Welcome back to Post-Script, a brief yet thorough overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a recap of event #2 of the 2021 season, The Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona.

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Welcome back to Post-Script, a brief yet thorough overview of each event on the WSL championship tour. Today, a recap of the event #2 of the 2021 season, the Rip Curl Newcastle Cup presented by Corona.

The disruption caused by COVID-19 continues to prove unwieldy for the WSL as they dance one beat behind the unpredictable spikes and ever changing protocols of various governments and regulating bodies. Flying one hundred surfers and staff around the world, observing quarantine and then holding a surf competition seems almost impossible to execute anywhere in the world. And in fact, it was impossible for the first eleven months of 2020.

Throwing a Hail Mary and an “abundance of caution” to the wind, the WSL landed in Hawai’i in December and completed the first event of what was scheduled to be an eleven event season. And that’s where Post-Script left off, on December 22, 2020 with a John Florence and Gabriel Medina final where John John would secure his inaugural Pipe Masters title, Gabriel would avenge his 2019 finals loss to current champ Italo Ferreira in the semifinals, and Kelly Slater would reassert his relevance as a Title contender with a 3rd place finish.

Despite the five day interruption of that event due to WSL CEO and staffers testing positive for COVID-19, the event finished in great waves and executed what has been the goal of the professional surf Tour at some times and in some of it’s various incarnations; putting the best surfers in the best waves in the world. More on that later.

During that Pipe event, what was perceived to be a COVID-19 hiccup proved instead to be a harbinger, and perhaps in fact, a the defining incident that would derail the rest of the season. That precise incident caused the cancellation of surf events in Hawai’i for the foreseeable future. This meant that the upcoming event #2 at Sunset Beach was gone. Event #3 in Santa Cruz, California was postponed but would eventually also be cancelled. The WSL’s updated tour schedule on their website also disappeared G-Land but that was never mentioned in the press release, nor has it been explained since.


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In the time of COVID, I suppose that all can be forgiven and most fans seem grateful for any version of a world tour that can be pulled off. Undeterred by their own shot through their own foot, the WSL went to work trying to reimagine and shuffle the Australia leg of the Tour. The country has successfully stifled the virus, due in part to their border closures between their five states during the pandemic, a detail that would make the WSL’s schedule even more challenging.

If the WSL could wrangle the Tour to Queensland, it’d still be tough to get everyone over to Victoria, and again to West Oz. Further, the original schedule’s timeline simply wouldn’t work if you accounted for quarantine with each transfer. Further still, the complication of having contingencies in place for potential COVID contractions at each move seemed insurmountable.

But then came Andrew Stark, the WSL’s general manager of Australia and Oceania. Through a couple fits and starts, Stark was able to line up four events in Australia in the two most welcoming states; New South Wales and Western Australia. The Tour would now have 10 events on schedule and if they could get everyone to Australia they’d run four events there over the course of three months. Hopefully that would allow time for the virus to continue to recede worldwide and for vaccinations to continue to be injected and the WSL would have a lot better chance at completing the final five events when the tour departs Australia. The first event, which is actually event #2 of the season, would run at Newcastle, then Narrabeen, both in April. Then off to Western Australia for Margaret River and Rottnest Island for events 4 and 5 in May.

Before any of these events would kick off, news broke that the WSL’s SVP of Tours, Pat O’Connell would be resigning from his role. During Pat’s brief tenure we saw the addition of a finals day concept at Lowers, the addition of Garajgan, Sunset Beach, and Santa Cruz, none of which have yet come to fruition. WSL staffer Jessi Miley Dyer steps up into Pat’s role.


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Other than Australian surfers already in country, athletes and staff flew from around the world to Los Angeles in early March to catch a WSL chartered flight to Sydney where they then conducted a 14 day quarantine in two hotels.

Two key contenders missed that flight, Caroline Marks and Kelly Slater. Caroline tested positive for COVID 19 the day of the charter and Kelly withdrew citing an nagging ankle injury, which rumors suggested and Instagram footage supports is actually a foot injury that he reaggravated when he wiped-out on a mountain bike the day before the finals at the Pipe Masters.

Kelly about to bruise his heel the night before Finals day at Pipe.


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Other rumors claim that it’s a back injury. Who knows? What we can speculate and what the stats indicate is that this updated Tour schedule doesn’t play to Kelly’s strengths; i.e., good waves. So the idea of committing to three months in Australia competing at Qualifying Series venues isn’t fit for the king. And while that may be true, Kelly was sitting in 3rd place on the rankings after Pipe, his best position after event #1 since 2013! So despite its challenges, 2021 might have been Kelly’s best opportunity for a 12th world title. And it still might be. Kelly still has time to join the Tour at Margaret River. And if the traditional math applies, he’ll use those past two events as his throwaways and he’ll be right back on track.

