The question was never whether the men and women could perform, it was whether this format could entertain. The answer to that question is another question - ARE YOU KIDDING ME?!
Twelve false starts, ten Greg Webber interviews, two wave pool songs, one afternoon nap, two joints, and the future of competitive surfing, and surfing in general, had finally come to life on my computer screen.
I still managed to miss the first ever wave ridden in a World Surf League’s Kelly Slater Wave Pool Contest due to a faulty HDMI cable and streaming issues but I once I sorted it all out it was fucked up. FUCKED UP.
The rules are this. The entire field surfs against each other with the winner judged on the total of six waves. No second chances. You blow it and you’re back in the stands crying into your hands.
As Barton Lynch pointed out, there’s no going down the beach to tune up and surf yourself back into rhythm. The pressure is immense. Preparation must be machine like.
Who else to take part in the first heat of the day than Da GOAT himself, Kelly Slater. And who else to be in the lead come the end of the day’s proceedings? His second wave on the right was ridiculous. A variety of laser-guided frontside carves, hooks and reos, an impossibly deep pit, a carve, another crazy pit on the sped-up, squeaky inside section, and then the streaming cut out. But I got the gist. The future of surfing will look like something between Formula 1 car racing, gymnastics and the ancient Hawaiian art of ocean jazzing.
The question here was never whether the men and women could perform, it was whether this format and concept could entertain. The answer to that question is another question - ARE YOU KEEEEEEDING ME?!
The wave itself favours a rhythmic, stylish approach as opposed to the explosive manoeuvres that have become the mainstay of many performance stops on tour (think more J Bay than Trestles). Keep the check-pumps tight, groove it, smooth it, don’t fall off in the pit and throw the kitchen sink at it on the end section seemed to be the winning formula.
As surfers weaved and grooved their way down the line, synching with the mechanical tempo of the wave as they went, you could see their confidence grow, and that’s when the judges started throwing the money. Bit by bit, section by section, the best in the pool were those who grafted an astonishing repertoire of impeccable turns, and with style.
That’s gotta be the best thing about the pool, the chance to scrutinise style and the machine-like precision of these superhuman athletes.
But rhythm and timing is different to raw ability and this wave definitely favoured a calculated approach over the brute power and spontaneity of say, a Dane Reynolds. It is a routine, like gymnastics.
You must go the distance with style and flair. Handling the pressure was more important than anything.
Frenchmen Joan Duru was exemplary. All those years in the pressure cooker that is the Qualifying Series came to bare in a steely, rhythmic approach on the left, capped with a tube and a radical foot-free air reverse on the end secko.
But as good as he could possibly put a wave together, surfers of this tradesman-like ilk could only ever hit the glass ceiling of their ability.
Everyone on tour can surf a four foot wave perfectly. Not all have the capacity for technical brilliance and futuristic edge to wow judges and fans. And you needed that.
Slater and the WSL have sent surfing sailing into a golden era. Da GOAT truly has earned himself immortality with this. This will be a revelation at the Olympics, not just for surfing but sport in general. With frustrating variables of mother nature removed, surfing can finally consider itself a genuine spectator sport and I struggle to think of of anything I’d rather watch on the box.
Beyond the corporate contest side of things there’s also a silver-lining for the core surfing population. It occurred to me while two-thirds of the way through my second joint, that when these things open to the public the only people who will be able to get barrelled out there - for at least the first few years - are people who can already surf! That’s fucken mental! We’re gonna have the run of the joint until the rest of the world catches up. That’s worth sticking around for. Cheers GOAT. Legend.