Sean Doherty: Balinese White Magic

25 May 2019 2 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Dunbar

Photo: WSL/Dunbar

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

Finals Day at the Corona Bali Protected

While in downtown Jakarta they’ve been flipping cars and torching them, things have been a little more sedate east of the Bukit. In Jakarta supporters of General Prabowo have taken to the streets protesting the election results. They’ve been running amok… a local Bahasa word meaning “psychic disturbance characterised by depression followed by a manic urge to murder”. Would the Komune resort run amok if Kelly Slater didn’t win today? Would hospitality golf carts be flipped and set on fire? The Kelly narrative was being sold hard to the masses, and with Agung rumbling in the background the magic hung thick in the air like burning tyres. 

Last day of the waiting period, but if the first heat of the day, the leftover women’s quarter final, was anything to go by it was worth the wait. Nikki Van Dijk tubed on the bell on a doubled-up insider. “The surf is getting better and better!” Joe speaks the truth! Wade Carmichael had been unstoppable in Bali. He could eat from any cholera cart, drink tap water, and just keep on rolling. He was the form surfer below the lip line, so there was no way he was going to lose on the top of the swell.

Unless of course it went flat. The tide bottomed out during his heat with Michael Rodrigues and it barely broke, went wobbly, and the inside bowl started eating itself. Keramas suddenly had all the verisimilitude of Joe Turpel’s Bahasa game and Avoca Jesus sat there for 20 minutes before finding a couple of two footers. It was a shame. Carmichael is both the archetype and maybe the future of Australian surfing. During the week I surfed with Brendan Margieson. Margo. While we surfed Margo kept talking about Carmichael. Loves him. He loves his no bullshit power surfing, but he loves his no bullshit career path as well. No huge sponsor. No coach. No worries. Margo’s young guy, Micah is the Australian junior champ, and Margo is trying to help him navigate a career path. He likes Carmichael’s style. Low key deadly.

The following heat between Jeremy and Brother suffered from the tide as well. Jeremy aced it on the bell with a tube. This was the cue for Kelly.

Watching days of WSL clips talking up the Slater-Toledo heat was giving me Bali Belly. It was a cheap read, as the real battle of course was Kelly against himself. Kelly’s not resigned to a valedictory lap, he’s not just going out gracefully, which means he needs to not only win this year, he’s got to keep his surfing on point. Surfing against Toledo would show where he was at.

Kelly at his best however was never going to beat Toledo… if Toledo got to the air. The path to victory for Kelly was simply – tube-to-wrap and repeat. Kelly saw that last wave for Jeremy and it was game on. Kelly didn’t come out of the first, but the second was a bomb, and he came out clean enough to wrap it 180 as the inside stepped out. After 50 years on tour, that wrap remains the turn he does better than everyone else. The surfing chops were there, but there was some subtle subterfuge that was missed on the broadcast. Paddling back out, Kelly encountered Toledo on the next wave. As Phil threaded the tube Kelly paddled straight through his line, straight in front of him. Toledo popped out anyway, but it was more a window into where Kelly’s at.

For his part, Toledo surfed a terrible heat. As Pottz rightly pointed out, the only way Kelly could win is if Toledo played Kelly’s game and that’s exactly what he did. He tried to match him tube-for-tube. He tried two air revs all heat and was zero-for-two. He got lost out there, when all he needed were two good mid-trackers, two made airs and a little hot rail. Instead he paddled around out there like he was going around the Dewa Ruci roundabout in Kuta.

Photo: WSL/Dunbar

Photo: WSL/Dunbar

The waves cooked for the women’s semis, and they showed that in perfect surf, pragmatism wins over perfection.

