Sean Doherty On... Steph, Jordy, Trestles, and Title Races
Reverse! Motion! Incomplete! – The Hurley and Swatch Pros at Trestles, 2014
By Sean Doherty
Halfway through Kelly Slater’s quarterfinal this morning he zipped along, jiving awkwardly as the wave warped and wobbled, before launching himself into a doomed aerial move and falling like a 42-year-old should… without a shred of dignity. The great champion wiped out comically, and the discombobulated commentary didn’t know what to make of it.
“Reverse! Motion! Incomplete!” It was part Brick Tamland, part kick-block-punch, part major league Tourettes.
With the announcement this week that the sport of surfing is to be re-badged as the World Sports League and with this event on American soil amidst a sporting savannah roamed by giant carnivorous acronyms, the pressure was on to deliver something worthy of a cursory channel surf during the ad breaks of the NFL, NBA or MLB. For a surfing audience it was highly watchable, despite being on a hiding to nothing after the spectacles of J-Bay and Teahupoo. What a mainstream audience made of it all, however, is anyone’s guess.
But the commentary team weren't the only ones struggling to make sense of what’s been going on at Trestles this week. Good swell didn’t translate exactly into good surf, and you could count on one hand the number of surfers who looked at ease out in the Lowers line-up this week… and you couldn’t include Kelly amongst them, nor the guy who would eventually win the event.
Maybe the one surfer who looked truly at home out there today was Steph Gilmore. In fact, she may have won the dudes’ final if she’d stayed in the water and kept surfing. Halfway through her final with Sally Fitzgibbons something clicked and Steph came to the realisation she was no longer on a steezy super-8 film trip to Mexico, and was indeed in the middle of a World Title race.
She went bananas.
Her surfing had all the trademark grace of her super-8 Mexico trip, but it also had a fizz that’s largely been missing all year. It was style and substance, as she genuinely looked engaged in the moment. She proved today that when she’s in the groove she is the best female surfer that’s ever been, and when she clicks like she did this morning no one is getting near her.
For the girls the Title race gets curioser. As it’s done all year, the tour has seen one momentum shift after the next, one girl get a roll on only to lose their mojo. In order that sequence has gone Steph, Carissa, Sally, Tyler… and now back to Steph. It looks like their Title will go all the way to Honolua, and if that’s the case, after what we saw today it’s going to be tough to go past Stephanie.
Kelly looked off for the whole event… although you’d never know if you had the volume up on the broadcast. He’s been far from clinical all year, but he fell more at Trestles in a week than he’s fallen there in a decade. Instead of relying on his predictable magic out there he had to grift and fight and rely on a bit of luck to make it to the semi finals… yet make it to the semis he did. He made ground on Medina, took Parko out of the race in the process, and tapped Gabe on the shoulder and reminded him that he’s still there. In Gabe’s head there is one scenario he desperately wants to avoid, and that’s the Title going to Pipe with Kelly still in the race. That’s happened the past two seasons and Kelly has lost. It’s unlikely to happen for a third.
Gabe was an interesting study at Trestles. The pressure of being frontrunner was palpable. He looked desperate at times, steely at others. His plan to launch into the northerly air wind never really worked as the right side of the peak dominated all week, but Gabe not only adapted to the waves, he adapted probably better than anyone to the nuances of the judging. Without nearing his best he made the quarters and he’s so far ahead that from this point quarters will be enough. He’ll win the World Title barring an early round slip up in either of the next events. A little footnote here… as number one seed in France, there’s a good chance he’ll meet the lowest seed in the event, an obscure Californian freesurfer named Dane Reynolds.
The judging also seemed a little lost. Judging controversies have been conspicuous by their absence, and by and large they’ve had their best year in a long while, but privately the surfers were at a loss as to what the judges wanted to see at Trestles this week. It was expected they would demand the future, but when Filipe Toledo delivered just that in round three with a hugely corked backhand air rev – straight into an upside-down closeout reo, thanks very much – the clearest 10 of the year came up short. It was followed soon after by Gabe Medina snowboarding lazily at 70 per cent for almost the same score. Different heats, apples and oranges, sure, but there were big numbers being thrown down for surfing you’d expect at Bells, not Trestles.
While most of the guys seemed to be fighting the line-up all week, John John proved the exception to the rule. He dropped from the skies like a falling cat, launching downwind with brains in his feet, his toes knowing exactly where his board is going to be at all times. But beyond his air game he also surfed some great rail, hinged at the hips allowing him to jam swooping ten-metre turns into a two-metre radius.
This correspondent’s prediction of the event being dominated by old bastards proved on the money when the ancient corpse of Florence and that wheezing old geezer Jordy Smith both surfed through to make the final. The fact John John didn’t win was yet another confusing aspect of this event, because right down to the dying seconds, right down to Jordy’s under-surfed last wave, it looked like the Hawaiian would collect a long overdue win. Instead – and fittingly – things got weird in the last minute and Jordy’s wave was deemed enough, Rosy Hodge interviewed him, and it was all very naaaaaace indeed.
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