The Spartan Abides - Billabong Rio Pro, 2014 Wrap

13 May 2014 10

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

The Spartan Abides
By Sean Doherty

The secret to watching this event, I’ve found over the years, is not to watch it. Go to bed. Catch your zeds and watch it canned tomorrow. The other secret is to lower your expectations. Set the bar low, like, knee-high, and you will never be disappointed. Accept the waves in Rio won’t be great, and… you know, actually pray for the surf to get worse. Don’t accept mediocrity, pray for it to get diabolically bad. If you want a real pantomime farce, send them out in the straightest low tide closeouts you can find… something like they started with last night. 

Photo: ASP / Smorigo

Photo: ASP / Smorigo

The waves weren’t marginal, nor contestable, it was plain horseshit. But therein lay the beauty of it. It meant everyone was suddenly as mad as the lineup. All pre conceived notions of surfing were thrown out the window. Heat strategy: gone. Wave choice: gone. Form guide; check ya. They all paddled the lineup like headless chooks and when they got a wave they surfed like cats walking with plastic bags tied to their feet. And you know what? It was actually pretty entertaining. No, I’m happy with Rio as long as the waves aren’t just bad, they’re terrible.

The harbingers were there early that finals day at Barra di Tijuca would be a loopy affair. When you look at the clock ticking down to the final seconds of the first heat of the day and see Adriano de Souza without a single wave you know shit be getting weird here. This is Adriano remember, a guy who if you stood between he and his next wave he would simply gnaw his way through you, and he hasn’t caught a wave in half an hour!? In Rio!? And to juxtapose the madness of Adriano getting a donut, Kelly caught two waves one of them was a perfect 10 that wouldn’t have looked out of place at Cloudbreak in three weeks time. Kelly could not have looked more surprised. Puffy-eyed and half asleep, the champ was still trying to make sense of scoring a submarine pipe amongst a million closeouts, at an early morning hour when he’s generally fast asleep. 

Check out Kelly's 10 point ride

Adriano’s departure meant there were 11 guys left in the event and not one of them was Brazilian. Not one. It was like Brazil going out of the group stage at the World Cup next month. No Medina, no de Souza, no Pupo or Toledo. The Brazilian Storm turned into a high pressure system of about the same strength as the one generating the swell we were seeing. So un-stoke-ed… as were the commentators who could no longer use the tired lines of “passion” and “hunger” for the rest of the day in lieu of any real meaningful commentary about the lives of the Brazilian guys themselves.

The madness continued in the next heat when Kolohe Andino surfed against giant killer Travis Logie, who’d yesterday put Gabe Medina out of the event with a last-second tube. Now, watching Kolohe surf heats in perfect waves is hard enough… you can literally hear the gears grinding inside his head. You can hear the bubble wrap popping as he surfs five heat strategies concurrently and turns into George Costanza before your eyes. But throw him out in a lineup that looked like Herman Melville’s brain after 50 tabs of brown acid and it sent Kolohe over the edge, eventually scoring a dumb interference that mercifully appeared to end his chances and sound the death knell for another Kolohe surfboard that was about to be blitzed into a million pieces behind the competitors area.

But then the universe corrected. It threw Kolohe a drainpipe in the dying seconds and he duly surfed out of it to win. Kolohe went on a tear, all the way to the final,  and it was clear what was happening. The lineup made no sense, Kolohe’s heat strategy made no sense, so together they made perfect sense. He may not have won the event, but it was a relief to finally see him actually look comfortable out there. To actually breathe and enjoy it. And if it felt good to us, imagine how good it felt to Kolohe and his dad, Dino. Bravo, gents. 

Photo: ASP / Smorigo

Photo: ASP / Smorigo

I went to bed after Michel Bourez beat Parko in the last minute in one of the worst heats you would never pay any money to watch. I drifted off with few expectations of what would transpire while I was dreaming of better things, namely me landing my space capsule on a planet inhabited by a race of giant, sexually frustrated Beyoncés.

Instead I woke up, checked my phone, and it was like being fly kicked in the neck by Solange Knowles in an elevator. Three things surprised me. The first was that the waves had improved, a fact that I was mildly disappointed in. I wanted more of the abysmal soup that had been served up in the morning and the attendant madness that went with it.

The second surprise was that Sally Fitzgibbons had beaten Carissa Moore to win the women’s final. Man, I didn’t see that coming, but Sal surely did. In the first three events of the year she’d appeared timid off the top, top turning at 80 per cent when she needed to go at 120 to challenge Carissa. Her Bells semi was the perfect point in case. But here in Brazil Sal went hard at the lip on her backhand and suddenly it all felt easy again, like it used to. Sal smiles all the time, she’d be smiling on the worst day of her life, so some subtle recognition is required to pick the real smile and it was surely there after her win. A Carissa win here would just about have iced the whole season, but instead the girls now go to the great unknown of Fiji where, if my feeble research is correct, only Steph has surfed before in an event. 

Photo: ASP / Smorigo

Photo: ASP / Smorigo

The third surprise was that Michel Bourez won the men’s. A Tahitian winning in Brazil would previously have been thought about as unlikely as the Tahitian soccer team winning the World Cup here in Brazil next month. But things have changed this year. Michel has discovered this strange thing called “winning”, and he’s figured out its actually pretty cool. Genetically, being Tahitian doesn’t generally endear you with a burning desire to subjugate a foe. In fact, you might not find a word for “foe” in Tahitian. For unlike the West, the Tahitians haven’t managed yet to turn life into a contest, but alas here we are with Michel holding the trophy. A surfer from the least competitive island in the world had just won a surfing contest in the world’s most hot bloodedly competitive country.

It might surprise you, but alongside Teahupoo and Ta’apuna and a thousand other sublime reefbreaks, the Tahitians have also got some really shit beachbreaks too, and Michel forces himself to surf them from time to time, just to be ready for days like today. Today Michel sized up the lineup today better than anyone, and he summed it up beautifully in a broadcast interview before the final. “I just want to get barreled and I just want to have fun and…” he paused for a second, snapped out of the mandatory saccharine post-heat interview brainwash and told it like it was… “Hey, I just want to get barreled.” He did, and he won. Felicitations, Michel. Two of the next three events are in the Pacific, and one of them is at home. Michel Bourez, world champion? Now that would be a world I’d like to inhabit almost as much as my planet full of Beyoncés. The fly kick to snap me out of this dream, however, may not come from Solange Knowles in an elevator at the Standard Hotel, but from Kelly Slater at Cloudbreak. 

Photo: ASP / Kirstin

Photo: ASP / Kirstin

More Features by Sean Doherty

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