Sean Doherty: Bless the Rains

18 Jul 2019 0 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Yeah Owen! Photo: WSL/Tostee

Yeah Owen! Photo: WSL/Tostee

2019 Corona Open J-Bay, Women's Quarters/Men's Round of 16

“The horn we love so much” starts the day.

Hmm, not sure about that Joe. Can we start Jeffreys Bay with a tune each day maybe, like AC/DC does at Bells? What are we looking at? Toto? Too obvious. Die Antwoord maybe? Sure Jordy would dig that… might get him back in the white tracksuits circa 2009. No… start the day with Grazing in the Grass! It’s Hugh Masakela, surely. I challenge you to have a shitty day after that. Sal is in agreeance.

The swell was slow but man, it was cooooking bru. This was God’s Surf Ranch, imperfectly perfect.

Jordy and Owen. Battle of the Big Men first up. Fighting weight has been variable for both. Jordy has been surfing lighter this year and looking better for it. Owen has been surfing heavier and looking better for it. You forget what a weapon his backhand is. For the first time since he got his bell rung at Pipe three years ago the backhand looked strong. I ran into him at the grocery store last week, having surfed all day and coming out with enough food to choke a giraffe. “He’s really hungry!” says Joe today. Pottz tutt-tutted a fluffed floater from Jordy. Jordy gave Owen a wave. “O-Dog” was starting to look good. To come away from the pack at J-Bay Jordy needed another two foot of swell to turn snaps into carves. Running “on the bricks” the wave dictated the pace, at six foot Jordy dictates it. Owen’s sevens topped Jordy’s sevens and Jordy got counted out. A win at home would have shifted the season his way.

Instead it shifted Gabby’s. It didn’t look that way with three minutes to go. Gabby was parked on a pair of ones. He needed almost a 10. Ryan Callinan had priority and could have shut him down. Gabby didn’t look interested until Charlie shouted something at him in Portuguese from the rocks. After the window into Gabby’s soul the WSL provided us earlier in this event, maybe Charlie shouted, “No hot chocolate for you tomorrow!” Gabby sprang to life. Callinan goofed priority and Gabby turned it into a five. Callinan then caught a piece of shit and Gabby turned the next one into a seven. Game over. Did we just watch the inflection point of the season? Gabby pulls a result out of Africa and he gets Tahiti next, an event he’d share favouritism with Kelly.

Kolohe moved into the gold jersey the following heat, the first guy to go past John Florence. He did it in the same style he’s done it all year. He surfed angular, explosive, and with an air rev at the end. Will the judges tire of that turn? That’s a worry. But as alluded to in an earlier post, no one is better placed to graft a world title out better than brother.

Earlier in the year I received a package in the mail. It was a book. I’d forgotten… in Hawaii a couple of months earlier Adrian Buchan had mentioned his dad, Ian was writing a memoir of his childhood in Northern Rhodesia and I’d asked him to send me a copy. I opened the mail and there was Piccanin Bwana, the little boss. To my great shame I haven’t at this point read it – sorry Ian! – but I’ve cherry picked pages and it’s 1950s colonial Africa through a child’s eyes, a wild time in a wild place with Courtney’s gentle touch. It’s Ian’s own African epic, and his story has carried through to his own piccanin bwana who halfway through his heat was heart punching after every wave. Ace Buchan was the pick of the goofies today and goes into the quarters with a chance.

Toledo may not give anyone a chance. He certainly didn’t give the Panda a chance in the next heat. His opener was a 9.40 and could have gone higher. Everyone was having pacing problems with the wave – half their head was in the lip above, the other half 30 yards down the line – but Toledo just surfed. He faded back without a thought about what was happening down the line. He just drove and danced around the pocket. The only holes you can pick in his game out here is the occasional hoppy bottom turn, but they were all single arcs today. He picked the pace of the lineup today, and it feels like he’s got the pace of this event measured too.

