Nostalgic yearnings for a different time and place on the Euro tour leg.
I honestly believed that there was no way that the contest was going to move to Mundaka. While the rudimentary forecasting tools that we were using at the time definitely showed that the little corner in the Bay of Biscay was set to increase in swell size overnight, there surely wasn't going to be enough to cause the sandbank to come to life.
The Mundaka river-mouth, in Basque Country, needs a solid swell to start pumping, and it is a rare old beast, sometimes not breaking for months on end. That it would come to life on the last day of the event wasn’t impossible, but it was very highly improbable.
When I woke up in Hossegor it was solid out front, and too big to run a contest, but nowhere close to big enough for Mundaka to go.
My Nokia flip-phone started ringing, and with the clichéd sinking feeling, I received the news that they would be crowning a winner of the Billabong Pro Mundaka 2000 that day in the Basque Country, as Mundaka was small but reeling.
Fellow journalist Steve Barilotti and I picked up what stuff we could, and jumped into the rented car, making haste for Mundaka to do our respective jobs of covering the event as per our magazine contracts. To miss a final day at Mundaka would be an epic fail, would most definitely result in a severe reprimand from editors and would possibly cut us off from further assignments.
Covering the Euro leg was always a plum project back then as there was so much going on. There were both QS and CT events for men and women around that time, there were surfers to interview everywhere, there were the wildest parties every night, and there were often good waves right out front in warm water and the days lasted forever. Back in the day journalists were also quite well taken care of by event sponsors, and in Europe we were actually treated with a level of respect and courtesy. I know, let that one sink in a bit.
There were only a few heats to run, and only a few hours of optimum low tide to run it off at the river mouth. On paper it looked like we might make it, but when you mix the task together with traffic, border checks (it was 2000) and then the final winding roads of Mundaka there was very little chance of us arriving on time. We set off, tramping hard on the accelerator of the little piece of shit baby blue Renault 5 or whatever it was we were driving.
The phone rang. It was the friend of mine who was there at the contest site, the same guy who had phoned earlier. The surfers were heading out to start, and we were still on the motorway. “Please take some notes,” I requested.
We started making fairly good time, until we reached the village. Little did we consider that if an event like this was happening, there would be back-to-back traffic throughout the village and very little access to the harbour zone. We dodged and weaved from the turnoff.
The flip-phone started ringing again. “The finals are about to begin,” said the same friend, who was irritating me beyond belief just because he was already there. “We’re here! In town,” I shouted, “We just can’t get through to the contest!”
Eventually we were within striking distance, as the last minutes of the final were ticking away. “Go,” said Steve. “Just run there.”
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’ll find parking, we can’t both miss it,” said the American in a tone that implied he was a soldier taking a bullet for his friend. “Don't worry about me.”
I started running. As I arrived on the promenade I saw Shane Dorian pulling into a small left barrel that ran and ran and ran. It was one of the longest small backhand barrels I had ever seen, reminiscent of The Donkey in Namibia. He came clean out, the siren went, and the contest was over. Everyone started cheering, and I just did the same, not knowing what the fuck had just happened.
As it turned out Dorian beat Occy that day. Occy was defending champion, having won it the previous year en route to his world title. The prize giving was a noisy affair. Steve had now joined me, and we both watched as Dorian was given a funny looking traditional hat, called a ‘Txapela’ to wear, and then members of the local surf club tossed him into the harbour, as was the ritual at this classic event.
It was time to file our reports.