Former tour surfer, Simon Law, put it well as he ran around for his second lap of the Superbank in his morning session. “It’s pretty wild out there. They are going to have a hard time picking the good ones.”

On the early morning high tide the ocean was a medley of white caps, wide rollers and occasional double ups that morphed into something more rideable. However, amidst all that confusion there was actually more swell, lumps that could be sculpted into rippable coils and gurgling tubes as the tide drained out.  Still, it would be a day where correctly deciphering the ocean’s ancient Sanskrit would be crucial.

Owen Wright and Willian Cardosa were the high-tide test pigs. Owen faired much better in the experiment, happy to slash away methodically while Willian struggled to engage his girth with a meaningful section.

Owen’s brother Mikey dropped a clip last night after casually brushing aside the world champion, Johh John Florence.  In the clip Owen played a supporting role to Mikey’s monster pits and cloud-tickler jumps. Throughout the contest he’s seemed similarly content to allow Mikey to be the magnet for the media. Owen dealt with all that last year as the surfer who returned from the brink.

Mikey Wright may be out but he took the scalps of two world champions with him. Photo Swilly

Today Mikey was again at the centre of the media storm after claiming his second world champion scalp for the event. Medina never found his rhythm while Mikey was again savage. His surfing reminds me of a line from Bruce Lee’s Enter The Dragon, where Bruce’s character tells a young pupil that his martial arts ‘needs emotional content’. Mikey’s surfing has exactly that – a different feel, like a rock chord that makes you want to play air guitar. Tragically the momentum had to come to an end for the mullet giant slayer, but this event Mikey has undoubtedly proved he would be a welcome addition to the WCT future.

 

Meanwhile in round four, Owen demonstrated his propensity for backside tube riding, with the best all-round barrel performance of the event. On form, Owen will be a favourite against Ace in the quarter final, particularly if there are tunnels to plunder.  

Owen Wright in dad mode between heats. Photo Swilly

Why couldn’t it have been all groomy lines and buttery faces for the contest between Connor Coffin and Mick Fanning? We might have seen a dazzling display of rail surfing; two point break specialists choreographing combo turns that made the hearts of purists sing.

As it was, Mick muscled through the foam-striped wonks and got the job done. His best was a single turn wave where a knuckle of white water served as an invitation to wind up and whack as hard as you can. It was a retirement turn; the kind you throw everything at because you are aware you don’t have many left on a CT stage. In any case Mick will go out knowing he can still get 5.17 for one swing at the lip.

Mick's five point turn. Photo Swilly

Post heat, Mick was enjoying his last opportunities to toy with the press.When I asked if he was hungrier to win because he knew this sporting life was coming to an end he quipped, “Not really. I’m hungry because it’s about breakfast time.” After the roasting he adopted a more sincere tone. Winning events disappeared a few years ago. It’s more about putting on a good performance and coming in and knowing that you surfed well… It’s about creating memories for when you sit at the pub and you’re talking rubbish to one another.”

Probably the last time Mick will make this jump in a WCT singlet. Photo : Swilly

The amendments to round four, which make someone a loser, are probably a welcome addition to the WCT contest structure; it’s just a shame that Mick Fanning had to be the first victim. Defeated by the human hills-hoist, Thomas Hermes and old mate Owen Wright.      

There was immediately a different energy in the water when Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreira paddled out today. Having had the privilege of witnessing Italo’s backhand from the Superbank shoulder I have no reservations in saying he has the most exciting backside attack in surfing at the moment. It’s whip-crack fast, explosive and unpredictable. One Brazilian journalist described him as being like the modern Tom Carroll with more tricks. Tom Carroll later told me that he’s a big Italo fan and has actually been tossing a few pearls of wisdom to the like-framed Brazilian. Against Toledo Italo was totally on point, and perhaps a little unlucky not to have come closer to eclipsing his Brazilian peer. Italo is unfortunately out of this event, but may yet emerge as a world title contender.     

