoa semifinal there last year only losing to Filipe. This is usually where Gabe Medina starts to make his break towards his title race. Julian might even to make an appearance. We’ll find out in 2 weeks in South Africa. See ya there.