Nick Carroll: Just Hang on a Minute

29 May 2019 18 Share

Nick Carroll

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Dorsey

Photo: WSL/Dorsey

COASTALWATCH | NICK CARROLL

Steph Gilmore's 15 Seconds of True Greatness

The carnival’s moving on. Today it begins again, in Margaret River. People will rip, other people will kinda bog, the rankings will change. By the look of the forecast, a lotta boards will be broken.

But just for a few hours, before the wheel spins again, before the dogs bark and everyone moves on, I want to have another look at that wave.

Steph Gilmore is head and shoulders the best Australian surfer today, maybe the best in the world. She was sure as hell the best surfer at Keramas, by a fair margin. At 31 years of age, she is fully grown into her adult body and knows exactly how its movements affect her surfboard and its relationship to the wave. It was one big difference between Steph and men’s winner Kanoa Igarashi, who is still young and not quite used to his stronger adult body, still a little unsure of it; Kanoa would go to the lip and stutter ever so slightly, retreating into the slip-and-slide of the gifted teenager, rather than moving forward into the fully-built turn of his future self.

There’s a dry word for it: proprioception. The connection between mind and body and intention.

But that’s too dry a word for what Steph did on that wave.

Watching it, for that 15 seconds or so, I felt as if I were seeing the entire tedious gender barrier erased: seeing instead in the midst of the sporting moment, an entire art form summoned forth. Every turn original yet every turn an echo.

Steph’s first turn on that wave went a little earlier than the viewer’s eye expected. Go back and have a look at the movie Tubular Swells, and a sequence of Michael Peterson at Bells Beach, and you will see that exact turn occur. MP feeling something in the wave telling him to go just that fraction early, not quite off the wave base but just above it, and thus getting to the lip a fraction early and squeezing the top turn to get back down the face – timing that turn to fit the next.

Then the next, the stall. Holy shit. I thought in that moment, she is seeing something we can’t see here, from our camera angle. Maybe water draining off a flat piece of reef just ahead, the dark hard flat water pulling off the lava. But doing it like that? You can’t THINK of doing that, there’s no time. It has to be engraved in you, in your mitochondrial DNA, an unbreakable link in the chain. It was 50 years of Australian surfing in a blink. It was Baddy Treloar kick-stalling at Angas in Morning of the Earth. It was lil bro, stopping the 7’10” Rawson dead at the centre of Pipeline’s first reef. It was Wayne Deane at Kirra, Parko behind the rock at Snapper.

There’s a wonderful bullfighter-ish elan in the kick stall tube combo. It’s like a dare you’re playing on the wave. There’s even more of a rush in pulling it off. It might be the best feeling in surfing. You could see that feeling in every line of Steph’s body as she drew her weight a little up and off the board. She had a moment of glory emerging from the moment, then saw the lip ahead and fell right into the next moment like she’d been waiting for it all her life. The end section of Keramas had been destroying people all day yet nobody all contest, including Steph herself, did anything more surely and perfectly than the finishing move on that wave.

It was the best-ridden wave of the year, yet even saying it sounds dumb. You can surf for decades and barely touch the hem of that garment. But you know that feeling, if only for a flash of a second.

Steph’s the keeper of the flame right now. Her surfing is the fine edge of sport and art combined. If you’re a parent and your kid wants to be a good surfer – better still, if you’re the kid and you want to see the art at work, along with the sport – forget gender. Just sit down and watch.


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