Nick Carroll: How One Turn Shut Out 10 Days of Confusion at the Billabong Pipe Masters

22 Dec 2020 4 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Heff

Photo: WSL/Heff

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

Well I guess we now all know who’s in line for the world titles in 2021.

Whatever else it did, this sensationally weird and unpredictable event — or really, series of events — ended up doing its one real job in the most magnificently predictable fashion imaginable.

You couldn’t watch that final day — or I couldn’t — without thinking the finalists in both men’s and women’s are the surfers destined to fight it out down the track. JJF vs Gabriel, Tyler vs Carissa. It’s a script that scarcely needs to be written.

But let’s pause here for a moment, and go back to what the HELL happened six days ago.

The moment when this contest stopped dead in its tracks, and nobody involved with it said a WORD. For nearly a week.

Here’s what happened, according to a number of sources behind the scenes:

After WSL CEO Erik Logan and a number of the event staff had tested positive to the SARS-COV-19 virus, the Hawaii State Department of Health took charge.

They were in charge of clearing the event because of the way it’d been permitted: as a film set, not a surfing contest.

The WSL had applied for a film permit to run the event because sporting events are not able to be permitted in public locations right now. Beaches are public locations. Thus, film.

Photo: WSL/Keoki

Photo: WSL/Keoki

But, well, you can imagine the hoops everyone involved had had to jump through to make this happen. Many many promises had to be made. A lot of fingers had to be crossed. Sadly, nobody was able to consult the virus itself. SARS-COV-19 was not on board with these promises and permits, and its sudden presence caused a lot of angst behind the scenes.

The Dept of Health’s checks found no further infections, and they quickly cleared the event for resumption. However, the permitting authority and a number of political figures were totally furious about it. The WSL found itself walking on tiny little eggshells, cleared or not.

This is why they dared not say a word for five days — because they were worried that the wrong word said publicly might cruel a pitch that suddenly looked very delicate.

No professional surfing contest had carried the weight of this one. It was a resumption of a tour that’d given up on the year altogether, back in July. It HAD to work.

It had to work doubly because of the dreadful events of 10 days earlier on Maui, when the amakua took a human life, and shut the girls out of their Honolua safety zone and threw them into the Pipeline bear pit.

Not before time, by the way. For all the talk about “historical” etc, it felt to me like the women at Pipe looked massively overdue — something that should have happened years ago. A generation ago, even. The people called in by the commentary team to explain it all to us, Rochelle Ballard, Kate Skarratt and Megan Abubo, could have done it without blinking. Ever wonder why six men have perfect 20/20 heats, and no women? It’s because the women have been starved of locations where you can pull a 20/20. When a girl gets a perfect heat score at Pipe, that’ll be historical.

Nonetheless it was cool to see Carissa get those shacks in the semis, and Tyler stay calm enough to seal the win.

Photo: WSL/Heff

Photo: WSL/Heff

Yet the whole day went past without a word about the five days of silence. According to the viewer tag, 16,000 people watched this on FB alone. Do you guys realise we were wondering what went on? Do you have any idea how insane it makes us that you can’t find a way to take your fans into your confidence?

Then someone like John John does a turn like he did on the second wave of his semifinal heat, and it all withers into inconsequentiality.

That one turn was the whole point of this contest.

KS had done something slightly masterful himself only minutes before — came out of a tricky little front door pit, and put the little board he was riding on to a rail par excellence, with all of his 40 years of timing and prowess behind it.

Notice he dropped the wacky little twin fin for this heat. This board was a knife.

The turn far exceeded the barrel, but the panel didn’t even blink. John upped it on the next ride, used his own level of savvy to kick out and regain priority, then snared a sick little Backdoor pit off the champ.

Watching JJF pick up this wave, I thought, imagine how many times he has done this at this spot? The actual wave selection, the delayed set-up, watching the wave and the reef. Crazy levels of familiarity.

But the turn was not familiar at all. The commentary was all, “So powerful!” It wasn’t power, it was timing, and flawless weighting. There was no body English in that turn, just a pure commitment to it. Everything was on the back third of the inside rail, every single ounce of John’s body weight edged on to it.

Turns like that are why I retain a fundamental belief in surfing competition. It has a unique ability to put the acid on a surfer’s performance. There’s maybe two dozen surfers in the world who could show you something approaching that turn. But it’d take them two weeks of trying, and six or seven sessions.

Photo: WSL/Keoki

Photo: WSL/Keoki

They would show you the video part, and act like they do that stuff every day, every wave. But they do not. They don’t casually regain priority off Kelly Slater after out-scoring him. They don’t easily out-position him for a wave at Backdoor so he can’t steal their thunder, then rack up a three second barrel and do that turn.

They just don’t.

That’s why JJF has two world titles and they have none. That’s why he’s now the favourite in 2021.

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