Sean Doherty: The Brazilian Storm Swell

22 Jun 2019 2 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Cestari

Photo: WSL/Cestari


2019 Oi Rio Pro Day 2 / Round of 32

“It’s just one of those days.”

This was the glum euphemism Steph Gilmore used to describe the waves out at Saquarema this morning. Barton Lynch’s in the commentary booth felt a bit more contractually obliged. “I just love watching the world’s best in the kind of waves I surf.” The waves of course this morning were terrible; lumpy, disorganised, three foot backwash. The women’s elimination heats were sent out. Good luck. For some reason there was a jet ski taking the girls back out. The backwash could have done that.

Ryan Callinan a couple of days ago posted a slow motion backwash from the other end of the beach and Joel Parkinson, sitting happily at home on the couch in Tweed Heads, replied, “Welcome to Brazil!” Last year the Brazilian event here shone, largely in contrast to the overblown Flounders Cup which had run at the Surf Ranch in the week before it. The waves last year down the lagoon end of the beach were piping. Phil Toledo nailed a 10 for the win. The waves today however seemed closer to the mean for Saquarema. The gringos are always bitching about the lack of power in Brazilian waves. No such problem today.

The jury is still out whether Saquarema is the long term structural fix for this event. We can take it that between the ecoli, the odd mugging at gunpoint and the conga line of complaints by visiting surfers, that Barra Tijuca in Rio has had its papers stamped, but it feels Itauna, Saquarema – an hour away – is more a temporary fix than a solution. And with a third of the field in this event Brazilian and the Brazilian Storm now climate change, the WSL needs to find a solution to a problem that’s now three decades old. They need to find a wave here in Brazil. This ain’t working. Noronha maybe?

On the upside: the crowd! Strider, in his role as broadcast beach fluffer, was amongst his people and in his element. He needs to call the final day in Brazilian hot shorts.

By the time Phil Toledo and the returning Adriano paddled out for their heat it was three times the size it had been in the morning but, if anything, even wonkier. Big, dumb storm chum. There wasn’t a bank to be seen and the whole beach was a rip. Advantage Adriano. It meant Phil’s superpower above the lip was gone. It meant Adriano’s superpower of not falling off was in the ascendency. De Souza started by not falling. He backed up by not falling. Phil snapped his board. The burgery lefts were not his deal, but the overlooked aspect of Toledo’s game is his wave catching. Toledo reads a lineup better than you think, he actually found critical sections out there amongst the chum, and after getting schooled at The Box by Jack Robbo last event, he was never going to lose. 

It was great to have Adriano back after injury… I cannot put my finger on exactly why yet, but listening to his post heat was like sitting in a comfy chair as he described Filipe as “too loosey”, thanked his 15 sponsors individually, and thanked his wife who’d seen him for eight straight months, a record. After a year without him on tour, he sounded more like Tyler Allen’s impression of him than he did himself. 

The lipstick on the pig however today was the use of the overlapping format, and it was the format’s creator – Kelly Slater – who was the second heat out there. Kelly hasn’t been here in four years, a couple those because of his broken foot, a couple of those just because. Why would he? When there’s no world title waiting at the end of the years there’s no upswing. But this year…

Anyway, the overlapping heats reunited Kelly and old pal Adriano in the same lineup, and it was an opportunity Adriano wasn’t going to miss, fading Kelly with priority at the first opportunity. Kelly surfed his heat yesterday, and he surfed his heat today, and they’re his two surfs in Brazil this year. That’s it. He took out the Tokoro and that looked smart, the board sitting low and driving through the slop. He took Seabass down and now finds himself in the last 16 against Toledo. It feels like Kelly is just plugging up the weak events in his year and biding his time waiting for Tahiti, J-Bay and Pipe to come along.

It’s interesting to note the guys with unashamed Olympic ambitions this year are all winning heats. Kelly is in this group, so is Kolohe and Kanoa Igarashi. It’s an odd motivation, because nobody knows what it’s going to resemble, nor what an Olympic gold medal is even going to mean. These guys for now are feeding off it and hey, it’s working.

It got scrappy from here. Italo and his short rails went down to Fred Morais’s big board. Julian won with a pair of fours, Johnny Florence was counting a four in his win over a Brazilian wildcard, and Yago Dora, the best guy from round one, lost to Wade Carmichael, Avoca Jesus calming the ocean to find a couple of clean ones. By this stage it was cleaning up but not getting much more surfable. Backhand bottom turns were the turns of the day. “Board litreage” and human litreage counted. Jordy went right into the rip and turned it into a 7.50. Guys were winning ugly. Griff, freshly peeled off the reef at The Box, took down Ryan Callinan… currently the only Australian in the top 10.

The day closed out with two Brazilian wins. Deivid Silva has a centre of gravity in his ankles and managed to find a couple of lips to hit. He could be dangerous on the down side of this swell.

And that just left Gabby. As quickly as it had come up the swell was disappearing by this stage but again not getting any more surfable. Against Brazilian spirit animal Jadson Andre, Gabby was circumspect. He didn’t catch a wave for 15 minutes – that’s usually 15 waves for him – but once he got one, the extra beef in his turns got him through. Gabe’s been almost there this year but not quite. He’s 12th, but you sense there’s a correction coming soon. 

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