The Sally-Brissa heat was the best of the day to that point. Brissa Hennessy took down Carissa Moore late yesterday, and the rookie Hawaiian/Costa Rican/Fijian has pedigree in good surf… and this was good surf. She was willing more than anyone to throw herself at the inside section. Sal was smarter, surfed short rail and surfed what was in front of her for the win. Sal doesn’t surf classically, but Keramas, despite the Indo aesthetics, ain’t a classic wave. Steph meanwhile should have lost. Gilmore winning heats in good waves is not a corollary of Gilmore’s dreamy Indo video edits. Steph got lucky that Nikki Van Dijk seemed overcome. It was too good, and too clean. The perfection panicked her. The better the waves got, the further away she seemed from winning.

The final four for the men were an odd bunch. Not one favourite, nobody in the top 10, and nobody – with the exception of Kanoa Igarashi – who had any real formline during this event. Until the final there wasn’t an air made all day, and only a handful attempted. Jeremy Flores was always going to tube ride Michael Rodrigues to death, and that’s exactly what happened.

There is something going on with Kanoa Igarashi. He’s been in Bali three weeks now and seems to have been possessed by some kind of Balinese white magic. You heard his post-heats? He’s been speaking in tongues. You checked out his Twitter feed? “We’re all in a simulation. I believe a higher power is controlling us. Accept it and be grateful when things are going your way.” As his heat with Kelly Slater started it did appear he was being controlled by a higher power. Kelly. Kanoa went for a giant, unmakeable club sandwich on his opening wave, and you just knew he only went for it because he was surfing against Kelly. It wasn’t about making the turn it was about making a statement. One of the truisms of Kelly’s career is that the other guy loses as much as Kelly wins. The old Slater Black Magic.

Igarashi snapped out of it and went back on turns. He’s had the biggest turns and the best combos all week. Kelly’s Aipa had been key all week but skipped out at a vital moment, in between an outside and inside barrel. In replay it was more Kelly than the board, but it turned a 9 into a 7 and switched the momentum in the heat. Still, Bali was good for Kelly. Three events in he’s got a semi and a quarter, with three pet events to come… J-Bay, Tahiti and Pipe. He leaves Bali rated…. He finishes as one of the top two Americans this year he goes to the Olympics.

The big danger for Sally Fitzgibbons is that Steph Gilmore would get her waves and forget about the final and just surf. Sal could maybe get her with a couple of tubes, but the tide was on the make, and it wasn’t nearly as hollow as it had been an hour earlier. Sally completely lost her wave radar as a result. She started looking for waves – and tubes – that weren’t there. It wouldn’t matter. By now Steph was on. There was nothing pragmatic about Steph’s 10. The critical jam under the lip left her perfectly placed, but the kick stall into the tube was the kicker. It was Tom Carroll at G-Land, and she was shot out of it like a cannonball. It was a 10 before she cleaned up the close out section as well. She leads the tour again, but more importantly has her groove back.

Igarashi has been the best surfer in this event, with the possible exception of his first heat where he only caught a solitary one-pointer. But nobody has paced themselves on the wave here and threaded better combos. All of that was there on his nine pointer halfway through the final. The judges, who’d crushed everything all week, finally felt liberated enough to start throwing some numbers. Jeremy meanwhile fell into the same trap as Sally, chasing tubes that weren’t there. You can’t blame him. On turns and on form Igarashi was the guy. Once he got the nine and a backup five he started freestyling, much like his Twitter feed. He almost landed a Kerrupt flip. He landed a whip-quick air rev.

But Jeremy didn’t lay down. He torched a set wave, zapped the lip for a nine. Game back on. Kanoa sensed the white magic turning black. In the end Jez fell a point shy on his last two waves and that was it. Kanoa punched his board, punched himself, and there he was, the champion of Keramas.

I remember being in G-Land almost 10 years ago now, and Kanoa was there as a whiny little kid, crying with urchin spines in his feet. The other kids – Mikey Wright, Leo Fioravanti, and Jack Robbo – made fun of him. And even when he made the Pipe final a few years back it was almost dismissible. It was four foot Pipe. But after today, well, the guy is real.

Photo: WSL/Dunbar

Photo: WSL/Dunbar


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