Some of the pundits were calling it the greatest day of women’s pro surfing ever.
I wouldn’t go that far but last Saturday’s round of 16 and quarter finals, in excellent waves at Main Break, Margaret River, had all of the elements.
Drama, tragedy, pathos, even a touch of comedy.
But at the end of a very long day, five competitors (plus California’s Caroline Marks, out with injury) had to face the brutal reality of the World Surf League’s new mid-season cut, which is that six women and 10 men under the cut-line exit the championship tour to try to claw their way back over the rest of the year on the Challenger Series.
While it’s a bitter pill to swallow, especially for the rookies whose debut season has only just started, I actually think it’s a good move, as the compelling viewing of last Saturday showed.
And, unlike the last time a mid-season cut was introduced, the requalifying series offers the potential of good surf in premium locations and reasonable prize purses. If you’ve truly got what it takes, you should be back on the championship tour next year.
Having said that, I couldn’t help feeling sorry for Australia’s Sally Fitzgibbons, who seemed to have regained her old form this season, while never losing her spark and her big smile. A veteran of 14 seasons on tour at just 31, Sal has long been considered unlucky not to have won a world title yet. Most years she’s been pretty close. After losing at Margaret’s last weekend, she showed her spirit by smiling right through her post-heat interview, and vowing to be back. And she will be.
The other four to say goodbye last weekend were all rookies, Hawaii’s Bettylou Sakura Johnson and Luana Silva, and Australia’s Molly Picklum and India Robinson. While all of them have shown their depth of talent over the five events so far, Molly Picklum, who only qualified after the withdrawal of a California rookie at the last minute, has been the most impressive with an arsenal of deadly gouges and a real fighting spirit.
As I write (Monday night) two Australian women are on a knife’s edge as they struggle to make the cut despite having surfed brilliantly at Margaret’s so far.
Sunny Coaster Isabella Nichols has a slight edge over Margaret River’s Bronte Macaulay, but when competition resumes they meet in the second semi-final with huge waves expected. This will give Bronte a slight advantage but she needs to go on and win the event whereas Izzy will make the cut if she wins the semi.
Bring it on! Who said women’s surfing wasn’t exciting!
Turbo-charged shots from inside
Over 50 years in the surf media, I’ve met some pretty crazy surf photographers whose antics on land were only slightly more subdued than in the water where they seemed to delight in being unceremoniously dumped over the falls in backbreaking surf for the sake of getting a shot of a surfer deep in a barrel.
The likes of Jack McCoy, Dan Merkel, Jeff Divine, Jeff Hornbaker and the late Peter Crawford spring to mind.
But I never knew any one of them – as bat-crazy as they could be – to stand in the horrendous Waimea shorebreak on huge days and allow it to smash them while they clicked off the money shot.
This is Clark Little’s bread and butter. He goes down the beach and gets pulverised the way other people head off for a day at the office.
Of course I shouldn’t be surprised. His late older brother Brock, whom I knew a little, was one of the most fearless big wave riders on the North Shore of Oahu, specialising in maxed out Waimea Bay. Clark, too, grew up at the Bay and it’s now also his specialty, albeit in a somewhat different way – a way that has given the world Clark’s view.
Clark’s view is attained by placing himself below the wave as it crashes on the shore and pointing the camera upwards to capture a “deceptively peaceful picture”, to quote his publicist.
But don’t get the idea that this guy is a one-trick pony.
His portfolio is as remarkable as it is diverse, and his new book, The Art of Waves, is a joy to behold, with the photos supported by great text from Jamie Brisick and a foreword by family friend Kelly Slater, who doesn’t hold back when describing the antics of the wild kid brother he knew as Turbo.
Clark has published previous limited edition books, but this is his first truly international release, published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Penguin Random House, and available in Australia now.
FOOTNOTE: We scattered surf scribe and historian Stuart Scott’s ashes over First Point last week, with a gallery of Sunny Coast surf luminaries there to pay respects. After a rainy day, the sunset was perfect, a fitting sendoff for a good man.