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Good J.O.B.?

October 21, 2011

This is my own personal critique of Jamie O’s post France Power Rankings. And who am I to critique J.O.B.? I am the everyman. I am webcast land. I am the truly independent observer. I am everyone and no-one.  (In truth it’s on the fucking internet so opinion belongs to all of us.)  J.O.B. might (definitely) surf better than me but I can watch a webcast just as well as he can.

So without further ado, here is J.O.B.s Top 10, in my words. I welcome you to expound your own opinions and I embrace both praise and vitriol as equals.

 No. 1 – Kelly

I’m fairly ok with this assessment of Kelly, with the exception of the references to “containment”, “safety” and “not at full throttle”. Are you fricking kidding me? How much harder do you want him to push? Did you sleep through his destruction of the field at Teahupo’o/NY/Trestles? Kelly is consistently busting out air attempts that could lead to serious injury/board breakages whether he has someone comboed or is in combo-land himself. (Admittedly I can’t remember the last time I saw him in the latter situation, but he has definitely been behind in recent heats.) I know Kelly is good, but do you really believe that he is surfing within himself in all these comps and still winning? Get real. It is precisely his ability and willingness to push it when his back is against the wall that gets him so many last gasp wins. Was he “not at full throttle” in the semi and final of Trestles, or did you miss that one because you didn’t have to write about it? As for how he feels about the mid-year cut, I don’t know Kelly, but I’d bank on the fact that he flipping loves it. Kelly loves surfing, Kelly loves the Tour. The Cut has made the Tour infinitely more watchable and I’m sure Kelly enjoys both the challenge of surfing against Medina et al and the excitement of watching them blow up and increase the interest in the new SuperTour that he will one day preside over. Boom.

 No. 2 – Owen

Are you an Owen hater? Yes. You just hate professionals. What is the problem with being professional, getting advice, looking after yourself and thinking about your surfing? Look at what it did for Mick. Look at the most analytical and professional surfer of them all – you think Slater just goes out without a plan and lets fate take it’s course? FFS, man – this is the PRO Tour. These guys should be athletes and there is nothing wrong with acting or training accordingly. Owen is developing into a sinister heat winning machine, yes, but what’s wrong with that? Part of the beauty of the CT is that it will always be a group of diverse individuals. Surfing is a colourful sport and we need our Owens to counterbalance our Danes. If you want to stay up all night blasting bongs and shots and then rock up and “be the water”, man, then fine. Allow Owen his early nights analysing the heat replays before he goes out and burns through heats in a muesli and banana fuelled blitz.

 No. 3 – Jordy

Give the big man a break eh? He’s just back from an injury and was probably doing too much romancing when should have been resting. Honestly, two events out and you seem to have forgotten just how dangerous the big Saffa was looking at the start of the season! I’m a Jordy convert and I like his new-found professionalism (ya, ya, I know – be like the water. Brah.) The big yin has it all, he’s an impressive package. Of tricks. I don’t think he is lazy in terms of progression, he’s just becoming more clinical. And he knows there’s a Superman up his sleeve if he needs it. As for all this talk of re-qualification – where the flip did that come from? Jordy is only 23, home-boy! And he’s going no-where but double-grab claiming up! He definitely has a title in his locker.

 No.4 – Parko

Well, well, weren’t you on the money with your opening prediction of Joel’s Portuguese response. What happened to your crystal ball after you wrote this? Did you crush it up and try to smoke it? What exactly is the point you are trying to make about Joel anyway – is he the greatest surfer in the world, or is he out of touch? And what about this chat about being “marketable” and being a “brand”? What’s that all about? Since when was Joel’s marketing getting in the way of a World Title? And what’s with all these questions that will probably never be answered? I’m afraid that Joel doesn’t want to change. His post-heat interview after Round 4 of Trestles gave us some insight to that. I don’t think he will ever sacrifice style for sketchy ariels. And why should he when his surfing is so beautiful as you quite rightly point out. Joel likes to be in control – both in heats and on the wave – and when he is he is devastating, but I’m not sure he has the will to re-model a style that is honed from a perfection that so many of us aspire to. Joel’s title was three years ago and he bottled it. The game has changed now and he won’t.

