Meanwhile, the WSL Empire Strikes Back in Rio
Filipe Toledo is now a bona fide barrel rider, Wade Carmichael brushes world champions aside with his beard, Saquarema is the new darling of the WCT tour, Chris Cote is the court jester of the commentary box and Han Solo is coming. All in all The Oi Rio Pro proved to be the most unlikely of saviours for the WSL after WA was a Great White Wash and the Founders Cup kind of floundered as far as fans were concerned.
Toledo’s 9.93 tube in the final confirmed he now possesses the holy trinity of pro surfing skills – turns, airs and tube know-how. If he can add some heavy-wave bravado to his act then he will be a threat in every conceivable WCT situation.
The tube in the final was long, deep, and ridden at full throttle. Watch it again and you realise the real mastery is in the sharp directional change as he exists, which ensures he isn’t crushed by the oncoming closeout section.
The exit required genuine Jedi tube skills and set up a well-deserved victory in an event where Toledo’s dynamic brilliance was regularly on display.
Speaking of Jedis, the new Han Solo film was all over the coverage. Perhaps Facebook or Google (I was using Google Cast) have a localised algorithm at work because for some reason on my screen the slick Star Wars ads were interspersed with very cheaply produced promos for The Kings Cross Hotel. This was ok I guess but I was a little concerned Cote would throw to a break and it would feature Chewbacca stripping. I digress.
Toledo was at his all-round best, out-leaping Julian in the semis and slashing the face where necessary for the all-important back-ups.
Through tears of joy (It’s ok if you cried too) he explained the attitude that has enabled him to win every final he has ever been in. “It’s a win or it’s a second, it’s the big show, it’s my stage.” The term athlete gets tossed around liberally in the commentary booth, but Toledo obviously sees himself as an entertainer as much as anything else.
For Carmichael the result cements his status as a force to be reckoned with in any conditions. Wade might be a rookie but he spent a long time in the WQS wilderness battling to qualify. All that time and toiling does two things – firstly it ensures you genuinely prize the opportunity to compete on the WCT and are unlikely to fall victim to any kind of complacency. Secondly it assuages any fears associated with competing against highly fancied opposition.
Everyone else becomes just another guy in a different coloured jersey standing in the way of your destiny. Ultimately, Wade the king slayer, left John John, Medina and Owen Wright in his wake. How glorious it was to see him taking a moment to soul arch through barrels in his quarter-final with Gabriel Medina, even if the judges kind of punished him for not stalling more. The bigger and rounder the waves get, the more of a threat Wade will be, but in Brazil he also proved he can do damage wielding the broad sword through turns. Rumours are rife he is a late addition to the next season of Game of Thrones.
While Brazilians dominated the final placings in front of the throng of local supporters, it was a contest where there was much for Australia to celebrate. Julian claimed the outright number one slot on the Jeep leader-board and no longer has to play tug of war with the yellow jersey.
While his aerial completion rate was not in the same class as Toledo, it was refreshing to see that Julian was willing to embrace a side to his repertoire that has been a little sleepier in recent times. It’s going to be interesting to see what he does when presented with a big ramp on the end section at Keramas. It’s one of his favourite spots and the location that helped his freesurfing act reached dizzying heights. Check the alley-oop at the 33 second mark below.
For the WSL, Rio was a much-needed win. Perhaps that giant Jesus statue that overlooks the city bequeathed them a small miracle.
The round two and three action on the rock-wall right featured some of the most exciting surfing all year, while Toledo’s backside, long-jump launch will remain one of the most talked about moves of 2018.
Perhaps the only downside for the WSL was that the random, punchy peaks of Saquarema served to emphasize much of what we love about the ocean in relation the pool. Not every wave was perfect, but there were hissing kegs and space-shuttle ramps out there. It was the scent of possibility that kept the surfers hunting and the fans watching. When a wave finally did deliver, beach crowds and couch surfers alike felt that they’d won a kind of salt-water lottery instead of receiving the reliable, chlorinated pay cheque at the pool.
In any case ‘The WSL Empire Strikes Back’ seems like a fitting summation of the Oi Rio Pro contest. The presence of ads for Star Wars spin-offs (and other notable films) suggests they might even be making some much-needed cash.
As the WCT gears up for a double-contest Bali leg, which should prove to be raucous both in the competition and on the sidelines, pro surfing has never looked so exciting. Who will launch the biggest air at Keramas? Who will miss their heat because of a bender in Kuta? Who will be responsible for ensuring the pool at Kommune is sufficiently chlorinated to offset the urine content? Will Outside Corner be fifteen foot for the Ulus comp? Will a giant fishing boat wash up at Padang the week before like last time an event was held at Ulus? I’m sure you have plenty of questions of your own.