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 Open JBay.
This 6th event of the season marks the halfway point. And it dawned on me midway through the event that it also signifies an extra level of importance. When the round of 16 opened on the 7th day so of waiting period, after multiple lay days, in that first heat in the morning light Jordy looked disinterested and lethargic. It stood in stark contrast to Filipe Toledo later in the day, Gabriel Medina in the next heat, or even Jordy’s current opponent Owen Wright. It dawned on me that perhaps the best marathon runners are the one’s who train for the middle of the race, when so many other runners are zoned out, not making moves, but just trying to keep the pace. Everyone is hyper alert at the beginning and the end of the race, but world titles often come down to a single heat, somewhere, buried midseason when it seemed inconsequential and only retrospection reveals it’s importance.
For 32 male athletes, 16 female athletes, and nearly the entire viewing audience, the exhaustive first two days of competition were inconsequential. On the mens side we utilized that time and those resources to lose Beyrick de Vries, Jordan Couzinet, Jesse Mendes and Jadson Andre, who logs his fourth 17th of the season. His other finish was a 33rd. And by the way, he’s already qualified for the Championship tour next year via his qualifying series results. So both of these things highlight some fundamental flaws in the structure of these tours and how it undermines the primary goal of putting the best surfers in the best waves, and most importantly, selling that experience to a viewing public.
As one might predict at a classic venue like JBay, the marquis names performed best through those early rounds. There is no trickery at JBay. The open walls and the pacing of the wave requires one to carry speed, never fully releasing it on any one maneuver. We always hear about how JBay will expose a surfer’s weaknesses. I would argue it also exposes missteps in heat strategy, but more on that later.
Everyone also says pacing is the key to surfing well at JBay, and that’s hard to argue against, but it’s important to note that the fastest surfers are also the most winning surfers at JBay. When it’s anything less than pumping, it’s the surfer’s energy that brings thrill to the ride. Think back to Curren’s first ride. His energy adds pizzazz to that wave. All of Mick Fanning’s and Kelly’s best waves over the years you can attribute the spark in their surfing. Filipe’s the best of example of this. His speed and electricity add a dimension to the wave that someone simply surfing the wave on pace doesn’t offer.
So back to Jordy. Jordy entered this event ranked 4th in the world. He finished JBay in 9th and is now ranked 6th. His loss to Owen Wright is such an interesting heat to analyze. I watched it live and felt like Jordy was surfing better than Owen; more variety, power and flair. Owen had better waves and more flow. In real time, Martin Potter was assessing Owen as the better surfer and I actually got swayed by his influence, or I could at least see why he thought Owen was surfing better. And the judges validated Potter’s assessment. This particular heat highlights how far we are from an objective or definitive criteria. And while it was an unfortunate loss for Jordy, he failed in heat strategy. He picked the lesser waves, and most importantly, let that final set wave pass to Owen. Jordy has always surfed well, but his lack of success is more a reflection of those poor strategic decisions. And that became evident in the very next heat with a surfer who never fails on heat strategy.
Ryan Callanan held the lead over Gabriel Medina up until the last two minutes. It was a tenuous lead, Gabe just needed a couple midrange scores to advance, but needing two waves in the final two minutes is enough to disrupt most surfer’s focus. This was the turning point of the season for Gabriel and he may be able to attribute his potential 3rd world title to these 2 minutes. He’s known to find his focus midseason, specifically at JBay, and this was the moment where that coalesced. With 2 minutes and 30 seconds left in the heat, Ryan paddled for a wave that he then decided not to go on, and he lost priority. Fatally, he gave Gabe impunity in the line up. Gabe rode an average wave to a 5.97 and then grabbed another for a 6.97, the best score of the heat. In the end, it was virtually equivalent surfing from both athletes, less than 1 point separating their head totals, but the winner decided by, guess what? Heat strategy.
The most noteworthy performance of the round would have also been a foretelling of the event winner had the waves not doubled in sized. Filipe Toledo, who sometimes fails on heat strategy, utilized that sparky energy to distinguish himself from every other surfer of the day, with Kanoa being the only relatable reference point. Filipe was the defending two time champ of this event and looked poised for a three peat. He maintained that form through the quarterfinals, interestingly solely relying on rail surfing and exhibited beautiful flow through each ride. Unsurprisingly, it was Filipe’s old nemesis that ended his campaign; sizable swell. His unrivaled energy and speed is nullified on JBay’s larger walls. The question of fear that plagues him at Teauhupoo and Pipeline wasn’t so much the issue at bigger JBay, as even the biggest waves lack real consequence, rather his strengths simply have less applicability. And once again, his loss was directly related to heat strategy, picking the lesser waves as the swell continued to grow. He faced Italo Ferreria, who’s underperformed since his win on the Gold Coast. In their first exchange they both surfed beautifully, but Italo bested him by half a point, mainly due to the larger size of Italo’s wave. With 5 minutes left and Filipe needing an 8.18 he took a mid sized wave and surfed it to 5. Italo then grabbed a set wave and bettered his lead over Filipe with an 8 to back up his early 9.5 and close the heat. Filipe’s 3rd place finish, after his win at Rio, moves him forward one spot on the rankings into 2nd.
