Sean Doherty On: J-Bay Finals Day

6 Jul 2018 2 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari

SURFING WORLD | SEAN DOHERTY

“Nicole” – after Nicole Kidman – was the name of first tagged great white shark tracked between Africa and Australia, proving the existence of a migration route across the Indian Ocean. She was tagged off Gansbaai in the Western Cape, before her tag dropped off 99 days later off the coast of Exmouth, Western Australia. That’s 11,000 kilometres give or take, a fair swim, proving the same sharks that cruise say, Jeffreys Bay could be cruising, say… Margaret River.

You know exactly where I’m heading with this.

That’s twice in three days a big white has cruised through the lineup here at J-Bay, today’s shark causing the event be put on hold for half an hour during the first quarterfinal. That’s every year now since Mick Fanning almost became hot lunch back in 2015 that we’ve had a visit. And yet back in April the event at Margaret River was cancelled outright without a shark seen in the lineup at all, effectively ending the event permanently. I can only imagine the Western Australian Tourism Minister watching surfers being immediately sent back out today, having paid a million bucks to have Margaret River become the new Amity Island.

Welcome to a living ocean, a problem we won’t encounter in Lemoore later this year, but it’s an issue the league is struggling to drop hard policy on. Again, today the shark cruising through the lineup was almost treated like half time entertainment. The shark is the new dolphin. They joked about it swimming through the breakfast buffet, they shoo-shooed it away, and off they went again.

For the record, I reckon today’s response is closest to the right one. Do the best you can, ask the surfers, double check the fine print on your insurance policy and then keep surfing. No one wants to lose J-Bay from the tour, and if you’re that paranoid about sharks that you start cancelling everything that remotely has a shark threat, you won’t have a tour. Move beyond that to anything remotely dangerous, like a coral reef for instance, then you won’t have a sport. But it’s more double standard in regards to Margies that’s the issue at hand here. It’s kind of staggering.

Wade Carmichael, who was in the water when the shark was spotted, wanted to go over and “check the big boy out”. I don’t think Gabby Medina, whose public lobbying had been a big part in getting Margies cancelled, thought the same way. Carmichael – Avoca Jesus – was leading the heat with Conner Coffin when the "big boy" showed up with a minute to go, and just had to hang on when they restarted. Again, his interview was a classic. A quick cheeee-haw to the crew back home and off he went to the semis.

Neither Jordy nor Julian have been anywhere near their best this week, and one of them needed to fire up, which would be tricky in the conditions. The waves were half the size of yesterday, and as a result on the lower tide were running tight to the point and quick as a tracer shot. They had half the energy and twice the speed, and along with a bit of residual crumble from the morning devil wind made doing anything but racing down the line difficult.

Jordy cruised slower than the morning’s white shark on his first wave, then fell when the wave didn’t push back. Julian didn’t start any better, and it wasn’t till the first real sets of the day moved the wave out off the point that anything got rolling. The judges took forever with scores. Like the surfers they were working in tighter margins today. Jordy, on the back of the hometown support, finally sprung to life. Julian was drawn off the bottom but short off the top. He fell on a final alley-oop and handed the yellow jersey to Toledo… who you’d think on recent form will hand it back in Tahiti.

Phil must’ve been licking his lips though. The quickest surfer in the field with the best air game, surfing double-speed J-Bay with an onshore crumble. He started doing his thing. Short, vicious rail, carving down to fire himself down the line, before the inevitable inverted forehand air rev, stomped cold in the flats. But then the ocean clicked and Medina started getting sets. Gabe’s nine was a nine, though Pottz started an ideological debate over backhand turns versus forehand airs that Joe was never going to counter.

Igarashi lived up to the billing as the event’s sleeper in the last quarter. Noted Mexican/Australian surf critic Miguel Sparkés had decried the proliferation of two, three, four and even five-stage bottom turns during this event. It’s been eating away at him and he’s been savage in his commentary. No one has been spared… with the exception of Kanoa Igarashi. Miguel would never summon a Curren comparison with anyone, not even Curren himself, but he went close after watching Igarashi’s quarterfinal. The kid’s bottom turn was a string line from a fixed point, and he’d be a handful for Toledo.

“Jordy, you biscuit.” I couldn’t tell if this comment from the broadcast feed was an encouragement, an online stalk, or some kind of provincial write-off, but either way there was some pressure on the big guy. In an underperforming season, he had a real chance to win his home event… he just had to get through Avoca Jesus first. The tag has stuck for Wade Carmichael, although someone threw up “Gosford Grug” as another option. By this stage the tide had come in, the new swell kicked in and it started looking a lot like yesterday. With more room to move, it was advantage Jordy.

Or so you’d think. If you can pick any trend in the judging over the past four days it’s a leaning toward anything snapped or jammed as opposed to drawn out. Toledo might be responsible here. They’ve looked more at the turns themselves and less at what happens between them. Jordy wasn’t at his best, but suffered from what Parko used to. He looked like he was idling, and he was disguising his own turns by flowing between them. Carmichael surfed a bit tippy off the bottom, but went hard at his turns. To his surprise, Jordy fell half a point short on his winning wave. He then tried a failed superman on what also could have been a winning wave.

Toledo’s first wave in his semi was followed immediately by a text from Surfing World editor Mike Jennings, simply saying, “I love Filipe Toledo.” It was a bold declaration, but both the judging panel and myself were there with him. Phil flew down the line so fast you felt his skeleton might break free and surf the rest of the wave without his body. But after a couple of snaps it was the rail… short rail, long rail, down rail, take your pick… the most creatively choreographed turns we’ve seen all event, finished with a seamless figure-eight carve-to-re-entry. I was ready to give him the trophy and so was he, dropping Vince Carter’s “It’s over” claim soon after when he dropped a second nine.

The staunch local crowd reluctantly watched on without their boy in the final, and it took Toledo to start dancing down the point to bring them into it. He pirouetted out of his first turn, lit up a couple more before finding the only tube of the day. It looked like Carmichael was toast until Toledo fell on his second wave and Carmichael monstered the wave after. He floated his first turn, but if you’re going to float, you need to go big, and Carmichael almost floated onto the wave behind. He then lined up Toledo who was paddling back out and snapped squarely on top of his head, then kept on snapping. It was full of aggro and put him back into the final both on the scoreboard and psychologically.

Wade’s problem was that the ocean then stopped, and by the time it came back to life he had he’d been sitting there so long he fell on his first turn. And that was it. Toledo had won J-Bay for the second time, equalling Jake Paterson, Parko and Jordy if you will, a J-Bay made man. His win mightn’t have scrambled our brains the way it did last year – which was a bolt of lightning from a clear blue sky – but this win has shaken up the paradigm again, and he leaves J-Bay leading the tour.

He now heads to Tahiti. But he already knows that.

Sean Doherty's reports from WSL events appear first on surfingworld.com.au, where you can find his writing on the rest of the comp too.

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