I have to admit the time difference has made it a little difficult to get enthusiastic about the Latin American leg of the WSL world tour, and I’ve been happy to let other commentators stay up all night.
Since El Salvador and now Rio, I’ve pretty much caught up with the highlights the following morning, sometimes not even that, but I don’t think I’ve missed too much epic stuff. The right at Punta Roca shone brightly only for a couple of heats and the beach breaks of Saquarema have so far produced two barrels and a few airs.
But with just two more events after Rio to determine who makes the final five for the finals series at Trestles – both of them at quality waves where stellar conditions are highly likely – it’s probably time to sit up and take notice, particularly as we have an Aussie title contender for the first time in nearly a decade.
Mick Fanning came out of retirement for a cameo at Bells Beach this year, reminding us just what a big star he was, and still is. But it was also a reminder that since Mick’s last title, a whole new generation of Australian talent has been literally blown away by the Brazilian Storm. Until now, maybe.
Margaret River’s Jack Robinson sits just under Brazil’s Filipe Toledo on the leader board, a handful of points away from snatching the yellow jersey from him, going into Jeffrey’s Bay and Tahiti, waves of consequence where he would be expected to excel.
As I write, both surfers are in the round of 16 at the unfinished Rio Pro, and are very likely to maintain their rankings as the tour moves on to South Africa.
What happens there will be very interesting because the J-Bay wave will be a level playing field for them. The heavy left of Teahupoʻo should favour hard-charging Robinson over Toledo’s speed and air game, although Filipe has set his personal bar much higher this year, and clearly wants to win the title that all Brazilians think is rightly his.
The takeaway from all of this is that I won’t be surprised at all to see Jack Robinson wearing the leader’s yellow jersey into the finals series.
But for Jack, this is where the problem begins. How do you beat Fil Toledo at Lowers?
The California performance wave is made for him, which is not to say Jack can’t match him punt for punt, rail carve for gouge, but it won’t be easy.
If Robinson, now 24, can prevail this year it will be a tremendous achievement for the one-time child prodigy.
I’ve watched half a dozen or so ‘next world champions’ crash and burn from the weight of expectations, starting with Wayne Lynch back in the ‘60s, but Jack seems to have weathered that storm and emerged stronger and more focused.
Like Medina, he’s moved on from the overly emotional dad/manager, found his rock in Brazilian wife Julia, and he’s worked out how to win a heat, over and over again.
I hear he’s given up the grog and the partying, embraced the inner being etc. etc., but in just about every one of his heats I’ve watched this year, what has struck me most is his tactical superiority.
He knows what the judges want to see, and he gives it to them, and if the opponent cops a sheet of his spray as he passes, so much the better.
It’s inevitable that after two successive wins this season (at Margarets and G-Land), Robinson is going to get most of the attention in Australia, but let’s not forget Straddie’s Ethan Ewing, currently ranked seventh, and the surprise package of the season, Callum Robson from Evans Head one spot behind him. Ewing is, in my opinion, the most beautiful and technically correct surfer on tour, while Robson is a pure power machine.
Either of them could get the job done and make the final five.
I hope they both do.
Last word from Bali
This is the shortest Bali trip I’ve taken in many years, and of course the time has sped by with so many friends as yet unseen, so many waves still unridden. Well, to be honest, while it’s been pumping up on the Bukit, La Nina conditions have made it pretty ordinary in my hood, apart from a few nice early morning sessions.
While it’s still only at about 50 per cent of tourist capacity, it’s getting busier by the day, both in the water and on the street, where the only time I feel reasonably safe on the pushbike is doing the dawn surf check.
The bars and restaurants are full of the beautiful people, checking their social media accounts and being rude to serving staff. Same same.
Oh, and celebrity-spotting is alive and well. Even Kelly Slater, playing hookey from the world tour and claiming an injury while daily being photographed agilely climbing down the steps at Uluwatu to rip the surf apart with huge power turns.
I suppose when you’re the GOAT, the rules do not apply.