Willian ‘Panda’ Cardoso delivers the biggest upset in years.
Holy Cardoso! Did a thirty-two-year-old journeyman rookie who weighs 95kgs really just take out Ulus? Over Julian Wilson? Over Toledo, the Spirit Animal and De Souza? Pro surfing is happening right now, and Indo deserves a good thanking. The place delivered. Maybe not all-time, best-ever—but it definitely got the surf synapses firing.
The pros didn’t look like they had any trouble getting motivated. They were hungry, they ripped, and the contests were good to watch for those reasons. It showed how simple the formula for pro surfing as a spectator sport should be—good surfers in good waves equals good entertainment. Honour that and the rest will follow.
No one in Bali understood the formula better than Cardoso. You could tell by the way he kept tearing through the draw at Keramas he was on a mission. You could almost hear the head-talk every time he paddled past: You’re in paradise here, Panda. Let’s make the most of this. Forget the fact it took twelve years to get here. Forget these guys have more money, more talent and better diets. You’re here to rip the head off every wave that … here’s one now. Raaaarrrr!
The big unit was on point. It might not have been radical or even pretty at times, but it was good surfing. The way he picked the eyes out of the Ulus’ line-up, whack, whack, whacking it four- and five-goes at a time—that was how the wave demanded to be surfed. You saw how little success the guys were having with their airs. It was Panda’s comp to win as much as anyone else’s, it’s just none of us saw it coming.
In the final, against an opponent who has more tricks on lock in four-foot lefts than Panda has in his entire repertoire, he employed his set-wave-only strategy from the get-go and it worked a charm. While Jules darted and fell and slowly built momentum as the heat bore on, the big fella caught four waves and surfed them like a local tradie in beast mode. Bottom-turn, load up, release. Apply liberally. Jules might’ve caught the best wave of the final, and probably would’ve ran Panda down had it gone on for much longer, but Cardoso surfed the better heat. In the end he was a deserving champion, and I doubt Jules or any of his peers would take that away from him.
Following two of the more enjoyable events in recent memory, we leave Bali with Jules on top of the Jeep Leaderboard, the Brazilian three behind him, John John flailing like a wounded bird, no one really dominating, and Willian Cardoso fifth in the world. Talk about wide open. This season is going to be a doozy.
With so many upsets, it’s hard to get a feel for how the title race is going to play out. Maybe Toledo? Maybe Ferreira? Could be Julian’s year or who knows, John John might turn things around and bring it home in the back end?
In the wake of Cardoso’s victory, though, two things seem likely. The rookies are going to get gamer and more dangerous, and for the next week or so, thickset underachievers the world over are going to be surfing with a spark and self-belief not often seen in their surfing, and it’ll all be thanks to Panda.