For the past few days I’ve been toying with the idea of switching off the wi-fi on Namotu Island, purely as a social experiment. Wouldn’t be hard—just grab the power supply from the router and hide it somewhere none of the surfers on the island would ever look…the shower, the laundry, the kitchen maybe. They’ve barely lifted their heads from their phones, and after a brace of days with little or no surfing, the loss of wi-fi—white man mana—would surely plunge this Melanesian Utopia into some form of anarchic regression. The violence would begin the day after Instagram feeds ceased to update. The lawlessness and corrosion of order would follow soon after Snapchat stopped notifications. The little wheel would spin furiously and they would point phones at the sky, roaring. I picture for a minute six pro surfers gathered around a table the following day attempting to build a router McGyver-style from a coconut, a beer bottle, and a ceiling fan. But then I have faith that they may progress by going backwards; they once again interact, they communicate, they play ping-pong…they reconnect primally with the ancient ways. Finally they would throw their smartphones into the ocean in symbolic protest, and wonder how they ever let it get to this.
Parko believed his phone was already in the ocean—he thought he’d lost it the day he went fishing—but he found it this morning. He describes the days since losing it as the most liberating of his life. He’s well suited to this island gig. On the roof of the bar on Namotu one of his surfboards is inscribed with a message to the island’s owners, Scotty and Mandy, the sentiments being that he can’t wait to retire from pro surfing and take up a job here as a fisherman. Life was pretty close to imitating art earlier in the week, but today was all about surfing for Parko. He was in the boat at 6:15 a.m., 20 minutes before sunrise, and on his way out to Cloudbreak. He was handed his phone before leaving but didn’t switch it on (he’d switch it on later in the day to discover 297 messages, most of them fishing related). He was the first one in the water at Cloudbreak and immediately wore a six-foot set on the head. The swell that had been flirting with us, the swell that was due to arrive yesterday, had finally crept in overnight—a slow burner from the Southern Tasman, moderate in amplitude but on a long period—and it would slowly fill in as the day rolled on, bearing some remarkable fruit later in the day.
It’s just after 9 a.m. and Kelly is on the contest mother ship—the Bel’Mare—having just dispatched wildcard Mitch Coleborn. It took all of seven seconds for him to show what 20-odd years of surfing a place can do for you, sitting way up the point on The Ledge and taking one the length of the reef. It was the first wave ridden from up there all morning. From there it was the predictable python squeeze, just showing Mitch Coleborn enough daylight to keep him interested while always having the thing under control. It was textbook Round 3 Kelly. The fireworks would follow (again predictably) later in the day as the waves improved and the field narrowed and the finals approached.
Kelly came in and was soon commentating heats from the back deck of the Bel’Mare. The 86-foot luxury cat is an adequate platform to watch a day’s surfing from, so adequate it even has a remote control that can swing the back of the boat around so you get an unimpeded view of the sets. Kelly accidentally sat on the remote and we joke the boat’s about to drive straight onto the reef. Kelly was watching Mick Fanning’s heat with Heitor Alves, and giggled with glee as Mick sold Heitor the dummy on a five-wave set; Heitor ending up in two minds and misses the set entirely, every one of them, hopelessly lost out there. It was a vintage Kelly move, and the champ almost has a tear in his eye it was performed so well. Cloudbreak is such a huge playing field that while perfect waves break along the length of it, being in the right spot when they do is the art. And Kelly knows that being in the right spot is one thing, but getting your opponent into the wrong spot is equally useful. The guys who dominated today did more so through their positioning than their surfing, but out here that should not be considered a badge of shame. That’s Cloudbreak. Kelly then leans over the rail and conducts a conversation with CJ Hobgood in a rare Fijian dialect. They talk “whompers” and “flarers” and “growers”, they talk “The Ledge” and they talk “Inside Inside Ledge”. No one else has any idea what they’re talking about. Kelly sat up on the deck all morning, “mind surfing the shit out of it”, as he put it.
As we were sitting there Travis Logie walked up the stairs and fell onto the lounge next to us. He’d been floored by a bad case of gastro and was in no shape to surf his next heat. “Oh, bru,” he bellyached, “my day could not get any worse than this.” Ten minutes later it was far, far worse. His first wave of the heat dragged him across the inside of the reef. When he finally got back to the boat at heat’s end and the three contest doctors got a hold of him, it would be easier cataloguing the parts of his body that weren’t shredded. Both feet, both elbows, his back, his head, and the entire length of his left rib cage had all been flayed. It looked like the South African had been attacked by all five of Africa’s “Big Five” cats, simultaneously. Now his day really couldn’t get any worse. Kelly ran up to him excitedly and said, “Dude, if you didn’t fall on that last turn you would have won!” As you read this Travvy is walking through Customs at LAX dressed like Tutankhamun, and the way he’s going he’ll probably get searched as well.
Parko has an inversely proportional theory, that the worse the morning sickness at Cloudbreak, the better the waves in the afternoon, and few would doubt him after today. His heat against Yadin Nicol was the first to show true Cloudbreak. Behind Kelly, no one in the field reads this reef better than Parko, and it showed this afternoon. Parko put two heats together that both put him into the quarters and signaled he has a real chance to win this thing. Both he and Mick broke through in Tahiti last year to make the final—a landmark result for both that had been a decade of lost skin in the making. Both go into the final day tomorrow here at Cloudbreak, well placed for another breakthrough win in the Pacific…the minor complication is that they have drawn each other in the quarters.
Kelly, meanwhile, spent the afternoon being Kelly. You know—without me having to tell you—that he was involved in the biggest, most dramatic, most jaw-droppingly awesome heat of the day. It’s getting close to finals, and that’s when these things happen. Drawn against Seabass and Jeremy, Kelly put on the kind of masterclass usually reserved for finals day. The waves did much of the work for him—his heat pulsed like nobody’s business—but again he had to put himself in the right spot to be on them. His 9.3 was great, his 10 undeniable. He was in his element and the one he didn’t make was even better. Seabass had priority for it, and with a stacked set building beyond The Ledge, he suddenly had a voice in his ear. “I’ll give you $1000 for this wave! Are you going?” Seabass later recounted the fateful exchange, “I looked around and thought, shit, I guess I am!” I think you know what happens from here. “My wave was shit,” recounted Seabass, “and I turned around and the next one is just retarded good and Kelly’s in it. And then it lands square on my head.” People would—and have—paid a thousand dollars for a wave like that out here, and if Kelly had come out it would have been a 15 out of 10. Kelly later joked with Seabass about the exchange. “You could have had the thousand bucks and the wave of the day!” For some reason Seabass laughed. He redeemed himself in the dying light of the afternoon against Taj Burrow, and for the second time this event, the Kauaian scored an unlikely buzzer beater into the quarterfinals with more than an outside chance of doing something memorable. He’s having too much fun here not to do well.
Today was a good one. Finals day tomorrow will have Slater, Florence, Jordy, Parkinson, Fanning, CJ, Seabass, and Kerrsy all in attendance. People, you got the show you wanted.