Medina, Jordy and Toledo get cut down by The Ghost along the way.
Well, it was certainly cleaner than yesterday. Anyone who logged on early was greeted with the default, WSL screen, which featured the welcome sight of offshore swept lines, a shivering bit of scrub and the roar of wind and sea.
“It’s the morning of the final,” blasted Joe Turpel when the webcast finally kicked in. Joe couldn’t resist the post-modern reference to Kelly Slater in Black and White, particularly with Kelly about to paddle out for his encounter with Novocastrian, Ryan Callinan. Although there were apparently still ten to twelve foot sets rolling through Kelly was back on his 5’11” Dan Mann, Freak model.
At some point the camera panned to the stairs where we saw a hooded John John gazing over the lineup like a shepherd eying his flock – big, fluffy white merinos rolling across a massive paddock. He was studying his livelihood closely before his heavily-hyped quarter-final match-up with Gabriel Medina.
Kelly was obviously looking to surf from deep, come around the section and arrive at the steeper section of the wave loaded with speed. The plan never paid dues as Ryan Callinan plucked off better waves from wider. The waves Kelly chose didn't really stand up, reducing his options to generic carves and when he finally did make it to the wave’s top shelf he fell on multiple occasions.
Meanwhile Callinan was finding a line that enabled him to go top to bottom rather than lateral. He banked three seamless top-turns for a 7.17. Like Medina, Callinan was tickling the rail through low-slung bottom turns that ensured he arrived in the pocket with an abundance of speed and flow. Callinan received a 5.50 for a fierce vertical hack that left Slater just outside the combo situation, but it was ultimately enough to send Kelly on a nostalgic walk up the fabled stairs for a chat with Rosie about what may well be his last Bells event.
For fans there was a mixture of relief and stoke to see Kelly make it to the quarters. There had been some fleeting moments of Kelly brilliance during the event and after a solid win over Julian Wilson we all hoped for more. However, Kelly’s highest wave score of the event was a 6.17 and by his own admission he’d expected better from himself. “I never put in a performance like I wanted to this week, but I got a fifth. I’m happy with that,” he told Rosy post-heat.
Will it be all reminiscing and reflecting for Kelly or does the future hold one more magic WCT moment?
In quarter two Toledo combined snowboarding carves with closeout floaters and power carves in a well-rounded performance against Jacob Willcox. Whoever found the steeper sections had the distinct advantage all day and that’s how Toledo ended the run of wildcard Willcox, who always performs well in the WCT arena. Oz fans looking for the next generation of elite flag-flyers will be hoping that Jacob can find his form on the WQS grind.
John John vs Medina was billed as one of the best heats of the modern era – the draw conspiring to bring the titans together in the quarter-finals. On paper this one had the potential to rival the Occy Vs Curren 1986 semi-final clash.
To quote Matt Warshaw from the narration of the Occy vs Curren heat in Billabong’s ‘Surf into Summer’. “It’s been called surfing’s heaviest man-on-man heat. At that moment everyone watching from the cliffs at Bells began to realise that what they were watching was truly historic. It was the world’s best goofy foot against the world’s best regular foot. Both riding boards they trusted in good, overhead surf.” He could have been talking about Medina and Florence 33 years later.
Medina drew first blood winding-up through squat bottom turns before swinging for the fences out of the lip and posting a 6.67 opener. John John knew the layback jam was a judge pleaser and stuck to the classic hits for a 6.77. Meanwhile Medina called on an Occy-like projection floater to drift around the cascading Bells white-water for a 6.27.
The climactic exchange took place at around the heat’s half way-point. John John utilised priority to claim the first wave but failed to engage the rail on the opening carve. After bunny-hopping back in he made up for his misdemeanour by slaying three more sections, keeping the hands pretty through the committed arcs. We’ll never know if the judges deemed the final dubious slash complete or not, but the damage had been done on the outside and he was rewarded with an 8.87. Medina again went to the Occy projection floater and backed it up with a thunder-thigh belt and was a shade short of John John’s ride at 8.5.
Medina’s surfing was hard to fault but in hindsight he made a tactical error by letting John John get the next wave under priority. Medina would have been better off stifling the efforts of John John. Ross Williams has been asking him to ‘earn his aggression’ which means the goal is to build momentum throughout the heat. John did exactly that scything out of the lip with super-critical hacks on his magic 6’2” ghost for a flat 8.00. As Luke Egan sagely pointed out John John has multiple versions of the top turn and is conscious of changing the angle of the attack to both suit the wave and ensure the judges have something different to appreciate. Medina never got the chance to answer back and the heat’s final image was a fist-clenching John John, confident in the knowledge he had crushed his greatest rival and gone well ahead in the race for three world titles he and Medina are engaged in. It was tragic they didn’t get to meet in the final, but at least the quarter came somewhat close to living up to expectations. “It’s really fun surfing against Gabe. He always pushes you,” John John told us after the heat. We look forward to more clashes between them this year.
In quarter four Ferreira slipped off early and something in his body language suggested he was still rattled by the previous day’s ragdolling in front of the rocks at Winki Pop. The ‘super’ had gone out of the tour’s Mario Bros look alike. Meanwhile Jordy fell just short of the excellent range with methodical, but well-executed power carves and under the lip snaps. As Pete Mel pointed out Jordy looked dangerously blaze on the slopier outside sections, but quickly snapped back to attention for the all-important hero section on the shorey.
