Those Mexican time zones are not kind to the Australian surf fans but, like many of us, I hung in there for a couple of hours last night and it was worth the wait.

The clock hit ten and there was Joe back on dawn patrol with local ring-in Mithcell Salazar. Never had I been so relieved to see Turps in one of those technicolor-yawn, tropical shirts that look like some kid just overdid it on the Gatorade and pineapple lollies and threw up. But hey, here we were back in Barra de la Cruz fifteen years after the Rip Curl Search made a legitimate claim to being one of the greatest contests of all time.

Back then the surf brands were responsible for running their own events and spent a small fortune in the process. These days the WSL has way more control and shoulder more costs, but it was immediately apparent that this event had been hijacked by Quiksilver as a presenting sponsor – nowhere near as expensive as running the whole event but it still buys you some eyeballs. In any case, the hype real had to feature footage from the Rip Curl event. We saw Taj claiming his epic barrel, Bruce and Andy hanging out and then Kelly cutting back. And then we saw it again and again, in fact, it was played twice at every break. Within twenty minutes I was begging for a different snippet from the original event in which there were plenty of highlight moments. Later Quiksilver took us to highlights of their New York event. It seemed obvious they didn’t want to feature too much action in Rip Curl jerseys, or maybe RC hadn’t sold them the footage? Please mix it up a little as the contest unfolds.  

Anyway, you don’t want to go down the rabbit hole of surf industry politics, you want to be at the fabled Barra de la Cruz watching Kelly score double barrels in his heat after he arrived on dusk the night before and surfed in the dark – that’s exactly what we got. Kelly showed up with a quiver of Akila Aipa Flat Earths featuring twinnies with stabilizers and instantly got loose in the lineup.

With the twin set-up, Kelly’s boards looked silky through the transitions and responsive in the pocket. For those who like to see pointbreaks ridden with effortless flow and buttery carves it was a joy, even if the judges weren’t going north of 6.5 for his scores. Mitchell Salazar even gave Slater a much-needed new nickname (the goat is getting tired). We call him ‘Papa de los Pollitos’ (translation father of the little chicks) explained Salazar, the Spanish rolling off his tongue as smoothly as one of Kelly’s cutbacks. Poor old Joe Turpel was flabbergasted and spent the rest of the heat trying to master the new phrase. Salazar also got the jump on Joe when he pointed out that Kolohe, an L.A. Lakers tragic, had switched jersey numbers from 22 to 24 in honour of the late Kobe Bryant. Joe was again ruffled that a new recruit had hit upon a curious detail and slipped into a long, factual monologue to counter.

If Kelly was velvet smooth, Kolohe was a little more inspired, tossing his board into the lip at critical opening sections, snuffing out cute barrels, and pulling rotations in reverse and alley-opp. Ok, the waves had some wobble and wonk, and were not close to the glories of 2006, but my it looked fun out there and the minor imperfections and unpredictable sections made the viewing interesting – a firm relief after the wave pool hypnosis.

Griffin Colapinto put on a dynamic performance to claim a round one victory. Photo: WSL

What does the lineup need to be totally groomed? Mitch Salazar again had the answers. Apparently, it wants some rain followed by a six-eight-foot southeast swell to really turn on. Fingers crossed it gets it all time, but it’s very watchable right now as the bank forces surfers to make smart wave choices and preserve classic flow, while also attacking with a variety of manoeuvres.

So Kanoa blew the first heat after locking in an early 7.5. For a time it seemed like the commentary team wasn’t even going to talk about the Olympics because they didn’t want to give air-time to a rival organization. The five rings didn’t get a mention in the Dawn Patrol but eventually they slipped in a few mid-heat mentions of Kanoa’s silver medal. However, Tokyo wasn’t a huge talking point, which is probably fair enough given the WSL didn’t get much air-time at The Games. Still, it will be interesting to watch how the WSL/Olympic relationship unfolds in years to come. Silver went to Slater in the first heat and Kolohe got the gold while Kanoa finds himself in the bronze elimination round.   

In heat two Griffin Colapinto bopped all over the lineup like he was making one of his Instagram music vids. His dynamic act lends itself to the wave at Barra de la Cruz and his surfing has the kind of youthful exuberance that can help him get the nod in tight situations. If he doesn’t get over-excited or distracted he should do well, and preserve his all-important top-five spot.        

By midnight I was on the nod, fighting off sleep like Mick Fanning in a shark encounter, however, it seemed un-Australian not to hang in there for Morgan Cibilic’s round one heat. (See the profile on Morgan in the current issue of Tracks). Fortunately, Cibilic looked more solid than the Harbour Bridge as he dialed in his frontside carve and dissected the wonky sections with confidence; cruising past Deivid Silva and an excitable Rio Waida.

Morgan’s surfing had a nice pace to it. He never tried to fit too much in and he always appeared to have ample time to get his moves done. The nuggety natural-footer has honed his pointbreak skills at Angourie, and put in time at Snapper last year. Even Merewether corner, where he camped out for his teen years, has a point break feel. According to the commentators, Morgan also made a few runs to Barra after basing himself in the L.A for the past couple of months. He may have to step it up a notch in later rounds, but as one of the commentators pointed out, the seemingly unflappable Morgs is, “a rookie surfing like a veteran.”  The crucial aim for Morgan is to finish in front of the surfers – Griffin, Kanoa, Jordy, and Conner Coffin – who are nipping at his heels for the all-important top-five spot on the rankings.

Morgan Cibilic claimed a solid round one victory. Photo: WSL/Mextod

The last thing I saw before sleep triumphed in the battle with the Mexican point break was Filipe Toledo decimating a roping wall that seemed custom-made for his surfing with its generous carve sections and a multitude of ramps. My final waking thought was, ‘Who the hell is going to beat Filipe out there?’