Caroline Mark’s COVID result turned out to be a false positive and she was able to catch a commercial flight and do her obligatory 2 week quarantine in time for the opening hooter at Newcastle.

Upon exiting quarantine, surfers had about a week to free surf and prep at Newcastle and the first couple of days offered incredible surf, head high peaks, barreling in the offshore winds. Word was that Italo, Filipe and Jordy were all looking primed, but multiple people told me that Deivid Silva, of all people, seemed to the standout in the freesurfs, an observation that proved to be prophetic.


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2019 Title contender Kolohe Andino made the charter flight to Australia and persevered quarantine, only to be sidelined prior to the event due to an ankle injury suffered in a freeesurf. No word on how long he’ll be out of the water. He lost in the round of 32 at Pipe, an equal 17th, so he wasn’t well positioned for Newcastle, but it could be argued that he’d thrive in the conditions. It wasn’t to be.


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Unfortunately , those high-quality freesurf waves and conditions diminished for the following two weeks. In what Surfline forecasted as 6-8’ “good” quality surf turned into an April Fools joke as the event kicked off in knee-high slop on April 1st. Some heats simply went flat without two scoring opportunities for each surfer. Mercifully, round 1 isn’t an elimination round so any surfers that suffered a cruel loss due to circumstance were given the hope that round 2 would provide equal opportunity. And that somewhat came to fruition as swell filled in and competitors moved out of the shore break and on to right sand bank. Despite the swell in the water through round 2 and 3, the conditions weren’t great but the wonky and chunky sections offered opportunities for scoring, and for the fans, if nothing else, relatable conditions.

Surfers like Julian Wilson, Jack Robinson, Owen Wright, and Conner Coffin who were crueled by Mother Nature on day 1, shifted into QS mode and grinded through the saving grace round along with Leonardo Fioravanti, Conner O’Leary, Michel Bourez, and 2015 World Champ Adriano de Souza who, by virtue of making this heat, would go on to surf his 500th heat on Tour in the next round. This, by the way, is AdS’s self-elected final year on Tour. He’d go on to a Quarterfinals finish, losing by two tenths of a point to eventual finalist Gabriel Medina.

Those first two days of immense time and resource usage netted precisely what it does in every event, regardless of location or year; the elimination of 4 male surfers and 2 female surfers who will ultimately be completely inconsequential to a World Title.

The two key highlights from those first two days were Italo Ferriera and John John Florence.

Both of their surfing looked better than everyone else’s, but beyond that, they stayed busy and exercised a wider variety of maneuvers and variation on any bit of water that moved, not just set waves. And both were riding unconventional boards; JJF on a Dark Arts constructed Pyzel and Italo on a short, squat, flat Patterson. And on it, Italo never stopped surfing. If surfers develop heat strategy based on their competitors, Italo shirked any awareness of competition. In the commentary booth, Buggs stopped counting Italo’s waves at 17 and there was still 5 minutes left in the heat. Italo seemed to just be having fun. The surf was in the shore break. That style of wave is unpredictable, and so Italo gave himself three times as many opportunities as his competitors. And he trounced them, as a result. From this opening salvo, Italo looked destined for the win.

As the event slogged through the next couple days, interrupted by a couple of lay days, Morgan Cibilic emerged as the feel good story and a potential threat to Italo’s telegraphed win. This came into sharp focus when he drew John John Florence and John applied his same strategy from heat 1; staying busy, catching a lot of waves and giving himself plenty of opportunity. What he didn’t account for was that the conditions had changed, something not lost on the local boy. Morgan opted to sit and wait for the sets. And when he got them, he surfed to his potential. Without any challenge for priority Morgan surfed his first wave to an 8.1. He’d back that up midway through the heat on his third wave ridden with a 7.60. John, for his twelve waves ridden could only muster a 7.83 and a 5.33. Morgan held the lead and patiently held priority knowing that his 7.60 could be improved upon given the swell and conditions. And in the final minutes he got his chance and capitalized. The judges awarded him a 9.03 and the local boy found himself beating the 2x world champ by a gulf of 4 points.

A similar story developed, albeit more quietly, on the women’s side where Tour rookie Isabella Nichols beat Tour heavyweight Tatiana Weston Webb, not once, but twice to make it to the quarterfinals where she’d face seven time world champ Steph Gilmore. Undeterred, and again, by virtue of wave selection, Isabella surfed only four waves compared to Stephanie’s eight. Isabella took the win with a modest 13.9 heat total.

Her toughest draw prior to the final came in the form of Keely Andrew, who the waves at Newscastle seem perfectly suited. Keely had dispatched Sally Fitzgibbons and an in-form Courtney Conlogue who did everyone a favor by beating Tyler Wright in round 3. Keely barely survived rounds 1 and 2 but once the rights started running down the sandbar, she settled into her strengths and like Isabella, upset the field. Their close semi-final resulted in Isabella on top.