 No. 5 – Julian

Julian is fast becoming a contest machine, and you hate machines, don’t you? Beep beep boink beep bing. That’s the sound of Contest Julian taking over. He’ll be like Mick and Eugene. We’ll have Julian at contests and he’ll keep J-Dub locked away in a basement with a tennis ball rammed in his mouth. Did you see him berating the judges at Trestles? I couldn’t hear what he was saying over the webcast but it doesn’t matter because it was probably all in binary anyway. Oh, and one more thing J-me-O – “he’ll be unbeatable like Medina” – exsqueeze me, baking powder? Medina wins one CT and now he’s unbeatable? Keep smoking that crystal ball.

 No. 6 – Travis

I’m with ya on this one. Wee Travis blew me away in Peniche last year, what a bundle of rail-committing, lip-smacking fun he was. He’s really taken his second chance at the Tour and run with it, and fair play to him. I also agree with you (gasp) about the Taj heat – Logie was stitched up like De Souza’s bald voodoo doll in that one.

 No. 7 – Taj

Ah Taj. I love Taj…my gran loves Taj…everyone loves Taj. Just give him a World Title for being such a throughly bloody nice bloke. Taj went on a tear at the end of 09/beginning of 10. He went on such a streak that it looked as if he might have finally cracked the contest thing. Unfortunately I can’t help feeling that he’ll always fold in the clutch, particularly if there’s a certain follicularly (Yeah I made that word up. So what? Boom.) challenged gentleman involved.

 No. 8 – Medina

The future? The saviour? The Messiah? The Ark Angel Gabriel? He does make it cool to support Brazzos. I’m super impressed with how he blitzed his way through the field in France with careless abandon and complete disregard for his elders. He’s used to winning and he’s definitely used to spinning his way to victory in the beach breaks of Europe this year. Let’s not get carried away though, he was over-scored with that 10 in the Semi against Taylor (a sub-conscious judging vindication of the mid-year cut) and while he is undeniably exciting, it’s far too soon to be calling him “unbeatable” (Jamie O’Brien). You love a bit of “Gabes” babes though, don’t you, Jamie? I too can admire his dexterity and recklessly calculated approach to ariels, but at the expense of style? Both of you deserve a firm slap on the wrist.

 No. 9 – The Spartan

Agreed – absolute beast, there’s no doubt about that. But why laud someone for being an old-school power surfer when you’ve been slating everyone else for not being progressive or having an “air game”? I love seeing Bourez gouge his way through waves as well but I’m not sure I can recall ever seeing him do even the most basic air. Ever. Apologies Mr Spartan if I am wrong. I certainly won’t ever be criticising you to your face and find it far more agreeable to cower behind the interweb. Thankyou please.

No. 1o – J-Flo

So, Jezza did wonders for himself in Teahupo’o huh? Apparently all it takes to transform your public profile from Mr-Boring-Competition-Surfer-stuck-in-the-90s to Mr Hard Charger is to go nuts at the heaviest wave on tour in one of the heaviest competitions ever. Well, that, and try to drown some Aussie drongo in public with your big, mad mate Sunny. I think J-Flo has made enough videos for now, don’t you?

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One manoeuver wave scores and the deception of Dane

October 18, 2011

In the semi-final of the Quiksilver Pro France judges awarded Gabriel Medina a perfect 10 for one single ariel. This was the only move he performed on this wave, slightly contradicting the judging criteria that professes to award scores for “speed, power and flow”. I suspect that this was some sort of attempted validation of the mid-year cut and the introduction of Medina to the top tier of world surfing.  I also suspect Medina is just what the ASP want for life on Tour AD (After Dane). Medina in many ways is Dane without the apathy towards competition. He’s just as radical and unpredictable in the water but he seems hungry to surf heats, eager to please and compete. Out of the water he spends his time frothing around the contest site, beaming smiles and granting interviews in impeccable English, rather than moping around looking like he slept on the beach and mumbling vague agreements to interview questions.

