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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.

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