Sean Doherty On The Golden Calculator

31 Oct 2015 7 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Watching the final of the Portuguese event last night I wondered what someone from, say, from the year 2000 – that most futuristic of years now 15 years in the past – would’ve made of it all.

Spinning Brazilian ninjas on a desolate, post-apocalyptic sea with a giant corporate mothership having landed in the dunes nearby, amid the ruins of an ancient seafaring race. Where was the Dream Tour? Where were the palm trees and tubes? What the hell happened?

Likewise, if you’d asked someone from just last week to imagine what the final day of the Portuguese event would look like, they could never have imagined the unlikely freakshow it turned into… a Star Wars bar of backmarkers and wildcards – household names like Morais, Asing, Simpson, Ribeiro – and two guys surfing to stay alive in the world title. Last week your columnist boldly eulogised the world title race after Julian Wilson and Owen Wright were dispatched in anaemic surf, and yet here we are. After Filipe Toledo’s win last night, the world title race is now suddenly looking like the Republican primary.

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Glory in all high, Toledo is chaired up the beach, Photo by Scholtz / WSL

Glory in all high, Toledo is chaired up the beach, Photo by Scholtz / WSL

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“Toledo handled the confounding conditions in Peniche with panache.” The WSL press copywriters really A-gamed today. I can imagine the warm glow from the author as “Peniche” and “panache” followed each other onto the page, although “confounding” was a generous adjective to describe the surf. It was a shit show out there... soupy straighthanders that improved just enough on the high tide to mercifully finish the final. What made the final day even more maddening was the fact that on the other side of peninsula formed by the town of Peniche, the waves had been on the cook for days with just seagulls for company.

While the rest of the day was reduced to simply scouring the Supertubes lineup for a wave that didn’t closeout, the final was had a bit more pop. Filipe Toledo and Italo Ferreira taking off into the breeze and spinning furiously was all stunt wires, all Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.

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Toledo is something else. Fundamentally, the Brazilian kid surfs so differently to everyone else on tour. His surfing is short and explosive, the result of growing up with an air game as the end goal. His perfect 10 today on the back of two big air revs demonstrated why he, more than anyone else, is changing the paradigm of the tour. Eternally locked in a battle between Old World and New World surfing values, a battle that has been dominated by the Old World in recent years, Toledo has delivered the kind of surfing on tour that we’ll look back on in 15 years and remember as truly pivotal. Sure, he’s gone MIA in the Old World events during the middle of the year, and the pens will be sharpened heading into Pipe on this front, but after watching him when he’s really on, like in the final at Snapper and the final today, I’m happy to let that slide and just enjoy the show.

But my favourite surfer this year is the guy who lost the final today.

I remember back in March when I got in the lift at my apartment in Coolangatta and the doors were shutting, a hand reached in, soon followed by its diminutive, swarthy owner. I had no idea it was of course Italo Ferreira, even after seven floors of awkward surfing small talk. I just thought he was one of the several thousand itinerant Brazilians who have posted up there, with no inkling he was about to paddle out a day later and beat Kelly Slater. Once discovering who he was, I found newfound admiration for him as he ground his legs down to stumps on the reef in Fiji, and like clockwork kept making quarters. Like Toledo, his surfing almost begins in the air and works back from there, but he’s far more well-rounded. And like Toledo, no one else on tour surfs like him. He’s got this incredibly upright and quiet upper body, while downstairs all sorts of crazy shit is going down. His wave sense is great, he surfs with real drive, and while Toledo has looked lost on the reefs and points, Italo has seemed right at home.

Italo powers up, Photo by Poullenot /WSL

Italo powers up, Photo by Poullenot /WSL

With Toledo dropping the 10 early in the final, backed up by a seven, and seemingly doing as he pleased, there was only one way for Italo to go. When he launched into the wind on his backhand, it looked like he was about to fly away like a kiteboarder headed for powerlines. He hung up there for a week, defying physics, eventually deciding it was time to come down and land cleanly.

I don’t have a calculator in front of me, but if Italo had won last night I’m figuring he’d be going into Pipe with a shot at the title in his rookie year. That’s something right there.

Speaking of calculations, the fun and games began immediately the final wrapped up. Just four years ago, and with only two guys in the world title race, the then-ASP managed to botch the numbers using a 64K computer housed in an entire room at ASP headquarters, awarding the title to Kelly a heat early. I’m sure they crunched the numbers on the golden calculator a little more judiciously last night before publishing the world title scenarios.

And so then there were only… six!?

Yep, six. In order, Fanning, Toledo, De Souza, Medina, Wright and Wilson will surf off for the title at Pipe.

It’s a wild scenario, a great one for pro surfing, although it might lose a little traction for the WSL brass considering the six are comprised of three Australians and three Brazilians. There is no mainland Americans. No Hawaiians. And, probably most disappointing of all, no Kelly. The fact he’s not in the mix, alongside the fact that Pipe now runs like any other ‘CT event with only two Hawaiian wildcards, opens this thing right up.

The colour-by-numbers storyline heading into any Pipe showdown is to single out any challenger who hasn’t dedicated his entire life to becoming a Pipe specialist and paint them as a lamb to the slaughter. Like Frodo Baggins heading to Mordor. A guy who Jamie O’Brien or Kelly or John John is going to make look silly out there. But that storyline rarely plays out anymore. Last year that guy was Medina, and look what happened.

All I can say, is I dare you to pick a winner. Get in and buckle up. This’ll be good.

SEE ALSO: A Roadtrip With Michael Peterson & Michael Ho

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