The ASP set the bar for the one-manoeuver-score when they awarded Dane a 9-something for one turn in the Search event in Puerto Rico last year. This is not to belittle the quality of Dane’s turn – I like it so much that I keep a video of it on my phone – but 9+ for one manoeuver, no matter how ‘progressive’, is over-scoring. I understand why they did it. They wanted to reward the undeniable commitment to the turn. But only, I suspect, to encourage Dane’s questionable commitment to competitive surfing.  And they got a little over excited and weak at the knees just because it was Dane. Dane is good for the Tour, he’s the blue-eyed Californian boy who surfs heats like he doesn’t care and attacks waves in an unpredictable way that makes people want to watch him. But awarding 9+ scores for single manoeuver waves, let alone perfect 10s, sends out entirely the wrong message about both the judging criteria and the validity of competitive surfing. There are probably thousands of Danes who could catch a wave, stand up, then throw some radical, fins free, unfeasible snap, before regaining their balance and bobbling to the beach in the whitewater. They can probably make these turns once in every ten or so attempts – does that mean they should be on the World Tour? Sure, they’ll lose a bunch of heats, slope around avoiding the media, being generally aloof, paddle around in heats, not really trying for the most part but every so often pulling an improbable turn. Great stuff. That’s what I want to see from the professional icons of our sport.

Don’t reward Dane’s apathy. If he doesn’t want to utilise his talent and work for a World Title then don’t force him. He’s just not that sort of animal and you can’t train him to be. Let him go and chase whales with Rasta, cultivate dreads and grow plants in his backyard. We’ve got the ark angel Gabriel now.

Dane wake up! Someone's in the garden!

Progress?

October 18, 2011

Apparently there is such a thing as being too progressive. A manoeuver cannot be defined as ‘progressive’ if it doesn’t improve progress, and throwaway one manoeuver waves should not be classed as progression. Particularly if they don’t actually allow the surfer to progress on the wave.

Anyone who has had the misfortune of witnessing the Innersection.tv submission by Zoltan Torkos could not help but agree. Zoltan is the guy who Volcom awarded 10k(?!) for being the first person to kickflip a surfboard. I’ll bankrupt myself to give Mr Torkos another 10k to never pick up a surfboard and darken our waters again. What a shitty can of worms Volcom opened with this misguided little project. Torkos’ Innersection entry highlights everything truly awful about so –called ‘progressive’ surfing. In the three minute clip ‘The Magician’, as he calls himself, (I wish he’d make himself fucking disappear) attempts (key word) all manner of skate inspired tricks in 2-3ft surf, whilst travelling (I say travelling because it would be a misnomer to call it surfing) nowhere near the critical section of the wave and with barely enough speed to make a bottom turn. This of course relies on the premise that Zoltan could make a bottom turn if he wanted, which, judging by his Innersection entry, I have serious doubts about. This man has the worst style I’ve ever seen on a surfboard, he actually makes surfing look geeky and I’ve never seen anyone do that before. Put simply: the guy can perform a shit-looking kickflip once in every 100 or so attempts but he can’t engage a rail and link a couple of turns to actually ‘surf’ a wave.

Trestles Turning Points

October 18, 2011

A trestle is a type of A frame table on which things are balanced. ‘Trestles’ is a world class A frame wave on the West coast of America.  A trestle is vital to support all manner of tools and useful things. Trestles, more often than not, plays a vital role in supporting a World Title campaign. It is often the hinge on which World Title bids are either kicked into action or kicked into touch. (See Fanning in 2009 and Kelly in 2010 for best examples of the former, and Parko’s massive capitulation in 09 for the most heartbreaking example of the latter.)

The Hurley Pro at Trestles in 2011 was a fascinating affair for a number of reasons, the least fascinating of which being Kelly’s stunning 5th victory at this event. By that I don’t mean that Kelly’s victory was in any way ordinary or unimpressive, quite the opposite in fact. It’s just that there were several intriguing sub-plots bubbling away beneath the surface at Trestles this year and the tension was palpable even via the webcast.

