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 Tahiti Pro presented by Hurley.
The 2019 Tahiti Pro presented by Hurley will be remembered and referenced for a long time to come. Tuesday, August 27th delivered precisely what we hope any surf event would. Teahupoo displayed a deft balance of ferocity and beauty that only Mother Nature can conjure. And the surfers displayed a bravado that, in most cases, exceeded their athletic ability, and in many cases, pushed them to new levels of performance with many of these world class surfers getting the waves of their lives while the whole surf world watched. For the first time ever, that I can remember, it felt like there were no losers, that is with the exception of 2 surfers, Willian Cardoso and Yago Dora, more on that later. Surfers who were losing heats were still unlocking new plateaus of personal achievement and getting insane barrels. Conner Coffin and Michel Bourez come to mind, surfing incredible heats and getting some of the waves of their lives, despite being edged out by Caio Ibelli and Owen Wright. And by the way, all the hard charging can largely be attributed to the work of the water patrol who does a near flawless job rescuing surfers from peril at the earliest possible moments. Jack Freestone stated that he felt almost completely comfortable going on waves that would otherwise terrify him if the water patrol wasn’t present.
The day as a whole offered a template for what the WSL should always try to replicate, and to their credit, they’ve executed a dozen of these types of days of recent years, and event a couple this season already, like the day we ran at The Box. But these days are padded with lots of mediocre days, mediocre performances, and mediocre viewing. Ad nauseam I know, but fewer surfers on Tour would allow us to run in fewer days and target these types of swells. I digress.
10 days prior to the official start of the event a massive swell aligned with the trials for the official event. So massive, in fact that they trials was called off. New Tour Commissioner Pat O’Connell deserves a nod however for pulling together a last minute live stream so that we could view the carnage and the trials the following day online.
There were many amazing waves ridden that day, the most impressive was by 17 year old Kauli Vaast, who would make it through the trials and play an important role later in the main event with potential world title implications.
As has become a theme in every Post-Script that I’ve recorded this season, Day 1 and 2 ran in marginal surf with not a single surfer being pushed to their fullest expression, not a single wave that will be used any highlight reel, and not a single elimination that plays any role in our world title race, nor even next years qualification. In fact, only 1 among the four surfers who were eliminated in this two day expense of time and resource is even on the World Tour! Eliminated were Matahi Drollet, Tyler Newton, Frederico Morais, and Michael Rodrigues. And worst of all is, I’d bet among those last two names, you’re not even which of them is actually on Tour this year. Again an indictment of this fatty format. The first two rounds are basically akin to a trials event.
After those two wasted days and two laydays we began round 3 in 8’-10’ harrowing surf with overlapping heats and helmets made available for competitors by the WSL. John John Florence’s coach, Ross Williams is back in the commentary booth while John is injured. Ross is always excellent and he immediately re-endeared himself to me when everyone else was fawning over this highly anticipated swell and Ross mentioned that wished the waves a little bigger. His wish would actually be granted as the day progressed.
The first heat of this day was between highly endorsed world ranked #5 Kanoa Igarashi and #35 Jadson Andre who has struggled for industry support for the past 5 years. With the weight of all the anticipation of impending swell and all eyes on the first heat of the day, immediately a divergence of intention was displayed between the two surfers. Despite having lesser talent, Jadson charges fearlessly and Kanoa’s weakness was finally revealed. Kanoa’s constantly improved since joining the tour and his bravado has never been questioned, but it’s also never really be challenged. He has finaled at Pipe, but it mostly in non threatening Backdoor. At big Teauhupoo Kanoa did go on wave, he did get barreled, but he did not display the confidence, comfort, and competitive savvy that he does at nearly every other venue. He looked tentative, selective, and unconcerned about Jadson. Undoubtedly, Kanoa will use this as a learning experience, as he does. And I’m sure he’ll be back in Tahiti for the very next swell to gain more experience. Jadson for his part, scratched and went on any and every wave that presented itself; makable waves, unnamable waves, sets, inside waves. I began wondering how many beatings a body can physically take before it rattled one’s confidence and relegates them to exercise more prudence or strategy in wave selection. Watching Jadson, both here and at the Box earlier this year, reminds me that he’s unencumbered by conventional limitations. He’s overcome deficit; socio economic, talent, injury, industry support, over and over again. It’s referenced in the webcast, but it’s still an under appreciated story and despite me not loving his surfing, Jadson constantly wins me over, nearly in each event and his resilience reminds that I often default to overvaluing some of the more superficial and frivolous aspects of surfing. And he brings out the best in his competitors as he did when he lost against Owen Wright in a phenomenal Quarterfinal heat. Jadson’s only mistake was that he went on the first wave of each set, netting his a 9 and a 7.67, while Owen’s second wave of each set net him a 10 and a 9.07.