Across the bracket, Caroline Marks drew Carissa Moore, who was always the woman to beat. Isabella and Keely both made it this far without ever breaking a 15 point heat total. By contrast, Carissa and Caroline barely dipped below it. And in a moment that would go viral later that evening, while leading quarterfinal #3 over Joanne Defay with seven minutes left in the heat, Carissa Moore set a new progression standard.


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The afternoon light had dropped just below the hill. As Carissa dropped to the bottom of the wave she pumps twice through the shadows, then in one fluid motion she aimed to the lip and, out of the dark and into the golden light, Indy grabbed through a high spin. She landed in the sweet spot of the transition with her tail poking ever so slightly which sent her through a quick spin from fakie. As she straightens her stance, her mouth simultaneously drops open and her hands frame her face in disbelief that, not only has she landed the single best air by a female that we’ve ever seen, she did while in the middle of a heat. The camera pans to include Joanne Defay in the bottom of the frame who had just surfed the first wave of the set beautifully, belting three turns for 6.17. And there’s Joanne clapping for Carissa, as impressed by her competitor as we are, or maybe just endeared to the fact that Carissa seems more surprised than we are that she pulled this off.

There were also a couple of highlights outside of the water, new additions to this event as part of the commentary team. Stace Galbraith conducted post heat interviews with sharp, concise, and pointed questions that extracted juicy insights. Laura Enver offered refreshing water commentary as did another former Tour competitor, now sideline reporter Dimity Stoyle from the beach. Rabbit Bartholomew was great in the booth in a way that only someone who has served in roles in every aspect of pro surfing can be, but none of whom have the level of charisma and charm of Bugs.

Gratefully, and perhaps according to the plan from the beginning, the final two days of the event ran in the best conditions of the waiting period. Five of the eight remaining surfers on the mens side were Brazilian. The one lone American was Conner Coffin. And the two Australians were both local surfers, Morgan Cibilic and Ryan Callinan who fittingly tied in front of their home crowd. Morgan would take the win in the count back by virtue of the highest single wave score.

Freesurf standout Deivid Silva secured his best result ever with a quarterfinal finish and a very narrow loss to Italo Ferreira, 12.40 to Italo’s 12.67. Italo would soundly beat Filipe in Semifinal #2 and the dream run of Morgan Cibilic would finally come to an end against Gabriel Medina.

In the best waves of the event, Morgan surfed beautifully but ultimately under what we had seen from him in previous heats. Gabriel, on the other hand, used the increased energy in the swell and the groomed faces to find new angles and approaches. Most notable, as a set approached and Morgan held priority where any conventional competitor would on the right hand bank, Gabe paddled the opposite way, towards a closeout left. The wave was overhead and there was only one possible option for a move, but the opportunity seemed narrow and the ramp was huge. Even Bugs in the booth was confused and interrupted his own sentence to say, “Here he’s taking off on . . . a left?”


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Gabe launched into a section with a loft and spin that we’d expect in previous years, or from any other class of surfer to be a complete flyaway. But before I had time to even process the oddity of him going left, Gabe greased the landing and the crowd, presumably there to support Morgan, went nuts for it. Gabe earned a 9.7 and Morgan walked away with a semifinal’s loss, which is still a win and a very respectable 14.07 heat total against the 2x champ.

On the women’s side, the disparity between Tour rookie Isabella Nichols and 4x champ Carissa Moore made for an unusual viewing experience. Even Isabella admitted to being speechless that she found herself in this position, surfing against one of her idols. But the truth is, she needn’t be. She earned her way on to the Tour. Some of her freesurf edits showcased a potential that is beyond what most of her competitor’s possess, and she earned her way to surf against Carissa. But it seems that she had already psyched herself out and as a result, surfed her worst heat of the event, only amassing an 8.34 total. And for her part, Carissa never let up until the final moments of the heat. Having Isabella combo’d with a series of some of the best turns we’d seen all event, Carissa continued to strategically use priority, vie for set waves and positioning, and even post a 9.5, the second highest wave score of the event after her 9.9 air reverse. She’d take the event win with a 15.73.

Adding this to her 2nd place finish at Pipe puts in 1st place on the rankings. While Tyler Wright won Pipe, her 9th place finish in Newscastle puts her a full 5000 points behind Carissa and a mere 2000 points ahead of 3rd place ranked Isabella Nicols. Stephanie Gilmore sits 4th and a 3way tie for 5th is shared by Caroline Marks, Sally Fitzgibbons and Tatiana Weston Webb.

