By PHIL JARRATT
I spent far too much time last weekend watching the Quiksilver and Roxy Pros go down in Hossegor, France. Perhaps because I was the event director there in the early years after Quiksilver took the premiere Europe event from Billabong, every shot of the spare les Landes coastline and its thumping beach breaks, every early morning pan across the village behind makes me hopelessly homesick for a part of the world where we enjoyed five wonderful years.
But apart from the misty memories, I stayed up into the wee hours to watch because the surf was cranking and the new guard was on fire, with world champ John-John Florence giving master classes in casual combinations of barrels and massive airs every time he hit the water, and Frenchmen Joan Duru and wildcard Marc Lacomare combining local knowledge with supreme confidence in front of a partisan crowd.
All good stuff, but what was less than thrilling was the performance of most of the Aussie men. Peregian’s Julian Wilson fell out of the draw early in a death blow to his 2017 world title hopes, but that was just bad luck. Jules put up a good fight and was arguably outsurfed by the wildcard. But as we got to the pointy end on Saturday night, only Mick Fanning showed the fierce fighting spirit and the sportsmanship we have come to expect from our champions.
Mick, the second-oldest surfer in the draw (but still nearly a decade younger than the absent Kelly Slater), went hard and took some good scalps on his way to a quarter finals loss to John-John. No one expected the veteran to take down the rampant Hawaiian, but Mick took it up to him, even landing a couple of old guy airs!
But in the very next quarter, Fanning’s best mate and 2012 world champion Joel Parkinson – one of my favourite surfers of all time – gave Gabriel Medina a walk-through by barely catching a wave in the 30-minte heat. No one really expected Parko to take out Medina either, but we expected him to have a red hot go! Sadly, I was reminded of nothing so much as the Nick Kyrgios “stomach bug” that made him throw in the towel after the first set in Shanghai last week.
In my opinion Kyrgios’s repeated contempt for the people who make his extravagant lifestyle possible should be rewarded with the longest ban on the statute books. In Parko’s case, like a lot of his fans, I’m just confused and saddened. While Medina picked off half a dozen waves with scoring potential under his priority, Parko sat out the back and dithered. The waves were there to make a contest, he just didn’t seem to want them. I’d be tempted to say to Parko, maybe it’s time to hang up the quiver, but the fact is he surfed beautifully up to this point. I hope, for his sake and ours, that this sublimely talented champion was just having a senior moment and will bounce back in Portugal.
Earlier in the day, we’d also heard a worrying whine from Owen Wright (still a world title contender this year) that he’d lost because he shouldn’t have been asked to surf in the changeable conditions. Oh, come on Owen! Every surfer on tour knows that the Hossegor beach breaks are all about rushing tides and changing conditions. And every surfer except you and Parko dealt with it.
On the other side of the ledger, Aussie semi-finalists in the Roxy Pro Sally Fitzgibbon and Tyler Wright both put up good fights to finish equal third, with Sally still wearing the yellow jersey into the final event in Maui, and looking good for her first world title.
Meet Shane the Millionaire
I spent an enjoyable few days last week reminiscing with old mate Shane Stedman as we put the pieces together for a forthcoming book on his fascinating life.
For those of you who are merely middle-aged, there was no bigger name in the Australian surfboard industry than Shane back in the late 1960s and through the ‘70s, when the “Shane Gang” pumped out 50 boards a day to service the domestic and export markets. The Shane Gang included most of the hero surfers and shapers of the day, including Simon Anderson, Terry Fitzgerald and Ted Spencer, not to mention resident rock guru Doug Parkinson, but the biggest star was Shane himself, a peroxide-haired ball of energy who would stop at nothing to promote himself and his brand, including patrolling the coast from dawn each day in his Shane-branded Suzuki to present Sydney’s top-rating surf report on 2SM – way ahead of mine on 2JJ – and becoming the voice of the world’s richest surf contest, the Surfabout.
But Shane’s shameless self-promotion did come back to bite him on a few occasions, like the time Pix Magazine ran a big spread on him called “Meet Shane the Summer Millionaire”. When many punters saw the photos of Shane in a polo shirt and tweed jacket, at the wheel of a Mark 2 Jag (his own) with a leggy blonde at his side, they pronounced him a wanker and looked elsewhere.
“Not my shiniest moment,” he recalled last week, as we took a break from research and paddled SUPs up the river. But there were plenty of shiny moments in a career that took him from surfboards to wave skis, from the original Ugh boots to vanity basins, and more recently to eco-friendly sunscreen.
It’s going to be a helluva book. Can’t wait to read it, hopefully next year.