Sean Doherty: C'est La Vie

8 Oct 2019 2 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Jordy Smith. Photo: WSL/Poullenot

Jordy Smith. Photo: WSL/Poullenot

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

2019 Quiksilver Pro France, Round of 32

World Shorebreak Tour says au revoir to Electric Phil and The Champ

Back on the inside shorebreak at La Grav this morning, smaller than our last meeting, a big day of le doggie door tubes and a three-peak crapshoot. It was a seasick and sloppy shorey. Everything closed out except the ones that didn’t, but at least things are hustling along. The Caribbean hurricane swell had faded out, replaced by swell from sub-polar lats. No shortage of energy coming but it comes with some rank wind. If they’re running today it doesn’t bode well.

There’s clearly been a directive from Santa Monica after criticism of the commentary at the wavepool to – as Joe would say – “make it spiiicy” in France. This morning I heard Strider say, “You know, that would piss me off.” Joe laughed schoolboy nervous. Somewhere in Santa Monica HQ a red light went off. I heard the term “deep stats” flogged heat after heat, another buzzword directive. Kaipo interviewed Jordy after his heat, claiming France is a pet event for Jordy as he has a 52 per cent winning ratio. I scratched my head. That’s actually pretty shit. Kaipo asked Jordy if that stat made him feel confident. “I feel 55 per cent confident after hearing that.” God Bless Jordy. Put him in the booth. 

Meanwhile, I hope they persevere with the all-female booth. God Bless Rosy… then they threw Jeremy Flores in there with them and it couldn’t have been French jaunty with a piano accordion playing in the background.

I also like the move of Jessie Miley-Dyer making the contest call. France is such a clusterfuck to contest direct, a process usually involving 30 hangers-on standing in a circle yelling at each other in three languages, pointing wildly up and down the beach at different banks. Instead they’ve left it to the Women’s Comish and she just sent them out. Jessie in jest refers to herself as “The Boss Bitch” and running this contest needs a boss bitch. She not only sent ‘em out but she called overlapping heats. The surf was largely horseshit, but with four guys in the water it provided more of a spectacle than a perfect wave being delivered to one guy every four minutes. The fact it was so bad became the spectacle. Guys’ delaminated trying to make something from nothing.

Jordy got through despite Fred Morais bagging a Backdoor Pipe nine. At that point with the tide still coming in there was hope it might settle and clean up. That idea didn’t last long. Even with 40 minute heats they struggled to find two corners for two scores. Owen Wright – the form surfer on tour right now behind Medina – couldn’t work out what to do and bombed. Jeremy, who has surfed the place since he washed up there from Reunion Island as a kid could only manage two fours but shocked himself by winning. Ces’t la vie.

It was D-Day in France for Electric Phil. Carrying a tweaked back, Phil Toledo somehow had to graft his way through some heats here in France to at least keep Medina honest for the title. It was pretty clear early on that wasn’t going to happen. His spine appears to be made of timber, and add to that he had the misfortune of drawing journeyman French wildcard Marco Lacomare who was always going to be on the best two waves. Toledo’s exit today felt like a formality… as much of a formality as Medina winning the title. He’s broken them mentally… if they’re not already broken physically.

The Airborne sideshow two days ago had been entertaining… for the carnage if nothing else. Matt Meola’s still out there somewhere, buried in the shorey and waiting to be dug out on the next full moon low tide. They risked bones and ligaments. Dude’s got excoriated. It’s a tough game up there. The movie parts dropped by the flyboys hide the reality of the shredded hinges. They disappear between edits for a reason. On tour though you notice the absences. We’ve lost two of the three best guys on tour to in-competition boosting injuries, taking both John Florence and now, it seems, Phil Toledo out of the game.

Nothing looks like breaking Medina right now… apart from a closeout French beachbreak at dead high tide. I’ve said it before, but the only time Gabby ever looks like losing is when he actually tries to apply some kind of winning heat strategy.

Gabby paddled out today and started working the lefts, despite all the scores coming from the rights. Meanwhile, the French kid he was up against, Marco Mignot sat alone on the rights and picked off a couple of middling scores. Nothing to worry about… only that Gabby kept running out of water and was soon running out of time. He was landing next to his old boy, Charlie, who was coaching in knee-deep water wearing tracksuit pants. As the clock ticked down Charlie was waving his arms wildly and becoming increasingly frantic. Up the beach. Down the beach. I don’t know… do something! Gabby eventually rinsed himself on a little left and tagged it for an unconvincing five pointer that won the heat. Today that’s all it had to be.

By now at the top of the tide it was literally breaking 10 yards from shore and ending on dry sand. You either shot a little tube or tried to land something in the shorebreak. Heat after heat, the sad pantomime played out as guys landed and waved their arms around to convince the judges they’d landed it before experiencing a violent sand and gravel enema.

A couple of guys made it look easy. Julian Wilson’s scores mightn’t have reflected it, but he looked like he was surfing a different wave, as did Seth Moniz. The young Hawaiian as we reported looks the only man now standing between Kelly and his long-held dream of surfing in the Olympics. Kelly came to France in 10th and Seth in 11th and Seth’s shadow pushed Kelly to turn back the clock in the first round here and surf his best heat of the year… and his best beach break heat in a long time.

Seth was still in the water when Kelly paddled out against Leo Fioravanti. The pair has been staying up at Stephen Bell’s palatial residence, finally completed after a couple of years of Belly whinging about recalcitrant French tradesmen. Belly has dated Leo’s mum since Leo was a kid but has also dutifully lugged Kelly’s boards all around the world even longer. After Kelly and Leo drew each other there’s been no awkwardness up at Belly’s… there’d only be one outcome that would create that.

Their heat was scrappy threes and fours. Kelly couldn’t summon his round one form, but eventually found a little late drop drainer for what looked like the win. He was still on the sand when Leo locked into one twice as big and twice as long. Leo ran up the beach like he’d just scored the World Cup winner for the Azzuri. Belly fidgeted nervously. As upbeat as Kelly had been after his first heat, the mood darkened as he put his head down and headed for the locker room. Just how much losing here in France hurts his Olympic prospects won’t be seen until Pipe. Kelly has a huge advantage over most everyone at Pipe… but maybe not so big an advantage over Seth.

The final heats of the round were the most entertaining. Dora, Griff and Italo all threw heat strategy out the window and improv-ed. They caught whatever moved and went all fast twitch with repertoires to make shit work. Dora and Griff was the heat of the day, with Dora getting it. Italo meanwhile has no worries about knees and ankles. He landed two turns upside down onto dry sand. As Rosy said, “He’s the gaaah!”

(Editor's note: The Roxy Pro France kicked off its Round of 16 at 12.45am east coast Aus time, so unfortunately was not included in this here report, Seano will have an update on that, including Courtney Conlogue's 10(!), in his next column.)

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