The Gabrial and Italo final on the men’s side seems to represent, potentially, our next significant rivalry. John John is the only other surfer I can think of that is at their same level of surfing and competitive prowess. If the waves get great, Jack Robinson and Kelly Slater can surf at their level. And if the waves are under head high, Filipe’s can hang. But John is the only one who can do it from Rio to Teahupoo with the same competitive savvy. But I don’t know where he fits into this rivalry conversation. John doesn’t show enough emotion of any sort for me to read. I can’t tell how much he cares about losing or winning, and I certainly can’t tell if he hates losing to Gabe more than he did losing to Morgan Cibilic.

Each win and loss traded from Gabe and Italo, on the other hand, feels tense. It may have been born long ago, but it became clear to me in the 2019 Pipe Masters. Gabe held pole positioning going into that event. He was the man to beat. He was the 2x world champ and the reigning Pipe Master. A third Title and second Pipe Masters was Gabe’s to lose and if Italo was to win, he’d have to knock out the champ. And that he did.

And what I’m presuming is that the center of this rivalry is the fact that Italo beat Gabe precisely the same way Gabe had beaten nearly everyone else throughout his previous reign of dominance; going left and right, manufacturing scores on insignificant waves, bettering those scores with 8’s and 9’s on set waves. Getting barreled, doing huge airs, and sharking around the lineup. That is how Gabe has defined his career and that how precisely what Italo did to beat Gabe at his own game, to take the 2019 Pipe Masters and World Championship.

If Gabe harbored any resentment or vengeance for the loss, he concealed it through a seemingly very happy and active social life on social media through early 2020, partying with Brazil’s most famous soccer star and courting one of Brazil’s most popular models. His vengeance would be delayed further by the onset of the pandemic, but the two would eventually meet in December at Pipeline in the semifinals.

Perhaps the tension was over wrought, or perhaps Italo’s injury in his previous heat nullified his intensity, but the heat proved to be a bit of a let down. The waves were good, there were opportunities to score, but both surfers put in paltry performances. Gabe eked out his vengeance with a 12.60 total, leaving Italo only needed a 5.23 to advance. Italo actually paddled into that exact wave with 20 seconds left in the heat but uncharacteristically didn’t make the barrel for what would have easily netted a 7. Gabe took the win and perhaps some bragging rights, but lost John John in the very next heat.

John John’s early loss at Newscastle, meant that Gabriel would regain the #1 spot on the rankings mid-event. Now he faced Italo yet again in the final. The winner would not only take the event win but also the ratings lead, relegating John to 3rd by a 4000 point margin.

I talked about the winning surfers staying busy and catching lots of waves in the early round of marginal surf and then their strategies shifting as the swell filled in, where set waves deemed the winners. Well as the conditions hit their zenith on finals day, Italo and Gabe had the opportunity to do both things; surf a steady stream of high-quality waves throughout the 40 minutes of their final.

Priority was almost moot and neither protected it nor fought for it. Each surfer opened with marginal scored but when the first set arrived Gabriel connected through a combination of turns for an 8.60. Italo was on the second wave, a flatter wave without the same scoring potential and surfed it to a 7.17. Moments later, Gabe was already out the back and looked to replicate the magic he displayed against Morgan Cibilic by going left on a closeout. Rather than aiming for a huge punt, he got duped into a quick top turn which then positioned him for a floater rather than an air on the end section. These two turns yielded a 4.67. Despite his busyness and eight waves surfed in the next 28 minutes, Gabriel failed to improve on that back up score.

Italo held the lead throughout the entirety of the final and somewhere in there, under Gabe’s priority, Italo found a mid sized stretched out right. He pumped his way to the close out section, hit it and spun recklessly. Somehow he landed the full spin effortlessly without a grab. In a final filled with combinations of turns, this air was the single point of difference and it net him a 7.77. Gabe still held the highest single wave with his 8.6, but without a proper back up, Italo’s pair of 7s earned him the win and another rung up in this budding rivalry.


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In the world rankings, Italo sits in first with less than 500 points over Gabe. John sits in 3rd. And Jordy, Kanoa and Ryan Callanan share a 3 way tie for 4th.

At the end of the event the WSL announced yet another shift to the Tour schedule. Surf Ranch is moved up to June and Barra de la Cruz in Mexico is added to the schedule.


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The Aussie leg is still intact, and Mick Fanning will join us as the wildcard in Narrabeen, which starts very soon, April 16th on WorldSurfLeague.com. The freesurfs have seen some double overhead surf with the boys ripping, (https://www.instagram.com/p/CNm9SAyjF_5/) but the forecast isn’t great for this next week. So, if Narrabeen follows Newcastle’s script, we’re in for inconsistent surf but completely predictable results with the same 2 names in those top spots and a real competitive battle developing for who will get spots 3, 4, and 5 headed into Lowers. We’ll see you in Narrabeen.


Host, Producer, Writer: David Scales @David_Lee_Scales

Music: Atlas Sound feat. Noah Lennox, Walkabout


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