As day two gets underway, here's a look at the day one highlights from The Other Side.
Forgive your correspondent for not tuning in to the first heat of the morning. An out of season east swell was riffling down the beach kissed by a gentle northwest breeze. And one must prioritise, especially in October when surfing becomes a dance called the spring-time slop.
And neither is it the time of year to usually hit South Straddie or TOS (The Other Side) if you are north of the border in Queensland. But that’s where the WSL found themselves, along with many of us, glued to our screens tuning in to another event in the Australian Grand Slam.
After the surprisingly fun Caba Pro, I had high hopes that Straddie would produce a tube fest with the likes of Jack Robo, Mikey Wright, and Soli Bailey trading teepees and being blown out of stand-up tubes. But the Wozzle sent the girls out first. And it immediately became clear conditions were like a lucky dip.
Fortunately, the commentary A-Team of Occy and Bugs made up for it. The pair had good energy and the Australian vernacular gave it a heavy dose of local flavouring. Occ was in good form comparing Straddie to just about every surf spot in the world. He murdered the Queen’s English but was as always entertaining. Bugs meanwhile was measured, articulate, and had the perfect Goldilocks mix – not to corpo and not too loose – it was just right.
When the men were thrown into the lineup it was clear there were two tactics at play. The QS/Wildcards kept busy and jumped on anything that moved. While the CT vets were steady and patient opting to find the diamonds in the rough. The nail-biting and cursing that went down could be felt through the screen. Off the back of Australia’s east coast's best Autumn and Winter expectations were high on the performance spectrum. Straddie had played host to many perfect sessions for most of the crew that found themselves in the Straddie bubble.
Jack Robo was the standout of the day. Sniff out all the clips from his highlight reel. The WA boy wonder is the real deal and looks on track for a win after he ran through the draw. However, Liam O’Brien was the real surprise package in the first heat. He weaved his way through throaty pits and wasn’t afraid to take it to Robo and go for broke. He had a knack for making conditions look a whole lot better than they were.
When heat two rolled on local wildcard Chris ‘Ibis’ Bennetts brought the energy of the local boardriders in spirit to his heat. He had Stu Kennedy and Owen Wright combo’d for much of the heat and used his local knowledge to his advantage. Taking out revenge for the multitude of losses he’d racked up against the pair as a junior, Bennetts ran through a tunnel of his supporters as he made his way back up the beach in a nice moment that only added to the Boardriders-feel of the event.
As heat three hit the water conditions began to deteriorate. The tide change saw the swell pulse but produce fewer openings available for Soli Bailey, Wade Carmichael, and Mikey Wright. Soli let fly on one of the most reckless airs of the event but couldn’t navigate a landing. Wade looked like he’d been on a diet of beer and pies throughout COVID but the extra girth played to his already impressive manpower. He got busy and found the diamonds putting an exclamation mark on each finishing manoeuvre. Mikey waited till the death of the heat to get going using his patented grab rail cut back to full advantage after flying out of a nice bowling wedge to leapfrog into second place and stay in the draw.
Heat four saw Ethan Ewing in the yellow jersey, the current ratings leader of the Australian Grand Slam up against Conor O’Leary and former CT’er, Mitch Crews. Crewsy couldn’t find any rhythm and had his jersey pulled off after a wipeout forcing him to surf most of the heat half nude. O’Leary pipped Ewing with a pair of mid-range scores, exercising his quick-fire snaps and sniffing out the elusive lefts.
By the time the Quarterfinals rolled around conditions were terrible. The nor’easter was into it and the lower tide had knocked the swell back a couple of notches. That didn’t stop Jack Robo from finding a nugget and posting a 9.67 – the highest single-wave score of the day. He backed it up an 8.93 to bump Owen out of the mix. Jack looks laser-focused and appears to have worked on his grovel game which he’ll need on the CT stage.
Overall the two-day strike day format keeps the energy levels high and interest keyed into the event. Having former World Champs and CT stars calling in also helped fill the downtime and provide a bit of colour. Again, the looser Boardriders feel of the event along with the Australian commentary provide a more authentic representation of where pro surfing is at as we remained bunkered down in these isolated times.
Finals day will wrap tomorrow as the WSL races to beat the dreaded Spring nor’easter and deliver more competitive surfing to help us cope with the withdrawals from the 2020 season that got COVID-canned