 

 

We now live in a universe where the crowd’s biggest groans are often reserved for a Filipe Toledo rail turn. That’s an ominous thought. Toledo tamed the tour with his aerial hi-jinx, but is now looking more complete and powerful than ever before. Then, just when we thought that perhaps he may have sacrificed a little wizardry in the pursuit of raw-power, he spun the wand in round four. Although his 9.67 featured no leaps it was a sublime example of super-confident modern surfing. Instead of panicking when he misjudged a barrel section, he threw his board away and then collected it with his toe, before hucking a ridiculous version of that move that no one can settle on a name for – Club sandwich? Nose-pick, rail – grab reverse? Kerrsy may have been the initial custodian, but Toledo has undoubtedly made it his own. On paper Toledo should murder Hermes in the quarter, but the hills-hoist has his own highly developed progressive game and generates plenty of torque when he throws the wings wide. Still it would be a huge upset if he hung Filipe out to dry.

After his round three victory over Joel Parkinson, Griffin Colapinto explained that his tactic to beat his teammate and idol was to watch Parko movies on loop. “I feel like when I imitate other surfers it calms me,” he told Tracks after the victory. Several onlookers commented that there were definitely similarities between Griff’s front-side carve and Parko’s celebrated rail cleave. However, Griff ultimately beat Joel by doing what Parko does best at Snapper - get barrelled. Despite admitting he had almost no prior experience at Snapper, Griff found the tubs and was achingly close to exiting the biggest pit of the day. With a second to Julian Wilson in round four Griff is through to the quarters. With victories over John John and Parko to his name he already has hard proof that he will be a rookie to be reckoned with whatever the situation. In Michel Bourez he has another giant to slay. Griff will need to be dynamic and find different angles of approach. If it comes down to a straight battle of front-side carves then Michelle will over-power the younger competitor.    

Julian Wilson is still in the hunt despite his niggling shoulder injury. Photo: Swilly

It’s no secret that Julian is not one hundred percent and is still troubled by the shoulder he injured while mountain biking.  Michael February should have beaten him in round three with his final wave, but the rubberman South African let Julian off the hook by tapping too lightly at the lip when chasing a 3.2.

Julian’s dominant round four performance showed incredible strength of character after his lacklustre offer in the third round. In a recent interview Julian told me unequivocally that he wants the world title. No dodging of the issue, playing it down, or feigning indifference. His tone was straight down the barrel determination. Being courageous enough to say out loud what you really want can be an empowering thing. Not all surfers will do it. Julian will find a way around whatever restrictions his shoulder is imposing. His experience here will also serve him well and his post-heat suggestion that you should never expect the bank at Snapper to be the same pointed to his sophisticated understanding of how to approach the Quiksilver Pro.  

Matched against everyone’s favourite new Brazilian surfer, Michael Rodrigues, Julian has his first major challenge in his world title quest.  A quarter is a keeper, but a semi or a final is obviously a way sexier result and sends a strong message to last year’s rivals, Medina and John John who are now short-changed.  

“I’m feeling amazing, super-confident,” offered Rodriguez after he dispatched Jordy Smith in round three. Michael either has a limited command of English or genuinely feels that good about his chances. Ronnie Blakey’s live-commentary rumours suggested that Rodrigues has all the self-belief his interview suggested.

He has the power to match Wilson and a dizzying air-game to call on if the opportunity presents itself. Julian may be best advised to utilise his superior barrel riding skills, although it did look like his shoulder was making late take offs a little tricky and costing him the split second you can’t afford to lose on throaty Snapper barrels.             

I heard one fan shout out today that it’s a changing of the guard. It’s a phrase that gets tossed around a lot, but we have three rookies in the quarterfinals and no former world champions left in the event. (Parko, Fanning, John John, De Souza and Medina are all out). The guard may not have changed, but he’s definitely gone for a leak.