Sean Doherty: The Lemoore Pro-AM

20 Sep 2019 1 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

2019 Freshwater Pro, Day 1

Despite the Iranians and the Saudis currently throwing stones at each other, and despite prophecies of a Great Oil War dating back to when Nostradamus was in short pantaloons, it feels the next great war will not be fought over oil, but water.

It certainly feels like it here in Australia right now. It’s bone dry. Angourie was burning last week. My house is being circled by bats who’ve been driven to the coast by the drought. But nowhere does dry like Central California, and as the screen shimmered this morning there it was… the freshwater oasis of Kelly’s wave tub. When all the aquifers have been drained and the Great Water War has been fought, the Surf Ranch will make a perfect outpost for the last survivors, Fury Road style. I’m seeing Kelly as Immortan Joe, surfing across the last freshwater in the world as a ragtag bunch of thirsty survivors gather around holding cups to catch the precious fresh water falling from his turns. I digress…

Opening day in Lemoore kinda feels like a pro-am. Everyone’s been light-on for pool time, and it doesn’t feel like anyone’s surfing beyond 80 per cent. Opening rides are nursed. The backmarkers are paranoid of falling. The best guys want to keep their powder dry. There’s a big chasm between them in the tub.

When the tour’s first legitimate wavepool event was held here last year, we hypothesised that with a uniform canvas there were maybe six guys tops who could win this event. That hypothesis proved bang on. Let’s walk through the exercise again for this year. Gabby, Phil, Italo, Julian, Jordy, Kelly… with Griff, Dora, Kolohe Igarashi and Callinan as smokies. Bluntly, all things being equal in the tub, that’s the cold reality.

“To be honest, it’s a circus… I have a hard time taking this event seriously,” said Jeremy Flores post-heat, candid and comfortable in the realisation that he’s not one of the six. If the pool had an eight-foot Teahupoo setting things would be very different, but Jeremy knows it is what it is. He’s been on tour long enough to haughtily dismiss the pool and be thinking already of France. The fact it’s an elite facility even sits at odds with some of surfing’s elite. The bottom guys have no chance against the top, which has resulted in some residual egginess about the pool even being on tour. It’s an event made for 12 guys… not 36.

After warming up on his opening left and right, Griff Colapinto transformed into Colin Peligroso, contorting into a backhand tube for a 7.50. He then hit an eight on the right, points of difference being coping slides and snap stalls. You need to remember the clip of Griff surfing here last year. What… you already forgot about him reverse parking into the tube? That session remains the benchmark for someone toying with that wave. Griff’s surfing suits the pool… and Griff himself suits the pool. It’s not a macho, alpha, fist pumping gladiator pit… it’s a fun park. I hope Griff keeps that in mind. This event needs a party boy and I hope he’s got some tricks on ice.

Peter Mel said something interesting in commentary. Not sure how much was lost in the paraphrasing of it, but he quoted Head Judge Pritamo Ahrendt who’d said at the start of the day he didn’t want to see surfers waiting for sections before doing turns. As I watched guys neurotically tapping the lip putting turns where they didn’t belong, counting turns, the waves that begun to stand out were the ones with some space between the notes. If you removed the two tube sections from this pool, you’d have something pretty close to a freshwater Bells – fast, flat and unforgiving – and the secret to surfing Bells well has always been surf east-to-west. Surf it down the line until the section is there. The fact they’ve slowed the plow at Lemoore and shortened the first tube section has opened it up on turns, but the waves with breathing space between turns today were the more compelling.

Both Gabby and Italo shortened as favourites after their runs. Once it gets down to the finals the crumbly left will separate them, and these guys own it. It’s a huge advantage to surf the onshore left on your forehand. Both of them are using a slashing backhand bottom turn as a stalling mechanism. Theatrical but highly effective. Neither broke second gear but are locks for the final day. Gabby ended with casual Kerrupt flip, maybe just to give the other guys something to sleep on. He came in and thanked God for the win, before Ronnie Blakey chipped that around these parts he needs to thank Kelly instead.

Kelly was an interesting study. At the Surf Ranch? Who’d believe?! But with the benefit of several thousand runs with just the gardeners watching on, nobody looks better in and around the pocket, backhand or forehand. He won’t have the chops to keep up with the young guys on the final turn, so he’s got find some way to get them in the middle of the pool. It might be worth rolling the dice on the 5’5” two-plus-one he rode on his final two waves today. He commented afterwards the rail line felt too short, but the aesthetic of that little board pinballing around the pocket gave him an immediate point of difference. He’s probably got a choice to make. He can surf within himself and still make the final eight… or he can take a chance to win it. 

While you could fit the potential winners of the men’s into a jacuzzi, the women’s event is wiiiiiiide open. New Zealand’s Paige Hareb has barely got out of a heat all year but suddenly looked like a world champion on her first run. It only got better from there. Johanne Defay pulled into a forehand tube after fluffing a turn, but as the camera started to look for her getting washed up onto the sand-coloured vinyl beach she popped out the tube instead. It was a miraculous make. I’m not sure any of the guys could have done it. Suddenly she looked good, as did Lakey Peterson and Steph. It’s been said before that while it’s got limitations as a contest wave for the guys, as a venue for the women it’s the best on tour.

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