The general angst and unease around the contest area was in no small part due to the fact that the new mid-year cut came into play for the very first time at Trestles. Out went a mix of journeymen (Gabe Kling), Ex Semi-World Champs (CJ), Never-quite-good-enoughs (Adam Melling) and angry lunatics (Bobby). And in came a crop of dangerous teenagers with nothing to lose and bags of tricks capable of taking down any heat. (And Travis Logie.)

Seasoned pros were worried, and quite rightly so. In the year that the new judging criteria (brought in to accommodate more ‘progressive’ surfing ) was really bedding down it was plain to see style masters, lip gougers and 30-somethings in general (Kelly excepted) quiver in fear of some Brazillian teenager spinning 8s and 9s above the lip and above their heads.

There does appear some confusion regarding ‘progression’, however. This was really brought home to roost in an all Aussie round 4 match-up featuring Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning and Julian Wilson. The suddenly middle-aged Coolie Kids vs the new, gleaming poster boy of Australian surfing. While the Coolie veterans did what they know and what they do best – Mick living up to his ‘lightening’ nickname, firing down the line and wrapping cutbacks at warp speed and Joel styling with precision and flow – Julian did his best to turn Trestles into a skatepark by launching manouvers that his compatriots probably couldn’t name even if they did have them in their locker. But somewhere in the midst of this heat the ASP judging criteria became confused.

The stark contrast in styles and approaches to a wave were all of a sudden laid bare for all to see. The new school was facing off against the old school right in front of the judge’s eyes and they were forced to make a call and a statement about where they wanted surfing to go. Instead they sat on the fence and just threw scores at everyone, seemingly unable or unwilling to commit. Julian was left appealing to the judges, holding his hands up to the tower in a “what else can I possibly do?!” action. The judges, too, seemed confused. Whilst they awarded Julian a 9.80 for his alley-oop-shuv-it-grab-to-switch-stance thingy, they also awarded Parko a 9.13 at the buzzer for a very pedestrian (in comparison) meander down the line, allowing him to take the heat win. The footage of the judges tower on the webcast post-heat seemed to infer that they were unsure about their calls and were reviewing and debating videos of the waves in question. As the commentator said: “surfing is changing” and the judges appear to be struggling to keep up with any sort of consistency.

Parko was more honest in his assessment of Julian’s wave during his post-heat interview, leaving no doubt about his stance on switch stance: “(The) turn was sick, I’m a purist, I like surfing. I hate seeing someone go crappy (crabby?) switch stance. Turn was sick but was kinda ugly afterwards”.

Parko’s opinion sums up what the judges claim their criteria is: progression is fine, but not at the expense of style and flow.  The surfing on Tour has changed, but it’s more than just a question of aesthetics.

The loss of characters like A.I. has impacted more than just the level of surfing on the Tour. Andy was great to watch because you always half expected him to explode and you knew that he would do his utmost to smash anyone he surfed against. There was certainly never any apathy with Andy. All this bromance amongst competitors is very nice for them and their dreamy little tour, but it’s boring for us as spectators. A competitive edge is great for the Tour, and that’s exactly what the mid-year cut has given it. The turnover of surfers has not been phenomenal but the surfers who have come in are undeniably more exciting than those who have left. I would pick Medina, Pupo or Florence in a heat against any of the top seeds before I would give the likes of Melling or Kling a chance. It hasn’t just been about the surfer turnover though – just the threat of it seems to have given many of the top 34 a more competitive edge.