Speaking of Owen, in that round 3, he was the first surfer of the day who actually looked like he knew the wave. Not just that he was comfortable charging it, but that he knew how to play with it, making subtle adjustments for dramatics, flair, and extended tube time.
The initial best heat of the day was Italo and AdS. Italo immediately locked into multiple crazy ones. He went on the largest ones, took off behind the peak. He and Gabriel are the only surfers whose talent doesn’t seem compromised by fear in anyway. Other guys like Owen and Kelly will go on nearly any wave, but there’s also a tension in their surfing due to their respect for the wave and it’s threat of consequence. Italo and Gabe on the other hand, surf it as comfortably as they surf 2’ foot DBah, or 8 foot Box earlier this year.
Like when surfing 2 foot waves, when someone stays busy, rides lots of non-set waves, they tend to be in rhythm for when set waves arrive. Those sitting out the back, even if they are in position for the set, they are often out of rhythm to actually ride the wave to their fullest expression. The ferocity of Teahupo’o tends to zap most surfers playfulness, so they are relegated to prudence, to sitting and waiting for an angle and an entry that looks familiar, or even safe. Italo’s had an absence of fear. He paddled around the reef endlessly, rode waves with impunity, and this has generally served him well. And it’s actually a strategy usually employed by his opponent, Adriano de Souza. In the final moments however, Adriano got the wave of the heat, right in front of Italo and posted a 9.17 to pair with an earlier 8.70 over Italo’s 8.0 and 8.83. A phenomenally surfed heat by both and the start of trend where we lost surfers who we would have loved to see surf through finals day.
There were 2 surfers throughout the day who simply did not go on waves. In flawless surf, with 10s on offer, William Cardoso safety surfed two waves; a 0.93 and 0.50. Yago Dora dropped anchor against Julian Wilson, repeatedly letting Julian go on very good waves without priority. Eventually Yago got 1 wave, a safe one, and scored a 5.27.
Another surfer who has previously been accused of cowering on the shoulder at Teahupoo is World title contender Filipe Toledo. In his round 3 heat against Jesse Mendes, he eased into the heat by taking off on the shoulder on waves that weren’t even barreling. He’d stall hard to get a partial barrel. Ace Buchan was in the booth at the time and said about one wave in particular, “That wave reveals a lot to me about where Filipe’s headspace is at.” Filipe is obviously talented enough on a surfboard to technically perform everything required to ride any wave that came through in his heat, and you could watch him slowly build confidence and rely on that with each successive wave, little building blocks, and moving deeper up the reef each time he paddled back out. Ross Williams commented that Filipe was standing up at the apex of the peak and therefore he’d just get a little cover up on the shoulder. He needed to be behind it, backdooring the peak, which is actually an easier entry. Eventually, Filipe built confidence, backdoor a peak with a head down pump off the bottom, got spit out and claimed it hard and sincerely, knowing he had just made a big personal stride. It was a difficult wave to ride, but it was the only one he’d talk himself into. It was enough to beat Jesse Mendes, but in his next heat against Seth Moniz, he’d seemingly lost his nerve and he repeatedly let Seth go on whatever he wanted. To the credit of the commentary team, they called him out on it. It’s cool to see someone confront their struggle and make strides to overcome it, but it would undermine professional surfing as a whole to have a world champ who so evidently displays that degree of trepidation in those perfect waves. He entered the event in 2nd and exits in 1st with Kolohe’s falter.
Kolohe Andino has generally done well at bigger, barreling venues, but he’s never looked like a real threat. He’s courageous and he’s technically capable, but he never shows the dynamism of John John Florence, Jack Robinson, or even Jeremy Flores. Kolohe looks more tactical and measured in his attempts, and as a result, never really displays much risk. He drew local wildcard Kauli Vaast and Kolohe’s strategy was to stay busy, catching medium waves, making them, and getting 4 to 6 point rides. Kauli, having proven his bravado in those massive days preceding the trials event, opted to wait for set waves. He got em, surfed them better than Kolohe and like that dispatched world 1. He’d lose in the next round to the aforementioned and sometimes mentor Jermey Flores who employed that exact same strategy against him, netting a near perfect 9.93 on one wave. Kolohe leaves Tahiti in 3rd as we head to a wave pool, a wave very well suited to his style of surfing and a wave that nullifies conventional heat strategy.