The heat was of course marred by the interference call on Italo, which had shades of Damian Hardman’s infamous interference ploy on Tom Carroll. For Jordy it was likely a thirty three percent bet – 1. I get a good wave 2. I at least block Italo or 3. At best I get an interference. While Italo’s ‘track’ didn’t really hinder Jordy, there was a moment where Jordy was being speared out of the white-water and looked like he could have gone straight through Italo’s bright yellow jersey. With Italo swooping past, Jordy arguably had to control his prone exit from the whitewash. The judges obviously felt that Italo had another option – to hit the eject button as soon as he saw Jordy paddling. In truth Jordy probably still had him but we will never know what might have been. The final image – Italo’s girlfriend Maria chasing him up the Bells bitumen hill with a disillusioned Italo wearing a towel over his head.
There was no ‘Mea culpa’ from Jordy after the heat as he told Rosy he genuinely liked the look of the wave in question and felt for Italo. Call it what you want – it’s a competition not a game of Tiddly Winks and Jordy was playing within the rules.
In semi one Toledo unleashed on his electric green 5’11”. Despite his flyweight size he knows how to hold the rail and bend his slender frame through carves like a lick of melted butter. There was nothing flicky or trivial about Toledo’s approach and the lip attack had a dramatic karate chop quality, complete with a whistled soundtrack from dad, Riccardo.
Callinan carved back into contention, posting a 7.67 on a bomb. It was a significantly bigger wave and Callinan realised that all he needed to do was link committed turns and the score would be solid. However, he missed a golden opportunity to shut the heat down when he fell on his next ride. Cameras flashed to coach, Richrad Marsh, who was slapping the railing on the stairs with obvious disappointment. It was refreshing to see a coach showing their emotions rather than wearing the standard poker-faced scowl. It made it apparent how much passion was flowing through the Callinan camp. However, Dog had good reason to be upset as Toledo blasted his final wave and broke the hearts of Australian fans.
In semi two Jordy got the jump on gentleman John John who refused to hustle for the inside. Perhaps he could recall how it felt when Zeke Lau infamously paddled around him at Bells. Before John John could scratch his goatee Jordy had a 7.17 and a 6.67. Jordy wasn’t going into the excellent range but he was consistently doing good work. John John answered back as you might expect with the lay-back slam on a monster section that came at him as a left. It was basically a 6.63 for a single turn and a little snowboarding. As Stryder pointed out, the waves had a distinct similarity to RockPiles (minus the stalagmite of rock) rights, John John’s pet wave on the North Shore.
Jordy posted his first excellent ride, an 8.07, of the event at what seemed like an opportune moment – when John John had his back against the wall after falling on a crucial ride. However, Jordy’s supremacy didn’t last long as John John slayed two consecutive waves that were markedly bigger than anything ridden all day. The 9.43 was the highest wave score of the men’s event, the judges rewarding the size as John John roamed freely across the giant canvas, dipping his rail deep where it was required.
In the women’s final Malia Manuel was on a rail from the moment the final kicked off and stayed there for the first five minutes. In earlier heats Manuel had struggled to ride out of the crucial end section but in the final she adjusted her line and maximised points on the heaving inside section. Manuel has been in several finals but never claimed a victory, but just when it looked like she was set to claim a long-awaited win and the yellow jersey the ‘Sea Tiger’, Courtney Conlogue, clawed her way back in front with a glorious ten point ride. On the best wave of the contest Conlogue, already a two-time winner, reaffirmed her special relationship with Bells. It was heart-breaking for the much-improved Manuel but she could at least take solace in the fact that she had surfed out of her skin in the final.
Shortly after the men's final begun, Toledo was drawing creative lines with his green 5’11 pencil and projecting beyond the lip into an air-drop finish for a 6.5.
John John uncharacteristically over-cooked his first two waves, falling on the layback jam that had been his jackpot turn for the entire event.
On wave two Toledo attacked the opening section of the wave, which offered the perfect little rabbit’s tail of foam for a 7.33. For a brief moment it seemed that John John may have peaked and that Toledo would sneak a win with mid-range scores. However, Fil arguably lost the popular vote when he kicked out of a cascading inside roller that everyone expected him to hit. The opening turn had been strong and it seemed logical that he would have a crack at the big second section and attempt to at least replace his back-up.
John John didn’t post a meaningful score until the twenty -minute mark, finally connecting with the lip and riding out on on two major turns. It wasn’t a Conlogue power-move but he locked in a 6.67 and reduced the required margin from 9.33 to 7.17.
Toledo again found a fluffy coping to aim up at and this time he wasn’t afraid to hit the lip. However, although he thrice-connected with the foam, the judges weren’t convinced it was better than his back-up.
For John John the scenario remained the same ( a 7.17 to chase the lead) and where Toledo climbed the foam John John delayed his top turns till the last second and and whipped out of the lip into free-fall exits. John John is tall, but the upper and lower body never looked out of synch. In transition the arms are always slung low and only play a part in the most critical section of a manoeuvre – adding a hint of drama and helping to drive him out of the turn. The judges saw more venom in his approach and the 7.63 comeback wave was enough to get him in front. Toledo had a chance to claim it on a last minute ride but the absence of scoring manoeuvres on the outside section meant it was always going to be a difficult prospect.
It was John John who would hoist his first Bell and no one could question the validity of his claim to the prized trophy. He’d survived the sub-par conditions that plagued the early part of the event and been one of the few to thrive in yesterday’s maxing swell. On finals day he was again glorious, producing the highest wave score of the event and perennially finding ways to attack the waves with interesting lines. He also walks away from Bells singing Cold Play – 'It’s all yellow' for John John going into Bali. For his part, he wasn’t getting too carried away with his number one position on the rankings. “It’s still super early in the year,” he said after the event. “I’ll see how it goes.” With John John back in front and Italo, last year’s Bali champ, nipping at his heals in second we’ll all be eager to see how it goes too.