As well as the Parko vs Wilson vs Judges subplot, there was also a very bizarre yet intriguing heated exchange between Slater and De Souza. De Souza was finishing a round 4 heat with Taj and J-Flo as Kelly paddled out to start the next heat. On the webcast De Souza could be seen waving his hands in the air, gesturing wildly and shouting in Kelly’s direction. As we couldn’t actually make out what he was saying, those of us in webcast land were baffled, as, alledgedly, were the commentary team. (I always get the impression that they are frustratingly concealing the truth about who-hates-who). The only thing clear was that De Souza was pissed and his vitriol was directed at Kelly. More fool him. Kelly dismissively slapped the water, said something in return and casually paddled out to blitz his next heat. Kelly’s reaction was perfect. Even though we couldn’t hear what he had said, his body language alone made De Souza look utterly foolish. The post heat interviewer asked Kelly what it was all about when he got back to the beach. He laughed it off and said he wasn’t really sure, but you could tell he was quietly annoyed, in his own sinister way. As the commentators suggested – if you want to get to Kelly the last thing you do is make him angry. If anything it seems to give him an extra motivation to surf with more devastating precision. If this was some desperate attempt by De Souza to unsettle Kelly before his heat then his method was misguided to say the least. The commentary team also suggested that Adriano’s frustration was spilling over from an earlier heat in Brazil where he had been accused of hassling by Slater. De Souza’s gripe was that Taj had been hassling him but no-one would take Taj to task about it. Whatever. Taj is the ultimate likeable good guy, Adriano, and you’re just another average aggro Brazzo. Let’s not get into a popularity contest here as you would be posting 33rds at every event.

Regardless of the reasons behind De Souza’s petulance, it was just another example of the simmering tensions that the mid-year cut was causing to bubble over. And it is definitely a good thing to inspire Tour interest.

Tensions became public of course during the Quik Pro NY and later via that wonderful medium of Twitter.  Ex WCT competitor Bobby Martinez had a full on rant, expleting his opinions on the new Tour changes: “I don’t want to be a part of this dumb f***ing wannabe tennis tour,” Martinez whined. “All these pro surfers want to be tennis players. If my sponsor wasn’t here, I wouldn’t be here for this dumb contest. Surfing’s going down the drain thanks to these people.” He later vented his spleen further on Twitter and was consequently sanctioned by the ASP and booted off the Tour. Quite rightly too. If Martinez doesn’t want to travel round the world surfing the best empty line-ups the planet has to offer then plenty hungry young kids are willing to take his place. Forget him, he was generally a back marker who won’t be greatly missed, except perhaps by the goofy contingent.

Twitter has recently thrown up some more interesting ‘debate’ between others involved and not so involved in the top tier of world surfing. Ex world champ Sunny Garcia has taken it upon himself to make public his feelings about recent Tour changes and has commented on everything from judging criteria to mid-year cuts. Bizarrely much of his vitriol has been directed at Slater as he seems to feel that Slater has a responsibility to speak up for his fellow professionals and take a stand against the ASP. This is nonsense really, since Kelly (along with the majority of his fellow professionals) is perfectly happy with the way the ASP has been changing and developing the Dream Tour. Sunny should stick to updating everyone about how much tequila he has drank, rather than commenting on a World Tour that seems increasingly distanced from him.  While Sunny’s competitive nature would be a welcome edge to the Tour, I’m afraid his surfing wouldn’t cut it anymore. Let’s face it: the Tour has evolved and Sunny hasn’t. Kelly is the polar opposite of this.

The only constant recognisable feature from past years of the Tour is in fact Kelly. The only surprise is that he continues to surprise, and leaves peers (a debatable description), fans, pundits and onlookers alike gasping for barely adequate superlatives every time he surfs. Kelly surfed his 3rd final in a row against Owen Wright at Trestles and made it 2-1 with a clinical display of typically last minute magic. He seems to rise above pressure and almost casually blitzes his way through heats with a seamless blend of the old and the new. There is no confusion of styles with Kelly. If he needs to style his way down the line that’s what he’ll do. If he needs to take to the air then he’s got that in his locker as well. While his compatriots stress about scoring, styles and format changes, Kelly just takes it all in his stride, casually dispatching opponents and saving his very best surfing for the final seconds of final rounds.

Trestles this year taught us that Kelly still has the capacity to surprise, but this shouldn’t really be newsworthy by now. What is more worthy of note is that the mid-year cut works. (Are you listening, Bobby? Sunny?) The cut works not only because of the opportunity for new, hungry and undeniably talented young guns to showcase their skills, but rather for the cat amongst pigeons effect that these additions have brought. The facts are simple: professional surfing is getting back a much needed edge and making surfers upset makes good business sense.