Sean Doherty On: Cape Fiji
2016 FIJI PRO | Presented by Electric
Cut off from the outside world on this island outpost – no fans, no entourages, no girlfriends – this contest quickly becomes a self-contained social experiment. These guys literally are prisoners in paradise, and the behaviour gets more jailhouse by the day.
If you really wanna psychoanalyse this contest just watch the morning freesurf. That all-in pissing contest will tell you everything you need to know. Don’t even bother watching the heats. That dawn hour with everyone thrown out there together at Cloudbreak sorts the Lecters from the lambs and is a reliable guide for picking the guy who’ll be drinking from the golden kava bowl at the end of the week.
And there was bad blood out there this morning.
Gabe Medina jumped out of the longboat, and within a minute had flame-grilled Jordy Smith mercilessly on one of the few decent set waves that came through. Jordy responded by flicking his board in Gabe’s general direction before suffering a Tourette’s episode as the Brazilian as surfed off into the sunrise.
Who knew the blood run so hot on this sugary pro tour Wonka-land?
Gabe defended the barbecuing by saying Jordy had been a little keen for the inside the past few mornings… and so it goes. In this idyllic palm-fringed setting you need something to bitch about to maintain some kind of universal balance, and as the surfers come back to the island one-by-one for breakfast they’ll ritually unload on whoever they thought had been an asshole in the lineup that morning.
The news of a potential blood rivalry between two of surfing’s biggest stars was greeted with glee in the surfing world – it’s been a while between drinks – but the blood quickly cooled and Gabe and Jordy were soon seen hugging it out in a disgraceful display of sportsmanship.
Gabe kept the hot Latin blood simmering though when he paddled out for a tricky heat against Ryan Callinan.
Medina had been a preseason world title favourite, but – if his performances in Australia were anything to go by – had in the off-season seemingly forgot how to surf entirely. But then he turned up to his home event in Brazil, started doing backflips in heats and suddenly there he was again. He had some mad hustle this morning in his heat, cruised through with some alley-oops, pocket jams and – would you believe it – tubes. The commentary during the previous heat had declared the contest was now a hotdog contest and that no one would be getting tubed at Cloudbreak today. Gabe was in his tube so long he came out looking older than his pops, Charlie.
Fire has never been a problem for Gabe, but Jordy?
Sure, there were some tears after winning J-Bay a few years ago, but it just doesn’t seem like Jordy would kill for a win, especially so here in the Pacific where he’s disappeared without a trace in years past. And yet here he is, surfing the house down and throwing his board at rivals like a big ninja star. Does Jordy want this? Like really want it? Is Jordy a sleeper in the world title race? His next heat will answer that question for both Jordy and his opponent… Kelly. Where Kelly’s at is harder to read as he lives on an existential plane well beyond morning freesurfs.
But while Kelly will still be on tour in a decade, when the tour is held entirely in Kelly Slater wavepools and Kelly surfing them with his head grafted onto a cyborg body, the end is much closer for several other surfers. They ran a graphic of the 10 oldest guys on tour as I watched the broadcast on the island next to Adriano De Souza, who came in at number 10 on the list. I pointed out to him within a week he’d be up to number nine. I think he laughed.
With a combined age of 280, Mick Fanning paddled out against Kai Otton today. It was a battle of the old bones. The pair of course are roomies here on Namotu Island, have drawn each other a bunch of times in the past year, and always do so with a build up of high order shit talk. But today their battle seemed a little flat. It was so flat Otto didn’t even complain about the judging. While this event is all about Taj Burrow, it might also be Otto’s last event here in Fiji. Mick meanwhile, well… Mick’s next few years remain unclear, even to Mick, who is here in Fiji largely for Taj.
Mick looked crisp.
His closeout turn over knee-deep water won him the heat, as the judges had a real thing today for the dry-reef finish. Otto went straight back to Namotu and tried to book a flight home tonight. He wanted to see his kids, he wanted to chase the swell back home on the Australian east coast, and he just didn’t feel like celebrating anything. He was one keystroke from being on the plane this afternoon, but instead closed the laptop, picked up a beer in one hand and a fishing rod in the other and walked off to go fishing. It’s a hard place to tear yourself away from.
Taj advised punters last week to not put him in their Fantasy Surfer teams. He figured there might be more action for him in the bar at Namotu than out at Cloudbreak, but today he surfed like he’d put himself in his own team. The Burrow backhand whip remains today one of the best in the business and he cruised through a danger heat with Caio Ibelli to keep the Festival of Taj alive for a few more days.
As your correspondent wraps this up, the Festival is in full swing in the Namotu bar. The island contingent is sitting in front of the Cape Fear event, which is being broadcast live from Sydney, where houses are falling into the ocean and the waves are proper deadly. Taj started drinking “Gary Abletts” – beer with a coffee shot, which might be a Bondi thing – but has since moved onto Margaritas. After watching one of the guys pull into a 12-foot, dry closeout, Wilko chips to Taj, “He’s got kids and shit!” Taj replies, laughing, “Well, as a father now I’d never put my family though that.”
It’s looking flat for the next few days at least, and this event is unlikely to become Cape Fiji. As a result, things are presently getting colonial. WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow has just walked into the bar and Mick Fanning yelled, “Boys we’re officially off tomorrow!”
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