Martin Potter’s jaw-grinding voice sounds as if its been filtered through six espresso shots and a migraine headache. Ross Williams’ has me considering preemptive adenoidal surgery for my son. Todd Kline? Car salesman. Rosy Hodge? Who can hear her above the angel choir and softly strumming lutes?
And then Joe Turpel. During a trifling Round Two heat between a couple of backbenchers, Peter Mel, from the channel, reported that he wasn’t sure if Brett Simpson, or maybe it was Glen Hall, was or was not riding a quad, and Turpel replied “Thanks for the insight, Pete!” at which point a rhesus monkey began flinging itself against the opposing sides of my skull because Mel’s comment was exactly, definitively, almost scientifically the opposite of insightful. Turpel hurts me on a both a professional and personal level. “Insight” is now ruined as a word. It has in fact become a joke. “Insight,” negated, must be replaced with some lesser alternative from Thesaurus.com.
And yet I refuse to mute my pro surfing webcast. Never have, never will. Shared experience is important. The fact that all 5,000 WSL viewers (5,000 or 22 million; let’s not quibble!) are hearing the same thing at the same time—this counts for something. We listen, we jeer, we laugh, we marvel. And thus we are fans.
Furthermore, every now and then, maybe a half-dozen times per event, someone in the booth says something interesting or worthwhile or thought-provoking. Williams, again in Round Two, watching the replay of somebody (I forget who) getting ingested by a set-wave barrel, said “At this point, there is simply nothing you can do, you’re at the mercy of the ocean.”
I considered this for a moment or two, and thought, Hold on Ross! You, more than all WSL announcers, know better! Professional surfers are just as amazing at not bouncing off the reef during a wipeout as they are at snake-hipping their way through a long tube, or hacking a giant top turn. The average surfer gaffs a late takeoff at Teahupoo, or drops the fins inside the tube? Fifty-fifty the blood will flow from chin, scalp, elbow, knee, ankle, back, or some combination thereof. Your CT man, on the other hand, lowliest to highest, will pop to the surface like a bathtub toy, ready for another go.
It reminded me of something Chris Malloy told me years ago. “After a while you develop a sense of underwater balance. It’s like the way a trout knows how to swim through turbulence. You learn how to either stay off the reef or to cushion yourself when you hit, instead of just smashing into it. It comes with experience.”
What’s going on underwater at Teahupoo this week, out of sight of the cameras and commentators, is not a matter of giving yourself up to the mercy of the ocean. It is in fact just as advanced and beautiful and technical as the point-scoring business taking place above.