A few tasty heats between a couple of sneaky surfs.
It’s a universally proven fact that watching the surfing is much better when you have already ridden a few waves of your own. Or so goes my justification for missing the morning action and going surfing.
Fortunately the lineup at one of the local Torquay lurks was soon greeted with good news. “Mick one his heat,” reported a smiling old salt as he paddled out and assumed a preferred position in the lineup. Several heads heard the statement and momentarily set aside the cut-throat hustle for the next wave to celebrate the news – perhaps like me they felt a mixture of guilt and joy having failed to witness the victory.
By the time I was queuing for the post-surf coffee at Swell café (a favourite with the pros), Mick was enjoying breakfast with Taylor Knox and couple of close friends, including Shane Conwell. Taylor has always been close and Mick use to stay with Shane at Avalon when competing as a junior in Sydney. Mick is keeping his crew tight and making it personal for his last official dig. Many fans would love to see him win, but for Mick the main priority seems to be to make his last contest a memorable moment he can share with close friends, irrespective of the result.
Out at the contest site that other guy who may never retire was making his presence felt. Kelly was on the big screen, beaming down on the massive Bells crowd like Big Brother as he sat in the commentary booth with Ronnie and Pete.
Still they were talking about that foot; the most famous bloody foot in the world since Daniel Day Lewis won an Oscar for playing Christie Brown in ‘My Left Foot’ (sorry if that’s going too far back for some of you). Kelly suggested that he won’t be back until after Margarets. That means he’s missed a quarter of the tour already; does that ipso facto ensure he’s definitely coming back next year so that he can have one more good shot at it?
I had high hopes that the African ambassador of surfing and style, Michael February, would find his moment against Frederico Morais. Instead he snapped a board duck-diving and skipped all over the place on the replacement. All that physical charisma came together for one sublime top-turn but it was a patchy performance and Fred was able to scrape through in a desperately low scoring affair. Mikey looks like he needs to get to events early, learn as much about the waves as he can and find that relaxed rhythm that is the defining element of his surfing.
If February and Morais were disappointing at least the Jeremy Flores front-side gaffe could be relied upon for some light entertainment on a Saturday afternoon. After Flores bruised the outside section on a Bowl bender and backed it up with a snap that landed him on the sand, the beach commentator was quick to issue a loud warning, ‘Grommets we need you out of the shorey.’ Poor little Keanu Asing was valiant as he climbed the foam like a mighty mouse scaling a mountain of white cheese, but he failed to make enough impact on the open face to worry Flores.
Flores meets Ace Buchan tomorrow. It’s perhaps an out-wide hypothetical, but if Ace posts another strong result at Bells you would have to consider him a title contender. The tour’s Mr Nice guy will need to have his backside timing spot on if he wishes to overcome the mercurial Flores and become part of ‘The Conversation’.
Conner Coffin is not much bigger than Keanu but unlike Asing he was able to hold a rail through the big open sections. The extended rail cleave leaves a lasting impression on the judges at Bells, while the flicky, tail jams that might suit waves with smaller pockets can look redundant in the Bowl. Coffin’s surfing also has a compelling glide and drift quality that has been honed via hundreds of hours out at California’s Rincon. At Bells the transitions and timing of turns are crucial and Coffin knows how to play in tune with the wave’s tempo.
Meanwhile, Yago Dora finally gave us a glimpse at his true ability as he came agonisingly close to eclipsing Coffin.
Dora is an exciting surfer, but looks like he is still just a little too accustomed to loading up and boosting on one big section - the free surfer’s curse. His on the face surfing is superb when he commits to a turn it’s just that sometimes he looks a little disinterested on the smaller sections. He lost today by by 0.1. Had he been a fraction more committed or polished on his opening ride it may have been a different story.
In round three Adriano will come hard off the bottom and smash the crumbling lips against Conner. If Coffin pulls off his big rail game he might win by exposing the stylistic faults in Adriano’s attack. Coffin will be hoping for the cleanest conditions possible.
The Brazilians will have to get accustom to surfing against one another because there are so many of them on tour. The fact they are so often meeting in heats perhaps makes it a little harder for them to thrive on their collective energy; it individualizes them (maybe). Willian Cardosa, aka, the gentle panda, sledge-hammered past last year’s runner up Ciao Ibelli. Like Sunset in Hawaii, solid Bells has a way of turning brutish power surfers into something beautiful. Seeing a big man collide with a heavy Bells lip or furrow a rail on an open face are a couple of pro surfing’s savoured pleasures. Like Wade Carmichael, Cardosa well knows that this is his event to shine.
In another Brazilian match-up Cardosa is the assigned hit man on Gabrel Medina in round three. Is Gabby scared the gentle panda will snap him like a piece of chewed bamboo? Probably not, but he surely knows that adding a little variation to his act will be critical if he wants to kill Bill.
The match up between Italo Ferreira and Michael Rodrigues (another Brazilian bout) was one of the most anticipated of the day. For mine Italo still has the best backside attack on tour while Rodrigues seems scared of nothing and has the kind of dynamic approach that can be applied to almost any situation. Rodrigues must have been watching those ruffled inside-bowl ramps all afternoon and thinking, 'I just want to go out and launch past these do-dos who refuse to fly'.
The tactic almost worked, but Italo, who has a little more Bells experience didn’t get sucked into the aerial dog-fight on the insiders. Instead he waited patiently for the best waves and let his nunchaku backhand do the damage.
Italo undeniably has world title potential, but after his round three loss at Snapper he needs to make Bells count. In round three he gets a re-match against Toledo who beat him on the Gold Coast. The vibe was electric in the Gold Coast heat; hopefully both surfers are in a mood to go massive.
Courtesy of his demonstrative victory against Tomas Hermes (another lighter weight surfer like Rodrigues who did well at Snapper/Kirra but struggled at Bells) Wade Carmichael will fight an axe-swinging battle against Jordy Smith in round three. The heat is crucial for Jordy’s title campaign. If Wade overpowers him it will dent his ego in a big way and make him seriously question his recent tactic of sticking to the face. We can only hope that by being matched against the ‘beard with eyes’ Jordy rediscovers some of his more progressive surfing.
No sane surfer can walk past five foot Winki Pop, even if it is slightly ruffled, and not feel its pull. Yes, I went surfing again. Nothing beats a day of live pro surfing sandwiched between a couple of sessions of your own. I promise I will be more diligent and not miss a heat in round three – hopefully.