Seabreeze came in, Seabass took down Bourez, before Kanoa Igarashi paddled straight into an eight. It was no accident. There’s certainly been a shift in his surfing, but it’s been his wave choice since Bali that’s contributed maybe more to his hot streak. It feels like every wave he’s been on since then has been top to bottom. He cruised into the quarters. Stevey Sawyer meanwhile cruised into the booth… possibly via a stopover in the dunes.

I noticed Kelly beat everyone to the punch today and aged himself 30 years on FaceApp. The silver lining to early onset male pattern baldness is that with the judicious use of sunscreen, moisturiser and tiger blood you can essentially stay the same age for the rest of your life. Kelly has been age indeterminate for a very long time.

Kelly must have seen this as a winnable heat, Italo’s run hot and cold and the onshore worked against his backhand, but Kelly looked flat. Picked the wrong waves, got lost on them, fell. Italo wasn’t quite on either but found scores. Kelly’s first meaningful wave lacked drive and felt a little slashy. Kelly finally got one under priority, got off the bottom and got the old bones moving. Barton called it a “personal interpretation of a moment” but no better than Italo’s two waves. The judges disagreed and put him back in the heat. In the end the momentum just wasn’t there, not in Kelly, not in the ocean and he got marooned sitting out there needing a seven.

He stayed out in the lineup and pondered the significance. Sal got the Kelly post-heat and Sal opened sounding like he was presiding over a funeral. Sal blamed the waves, then invoked the sense that this might indeed be Kelly’s last time to J-Bay for the event. Kelly neither confirmed nor denied. It’s not the end of Kelly’s season… dependant on what Kelly’s ambitions for the year are.

By this stage the wind was sufficiently onshore to send the women out. It’s been funny how there’s been a subtle shift back to the men getting the calls this year. No real losers out there today though. Trav Logie the Deputy Comeesh is the guy making the calls… usually only getting the call up himself for Portugal, the worst event to contest direct, this must seem like a dream considering the forecast ahead.

I take it you’ve been watching the clips of Steph Gilmore on the swell before the event? Woah mama. She was signing her name all over those walls. Well she didn’t look quite like that today. The sets weren’t there and her molecular flow got interrupted. Caroline Marks was thrown a generous eight, and as soon as Steph fell behind she delaminated. Considering the forecast losing Steph Gilmore, for the casual surf fan, bites. But to flip that we get to see Baby Occ in the kind of waves Papa Occ made famous. Caroline gets asked in light of the chants of “equal pay” at the women’s soccer World Cup how good it is to have equal pay in surfing. Steph gets the question too. I don’t know if the point of having equal pay and doing the right thing is to ask prompted questions pointing it out – it should just be – but the 7% cut the women got at the soccer gives perspective.

No nerves for Carissa. The wind swung airbrush offshore. She picked the eyes out of it and got tubed through the dry inside section, the only surfer all day to do it. Old Ron Blakey made the astute point after Carissa’s victory speech that despite her bucket of world titles and wins, despite her inside J-Bay tubes, she suffers from a recurring crisis of confidence. Hard to believe, right? It’s the only thing giving all the other women a chance.

Sal Fitz and Malia Manuel got themselves a little lost. Sal’s leading the tour but it’s a nominal lead once you start throwing away scores. She needs to keep winning and having La Gilmore drop out of the J-Bay draw helps. Their heat ended in a comedy of errors. Malia needed a 6.5 but goofed priority. Sal took the wave only to miss the tube. That left Malia on her own to ace the win.

Good heat, the last one. This event was now very winnable for either Lakey Peterson or Courtney Conlogue. Lakey was unlucky last year not to win here and looked great rail to rail and spritzy out of the lip. Courtney laid it up hard off the bottom. Neither could find a second wave though. With a minute to go Lakey found one, an inside drainer for the win.

We are unlikely to run out of waves in coming days. Trav Logie’s only problem might be what day of wall-to-wall J-Bay he picks to finish this thing on.

Watch: Filipe Toledo is very good at J-Bay... like, really really good.

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