SEAN DOHERTY: Wild Days in the Valley

28 Nov 2018 0 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Pic: WSL

Pic: WSL

Hard act to follow, yesterday.

This morning the buoys had dropped and the ocean felt a bit second-hand and the wind was whipping out of the valley and there were no more world titles to win, so things on Maui felt a little flat after the primal display of Jaws and the blissed out vibes of Honolua yesterday.

Man, didn’t that just shake things up a little?

Criticism of the women’s event yesterday cost me a bit of sleep last night. There were a few donuts on the scoreboard, sure. There were just two waves made in the final. But it was 40-foot and building and they were out there! That was the win. They weren’t up to it? Well, there’s a very fucking exclusive club of surfers who actually are up to it, man or woman. Like I said yesterday, if you want equality, 40-foot Jaws is a great equaliser.

And poor old Snips has taken some heat for calling it off yesterday, only to have Albee Layer paddle into the wave of the day, then have Kai Lenny toy with it on a tow/hoverboard. A big wave event called off due to big waves. Half the field were in, half were out… and in that case I think I’d go with Snips. On a day like that, the cowboy nature of what these guys do goes head-to-head with a risk and liability culture and phone book sized waivers. You get guys who take risks for a living, governed by an extraordinarily risk-averse organisation. Days like that, days right there on the edge of too far, will always get called on the side of safety… especially so, as the WSL can always simply keep the cameras rolling and broadcast the freesurf, like they did yesterday.

It was the Big Wind World Tour this morning. The valley breeze was blowing its tits off and sawing the top third off the sets at Jaws this morning. Guys were taking off blind and being blown back up the face and back to Molokai. When they put their head down and scrambled themselves into a wave they ended up like Tyler Larronde, who by the time he opened his eyes was being pitched like a baseball from the West peak. The wind chop was brutal, the only strategy that seemed to be working was tucking in behind the first wave of a set and taking a cleaner second one. Apart from that, maybe paddling out with some bricks was the only other solution.

Meanwhile, over at Honolua it was sheet glass for the women but half the size of yesterday. Sally Fitzgibbons paddled around with a dead arm, while Steph might have mai-taied last night as she looked like she was surfing on rollerskates at times during her quarter final. Everyone looked a little rinsed this morning with the exception of Rosie Hodge, who courtesy of the onsite hairdresser had restyled three times by 9am. I was hoping the best head of hair in Honolua – belonging to Joe Turpel – would appear on set after a fresh straighten and zhoozh, but Joe kept his beanie on. They’d have no chance with Ronnie Blakey’s hair, which is made of a coarse steel wool and needs grooming with an angle grinder.

The Honolua semis came to life, thanks largely to Malia Manuel who came into the event needing to surf for her spot on tour. And didn’t she just. Anyone who’s followed her first years on tour has felt frustrated that all that honey-dripped surfing has never crystallised into an event win. Today kind of felt like it just might be, especially after she breezed past Steph Gilmore in the semis.

But yeah, Carissa.

Watching her when she’s on, you shake your head and wonder how Carissa is not on seven world titles as well. Steph might have the titles and the glowing adoration, but Carissa has the chops in all kinds of waves. Against the framework of the tour and the waves they encounter Carissa should be schooling ‘em. Steph’s great in great waves, but Carissa is great in everything, it just somehow hasn’t all clicked in the past few years. Today it did. She put on a show, standing tall in the tube that won the final, she followed it up with a comical cockroach spin after falling on the finish.

Back at Jaws, and the Maui guys anti-establishment vibes has been fun to watch on their home peak. Albee Layer’s tube ride straight after the contest was called off yesterday felt like a statement. His statement in his interview definitely was a statement. Kai Lenny grabbing his tow board and bunny hopping out of the lip kinda did the same. Billy Kemper’s interview yesterday was also straight up, no bullshit, and left you in no doubt that when it comes to big waves there is Jaws… and then there is the rest.

These guys surfed with swagger and made the whole thing feel wild west and real and kinda dangerous, something badly lacking on the Championship Tour, which for the most feels neutered. It’s little surprise four Maui guys made the final… and finished one to four.

From the first wave of the event yesterday – coming from behind the peak screaming, Flight of the Valkyries playing – it felt like Billy Kemper was on an unholy mission, and you can’t be on any more of a mission than blacking out, shaking it off, then paddling straight back out there like he did yesterday. This contest went close to the edge, Wild Bill went close to the edge, and the whole thing was thoroughly compelling. Between Nazare, Jaws and Honolua the WSL have been riding their luck… now let’s hope it continues over on Oahu.

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