4 time JBay champ Kelly Slater finished 9th for his 3rd event in a row. He lost to eventual finalist Italo Ferreria, which was really unfortunate simply because we never got a chance to see Kelly in the larger surf on the final day. He only surfed 2 heats and he looked comfortable, fit and fine in both. His best heat total a 13.57. But as we watched the finalists perform on the final day, I felt the void of Kelly. His surfing in those conditions is good enough to have won the event. He swaps positions with Gabriel Medina on the rankings, moving 1 spot down to 8th. And I’m sure is praying for 8’ swell for the next event in Tahiti.
Sadly, Julian Wilson finished 17th in this event and has fallen out of my discussion here entirely.
The women’s event saw three-time world champ Carissa Moore settle into, what is clear to me, is her rightful place in 1st on the rankings. While Stephanie Gilmore has many moments of sublimity, especially at JBay, Carissa is the most powerful and progressive, and simply, the best surfer on the women’s tour. Her undeniable kindness and humility seem to belie her superior talent. If she had Courtney’s tenacity, I’d imagine Carissa would have 10 world titles.
Sally Fitz came into this event with the Jeep leaders yellow jersey but never looked like she was equipped to beat the Carissa, Lakey, nor Steph. She ended up losing in the quarters to Malia Manuel, due to her own under-surfing on her two waves that had the potential for the scores she needed. She moves to 2nd on the rankings.
Event favorite Stephanie Gilmore lost to 5th place Caroline Marks. And Lakey Peterson looked sharp, fit and confident as she surfed to a 2nd place finish. Despite Carissa’s win, her new 1st place ranking, and her superior natural talent, Lakey seems to perhaps have the most focus and desire for the title this year and maybe even the most improvement from 2018, a title campaign year for her that fell apart at the end. She’s had an injury this season, and she again doesn’t quite have the same raw talent of either Carissa nor Steph, but it seems that she’s aware of that deficit and is more than keen to do the hard work and training to compensate for it. She’ll just need those girls to take their eye off the prize for a moment to give her another opportunity to seize like she did at Margaret’s. She moves 1 spot forward into 4th. And their next event is the Freshwater Pro, in a wave pool. An event Carissa won last year.
Aside from the eventual winner in the men’s division, Kolohe Andino showed the most focus as that mid race marathon runner. Yet to win an event on tour ever, he’s quietly emerged as the most consistent surfer of 2019, making 2 finals and 2 semi finals in 6 events. He got the best barrel of the event and he was the only surfer landing airs in every heat. And big risky airs. Even when the wind was offshore on the final day when Filipe, Italo and Gabe all opted to stay on the wave face, Kolohe threw a big lofty alley-oop to close out his heat against Ace Buchan. This is coupled with the fact that Kolohe has not wavered from sound heat strategy. Simply using his priority on the best two waves of each heat and surfing those waves to their potential. That is until he drew Gabriel Medina in the semi final and instead opted for the first wave of the heat, a smaller inside wave that he ripped, but because of it’s size only scored a 6.5. Gabe was left out the back to meet a set wave that he surfed half-heartedly to an 8. A small mistake by Kolohe that he’d never fully recover from and then try to make up for by doubling down and staying busy through the rest of the heat. He caught 10 waves to Gabriel’s 5. Gabe’s 2 scoring rides being the 2 biggest waves of the heat. Despite the loss, and despite not being on the best 2 waves, Kolohe served up the most exciting moment of the heat with another massive alley-oop. These highlight moments of Kolohe validate a hypotheses I set forth early in the season, that he’s been reserving performances and energy in those early events and he’s building his season, not an individual event, to a crescendo and increasing performances along the way. He leaves JBay in 1st on the rankings for the first time in his career. A position that John John Florence has vacated due to injury.
And nobody builds to a year end cresencdo better than Gabriel Medina, although I never suspected that he does that intentional. His habit of breaking late in the season has always appeared to be an effect of perhaps “hangover”, induced by a stellar end to the previous season. He wins a world title, finals at Pipe, lives a celebrity life off season and the comes into Snapper with a target on his back and the bulk of the media attention. It’s enough to distract anybody from winning. Coming into JBay he had three 5th and two 17th. As the waves improved throughout the JBay event, so did Gabriel’s performances. His boards are known to have a lot of volume, especially in the tail. This looked to be an advantage as the waves grew to double overhead in the final against Italo Ferreria. Gabriel never pumped his board. He’d simply engage his fins and fly down the line. When a lip would present itself, he’d engage the rail, smash straight into the lip and usually freewall back into the wave and then he’d carry that speed right into the next section. He’d seamlessly transition from from every thing; bottom turns, soft sections, freefall drops, all of it with the exact same pacing of speed through the entire ride. Gabe looks more dialed into his equipment than any surfer on Tour, and he always has. Italo surfed great. There were plenty of waves for each surfer, so heat strategy became irrelevant for perhaps the first time in the event. Gabriel’s combined classic lines into radical sections all while exhibiting seamless flow, and it earned him a 9.73 and a 9.77 for a combined heat score of 19.50, leaving Italo comboed with a 16.77.
And with it, Gabriel moved forward 1 spot into 7th as the men’s tour heads to Teauhupoo Tahiti, an event that he’s won twice in the past. That waiting period begins in 1 month, on August 21st. I’ll see you then.