At the time of writing we’ve still only seen one day of action at the WSL world tour season opener the Lexus Pipe Pro (two rounds of men’s competition), but what a day of action and intrigue that was!
First, the action, and with so many tour rookies making their Pipe debut on a solid 10-foot plus day and determined not to crumble, there was plenty of it. Eight rookies or wildcards in a field of 36 and four of them from the San Clemente “Storm”, the incredibly enthusiastic Two-Percenters that Brother Kolohe Andino has nurtured around the Colapinto brothers, with Griffin wailing on an absolute bomb in heat four for a score of 8.5 as if to underline it. Behind him rookies Kade Matson, brother Crosby Colapinto and Cole Houshmand all strutted their stuff, with only Houshmand unlucky to find himself out of the event by the end of the elimination round.
Hawaiians Eli Hanneman, Jackson Bunch and Shion Crawford, fellow travelers with the Two-Percenters, all looked the goods in progressing right out of the first round, while Morocco’s injury wildcard Ramzi Boukhiam was solid in doing the same. Australia’s only rookie, Jacob Willcox put up a gutsy showing in the final heat of the first round against Brazilian powerhouses Italo Ferreira and Miguel Pupo, but had to perform an encore in the elimination to come through, which he did with flying colours.
Before we get to the intrigue surrounding the shocker of the day, let’s briefly reflect on a shocker of a different nature. In heat two of round one, in beautiful conditions, Australia’s Callum Robson took off without priority on an absolute gem of a wave and was dropped in on by first priority holder and three-times world champion Gabriel Medina. Okay, by the rule book, Medina had every right to employ the blocking move, but at double overhead Pipe, where straightening over the reef can have extremely gnarly consequences! Well, you reap what you sow. Undamaged, Callum paddled back out and into the best wave of the heat, possibly of the day, and took out the heat win with a magnificent 9.0.
And then there was the Flip fiasco. Two-times and current world champion Filipe Toledo of Brazil paddled out for his heat against Sammy Pupo and Shion Crawford. For most people a tough heat, but we’re talking about the fastest surfer in the world, surfing in his 100th world championship tour event, as was John John Florence. A seasoned campaigner, a brilliant strategist and a gifted surfer, except for one thing. The elephant in the room.
Flip paddled out and sat wide of the left in the channel, and there he sat for half the heat while Sammy scored a seven plus and Shion went excellent. It was a beautiful glassy day at Pipe, and while many competitors were feeling the fear factor, they were making it over the ledge and loving it. All except for one. Finally Felipe made a move towards the break, but pulled up short of the takeoff zone and shoulder-hopped a couple of smaller waves for a combined total of 1.77.
With minutes to go, water commentator Strider Wasilewski said solemnly from his sled, not far from Toledo in the channel: “I wanna see him step up and surf Pipeline – he has to get over the fear factor.” Strider seemed to be struggling to control his anger, as a seasoned Pipe performer himself who would love to have been given a heat in these conditions, even at his age!
Relegated to the elimination round, Toledo opted out, claiming a virus, or a headache, or something he ate, or anything except the real reason. Sad for him, sad for the sport. He’s so much better than that, and he has to learn that whether it’s Pipe, Chopes, The Box or playful Lowers, it’s not always going to be easy.
Like Duke Kahanamoku once said, the best surfer in the water is the one having the most fun. Unfortunately, sometimes the converse is also true.
It was a beautiful afternoon at Tea Tree. The sun had broken through the clouds, the waves were a fun waist to chest high on the sets, dolphins were patrolling the edge of the zone and turtles were popping up between the members of the pack waiting on the point. There were plenty of waves for all, even an old bloke could score a few. The Euros in the water were smiling, well-behaved kids who chatted and took their turn.
Then there was one guy on a shortie who paddled around scowling and wording up anyone who came near his perimeter. “Sit up the line, down the line, anywhere you want. Don’t matter to me ‘cos if a wave comes I’m taking it.” Anger burnt through his eyes. It was a mood breaker and I decided to go in. A wide one came through and I steered myself onto the green wall way out on the shoulder and just lay on my board using its momentum to get to shore.
And there he was, way up the line yelling at me. There was no way our paths would cross but I eased myself off the shoulder and waited for the next. He paddled back out screaming and threatening violence, then followed me to the beach and all the way back to the car park, never giving it up.
Finally losing him at the shower, I let the cool water calm me down. A Euro longboard girl I’d been surfing with leaned in and said: “That guy got bad juju for everyone!” I smiled. She was right, but isn’t that one of the reasons we surf? To get rid of the bad juju and replace it with the good!
I guess not for some.