Walking along the beach before the boat arrived this morning, I looked down at my feet and saw it. As the wave retreated, staring up at me from the sand was a domino. The thing had been in the ocean forever; the corners having been worn smooth and the colored dots – red and purple – faded. It looked odd. I started counting the numbers. One side had nine dots, the other 11. It was a scene straight out of a movie and I pondered what the hell it meant. It had the whole Pacific to wash up wherever it wanted, but had landed at my feet this morning on Namotu and it became my mission today to work out why. In my mind, along with MH370, how magnets work, and Jordy Smith's hair, it was one of the great mysteries of our age, and I was determined to solve it.
"Fucked if I know," replied Joel Parkinson when I asked him as we headed out in the boat. Touching the domino, however, he'd felt the juju. "Should I have even touched that?" He says with an inflected "touched". Turns out maybe he shouldn't have, because although he made the last 12, he would bow out limply against Adriano de Souza and miss the quarters. There was already some bad craziness – as HST would say – in the air. Last night on Namotu one of the surfers dispatched from the event yesterday was last seen at midnight sitting on a lounge dropping darts point-first toward his nuts. But the domino? The domino was about to spread some reeeeaaal baaaaaad magic.
Staying on target for a finish Friday morning local time required 18 heats to be pumped out today on a declining swell.
It was going to be a long day out on the boat. Staying on target for a finish Friday morning local time required 18 heats to be pumped out today on a declining swell. The first four hours seemingly took eight, the silent Pacific punctuated only by the droll score announcer, who sounded like he was on the PA asking for a clean-up in aisle five. Apart from that it was deathly quiet. At one stage, looking out from the bow of the boat there was nothing but two surfers and the whole South Pacific. The place was deserted. But while it was light on for ambience, it was refreshingly light on for bullshit. The prime directive is waves, and to the credit of the new ASP administration, they're forking out a small fortune – taking on the sponsorship of the event themself – to get surf in Fiji, and today we had great surf…but at times we were clinging on with our fingernails.
The only guy having no problem with lulls, wide ones, crumbly ones and closeouts was Nat Young. Not even Kelly could command the ocean like Nat did today. The kid is a magnet, but he also cashed them in when he got them. As the waves have dropped and the margins have been squeezed, his frenetic out-of-control/in-control style has become increasingly incandescent. There was a glorious unpredictability in his surfing, and amongst some old lines out there today he shone. He'll be there tomorrow morning in the semifinals and rightly so.
Chatting with Kelly halfway through the day we discussed the effects a smaller swell would have on the dynamics of finals day. Having won the Fiji event four times, Kelly's domination here has been built on building, muscular swells, his domination seemingly linked to the pulse of the ocean. The bigger it gets the better he goes.
The only guy having no problem with lulls, wide ones, crumbly ones and closeouts was Nat Young. Not even Kelly could command the ocean like Nat did today.
"I don't really mind if it's a dying swell. It's always got a bit of push to it out here, but it's going to allow you to see some different approaches to the wave. You'll see Filipe and Gabriel's approaches, a little more active on the wave, and you'll see John John doing a big tail release, and still you'll see Mick and Parko with that more classic barrel-to-carve. You'll see a lot of different approaches to the wave and to the heat. You'll see guys taking off from different parts of the reef. You'll see goofies surf it differently to regulars." As we talked, Gabriel Medina took off from waaaaay up the reef and get slotted for 50 yards before pulling into one section too many. "Greedy bastard!" Kelly laughs. "But see what I mean? You get a full box of chocolates out there, and I'm not sure what surfing is going to win it."
Being drawn against Michel Bourez in the quarters was always going to be tricky for Kelly. Bourez is an animal right now. I asked him a few days ago what his spirit animal is and without blinking replied, "The gorilla. He's peaceful, he's friendly, but get him fired up and you're in trouble." Today after winning an early heat he climbed aboard the boat and uttered the word, "Food." But just as Nat electrified the wave on his forehand, Michel did the same backside, just more brutally. The Pacific has been Kelly's ally until now, but it was a son of the Pacific who took him down. As the swell ran out of juice, Kelly looked to be pushing it too hard. He looked like Michel used to. Kelly's board skittered off the bottom, his frustration grew, and his reign in Fiji over.
Or maybe, simply, Kelly had become a victim of the domino. Earlier in the day I'd handed it to him and asked if he knew what it meant. He rolled it in his fingers, felt it's smooth edges, stayed silent while he counted the dots then let out a, "Whoah. You found this? Hmm…the 9/11 thing is freaking me out." He's thinking in numbers. "What's the date today?" Finally he looks up. "Hang on! Nine plus 11…that's 20. Twenty is a perfect heat." His heat with Michel had been far from perfect, and maybe it was the domino, its evil spread by contact. Anyone who touches it was doomed. Everyone who'd touched it folded. The guys who I handed it to on Namotu Island all lost. Kelly lost. I haven't lost yet but someone just handed me a seven-shot Skulldrag and the writing is on the wall. The domino goes back into the ocean tomorrow morning to wash up on another shore and bring bad luck to someone else.
The quest for tour renewal is in full swing. Just as there's been all year, there's seemingly a silent driver that screams change.
There will be a new winner here in Fiji tomorrow morning. Nat, Michel, Gabriel…or Kolohe, who suddenly looks like seven of himself welded into one. But the quest for tour renewal is in full swing. Just as there's been all year, there's seemingly a silent driver that screams change. There are new winners in old events. We're sitting here in the bar at Namotu watching Gabriel and John John surf their quarterfinal and both are flaring. Gabriel's doing a backlit high-speed dance, throwing sparks into the sun. Mitch Coleborn is sitting next to me, and in response utters, "Crispy fried chicken." Mitch Crews is sitting next to him. "I'm going to go home and practice and get sooooo much better at surfing."
2014 ASP Fiji Pro Day Three Results
Round 3, Heat 7: Joel Parkinson (AUS) 15.36 def. Glenn Hall (IRL) 9.60
Round 3, Heat 8: John John Florence (HAW) 16.17 def. Sebastian Zietz (HAW) 4.03
Round 3, Heat 9: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.63 def. Fred Patacchia Jr (HAW) 15.10
Round 3, Heat 10: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 18.63 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 13.56
Round 3, Heat 11: Kolohe Andino (USA) 15.07 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 12.60
Round 3, Heat 12: Taj Burrow (AUS) 11.24 def. Tiago Pires (PRT) 10.74
Round 4, Heat 1: Nat Young (USA) 13.83, Mick Fanning (AUS) 13.74, Michel Bourez (PYF) 6.13
Round 4, Heat 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 15.00, Filipe Toledo (BRA) 14.77, Owen Wright (HAW)13.07
Round 4, Heat 3: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.20, John John Florence (HAW) 10.93, Joel Parkinson (AUS) 9.83
Round 4, Heat 4: Kolohe Andino (USA) 14.27, Adriano de Souza (BRA) 14.14, Taj Burrow (AUS) 11.37
Round 5, Heat 1: Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.90 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 14.86
Round 5, Heat 2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.44 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 8.20
Round 5, Heat 3: John John Florence (HAW) 16.70 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 12.34
Round 5, Heat 4: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.67 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 10.10
Quarterfinal No.1: Nat Young (USA) 14.27 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 7.50
Quarterfinal No.2: Michel Bourez (PYF) 13.33 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 8.90
Quarterfinal No.3 Gabriel Medina (BRA) 14.20 def. John John Florence (HAW) 6.34
Quarterfinal No.4 Kolohe Andino (USA) 18.36 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 17.07