Jordy and Julian, two surfer who have under performed their career expectations, both returned to form in this event. Julian a former event winner here in 2017, pushed deeper and took off later than his competitors. He ended up drawing Jordy in the 4th round. Jordy has been building a slow ascension through the year, as I’ve stated since event 1, a seeming marathon mentality, just casual and confidently surfing at 70% and not stressing over losses. With all due respect to Jordy, Julian should have won this heat. In an effort to swing for a 10, Julian ended up with only one meaningful score to Jordy’s two midrangers. Good on Jordy for sticking to the plan. Had Julian made that one heroic attempt, which he very nearly did, it would have been the best of the day. Jordy made a slight improvement in his next heat against Adriano, earning a generously scored 9.23, and then got stopped by an in form Owen Wright in semifinal 1. Again, true to form this season, and despite finishing with an equal 3rd, Jordy never really stepped on the gas. His highest heat score of the event was a 14.03, while many other surfers lost heats with 15 to 18 point totals throughout the event. With this, Jordy continues his quite campaign for a world title by moving from 6th all the way 2nd.
Aside from Jadson Andre, Caio Ibelli was the underdog of the event, and now in hindsight, maybe does his best surfing as an underdog. He certainly did at Margeret River where he beat Gabriel Medina, Kelly Slater, and Jordy Smith. He’s not on Tour this year. He sat out last year due to injury and then did not receive 1 of 2 injury wildcards for 2019. They were given to Kelly Slater and John John Florence, who incidentally, Caio was filling-in for in this event. And in fact, Caio has surfed every CT event this year, most as a replacement for Adriano de Souza. Whatever I said about Jadson’s fearlessly at the beginning of this podcast, you could apply to Caio. He too is sponsor less, incidentally, dropped by the very same early career sponsor as Jadson when their contracts last expired. Undaunted, Caio self financed a trip to Tahiti weeks early to catch that trials swell and gain experience in these conditions. That investment in his career paid off, figuratively and literally, earning a cool $18,000 for his quarterfinal finish and move to 18th on the rankings.
He was beaten by rookie of the year shoe-in Seth Moniz who earned his best finish of the year, a 3rd, barely losing to Gabriel Medina after beating Caio, Filipe, Peterson Crisanto and Conner Coffin and Jack Freestone in opening non elimination round. Although Seth’s highlights have come from insane airs in free surf edits as well as that backflip in Waco and his hail mail at last year’s US Open, he seems to be most comfortable and have the most advantage over most of the rest of the Tour in big barreling surfing. Seth heads to a wave pool and then Europe with almost no expectation. He’s already secured requalification by being ranking 9th at this stage of the season.
Despite all the excitement, it was always going to be an Owen Wright and Gabriel Medina final. A rematch of last year’s final at 4’ Teahupoo. Both surfers posted 10s in the earlier rounds. Both surfed mistake free in every heat. Listen to some of their heat totals 18.5 for Owen. 19.23 for Gabe. 19.07 for Owen. The ocean had lost a bit of energy on the final day, mainly resulting in slower conditions, but still offered 8’ waves in nearly every heat, if not quite as death defying as the previous day. Gabriel won last year’s final over Owen, and based on each of their track records, seemed like the slight favorite.
The waves started pouring in within the first 5 minutes of the final, but they had pushed one another too deep up the reef. Gabe, sitting wide of a helmeted Owen got baited into the first wave, a dud, and Owen found himself with priority. It was clear that these guys both had a lot of pride on the line but also respect for one another. Gabriel got better waves for the next 30 minutes and then did something very un Gabriel like. Gabriel managed the heat perfectly, surfed really well, and then with 4 minutes left, the lead and priority, Gabriel simply didn’t go nor even look at a wave that legged on the reef. Owen couldn’t believe his luck, sitting under Gabe without priory spun and went on what would be the best wave of the heat and surfed it to a 9.07 with a sincere fist pump claim. On his paddle back out an inside one snuck under Gabe and Owen spun again to improve his backup score to a 7.90. That was all the ocean offered and it was Owen Wright with a 17.07 over Gabriel’s 14.93 for the 4th CT win of his career.
Owen entered this event in 12th and leaves in 8th. Gabriel entered this event in 7th and leaves in 4th headed to inland California, to a wave pool, where he is the one and only champion.
That event begins will run from September 19th through the 21st flawless 4’ lefts and rights with each surfer given equal opportunity regardless of their athleticism, instinct, nor earned ocean prowess. And instead of fixing our eyes on the horizon in anticipation of an athlete’s spontaneously improvised reaction to an unexpected challenge, we’ll watch to see who can impose the most greatest dominion over their surfboard on a section we anticipated 3 weeks in advance. See you there.