Losers and Winners

Notes from a Portuguese sandbar after Day 1 of the Rip Curl Pro

Although he was relegated to Round 2, Mick Fanning kept his composure and his world title ambitions alive. Photo: Ellis

"You keep winning…there's no way you can lose." It sounded cinematically from the Midwest or Deep South, but in reality it came from North Narrabeen. Damien Hardman knows a thing or two about winning—the Iceman cometh and all—and he knows that once it's flayed and rendered down it's a pretty simple game. Unless it's pro surfing of course, when you can lose and still win in the same day.

Mick Fanning did just that today. His world title run was derailed momentarily by a pebble on the tracks when he managed to lose his Round 1 heat by two-hundredths of a point, which must be…a cup of spray on one turn? A hair flick? An Amazon butterfly? Either way, his loss consigned him to the sudden death second round, where, fortunately for him, he drew an overwhelmed French wildcard—and not Dane Reynolds as he had last week in France. The wildcard turned two 10s into 3s and the Mick Fanning train promptly kept on rolling. But on a day when his three world title sparring partners cantered through their heats, Mick seemed the uneasiest. He debated with The Iceman (contest director Damien Hardman) about whether his heat, the first of the round, should paddle out. Despite Gabriel Medina having dropped a perfect 10 two heats earlier, Mick was unconvinced. "If there's no improvement I'm not paddling out." He paddled out and got nearly perfect himself.

Winning and losing was again on a fine edge. Your correspondent lost a large part of a toe when, walking out of a portable toilet, he bludgeoned it into a surprise piece of punji-stake-metal-scaffolding-clumsily-left-by-Portuguese-scaffolder. In Australia it would result in violent retribution, in the U.S. violent litigation. In Portugal? A Sympathetic laugh and a free coffee. Matt Wilkinson saw the whole scenario play out in front of the portable toilets. "Not good" was Wilko's response upon inspecting the wound.

Wilko was soon pondering his own fate when he managed to lose his heat despite stomping a rodeo flip. "A 720 rodeo!" Wilko would later qualify, bemused. But he lost clean—Gabriel Medina caught a wave that resembled something from the best day of the year at Padang Padang, throwing a dinky air at the end to seal it. Make no mistake, the waves here at Supertubos were as good this afternoon as most anything we've seen on Tour this year, and the fact it's now happened four years in a row should not escape our attention. Supertubos should be in the plans of the Tour's prospective 2014 overlords.

Speaking of which, the world title race will be down to one horse if Kelly manages to win here in Portugal. After cruising through his Round 1 heat, he promptly hung around the surfer's area the rest of the day, crop spraying his aura over his peers—reminding them he was very much here. He settled in. His entourage, swelled by a Scottish chef and a small dog, moved in like a Gypsy family onto the surfers' deck and took up residence. He grazed on health snacks, he stretched, he watched, he studied and he joked. He described the surf thus: "It's kinda like Straddie with backwash, or Makaha. Straddie-kaha…ha ha!" He watched his old friend CJ rifle through a 10 that was an 11, complete with a pinball flipper exit. Kelly watched Jordy throw his board in front of CJ on the next wave—deliberately or not depends on where you stand—and Kelly recounts Andy performing a similar act in Mexico when Kelly was in his third 10-second barrel at Barra de la Cruz. Kelly owned it today. His mere presence can shift orbits, and that was surely his aim. He keeps winning and there's no way he can lose.

Meanwhile, we played witness to one of the great displays of sportsmanship we've seen in this grey-area-sport of ours. We saw Michel Bourez—Tahitian, Spartan, heart of Pacific love—fly through a perfect 10 while the guy he vanquished by doing so, Jadson Andre—Brazilian, all happy teeth, a link between the new surfing world and the old—clapped him wholeheartedly with a smile that could bridge all oceans. If this was the defining moment of professional surfing we could all walk away from it happily tomorrow. Jadson, we hope your gesture today echoes into the future. Salut.

Pat Gudauskas, navigating the Portuguese perfection that is Supertubos. Photo: Ellis
It's good to be the hometown hero, just ask Tiago Pires. Photo: Ellis
Owen Wright, showing some backhand skills over the shallow sandbar. Photo: Ellis
If Kelly Slater keeps winning, he can't lose. Looking poised to add another world title to the pile. Photo: Ellis
Michel Bourez eying one of the dreamiest right barrels on Tour. Photo: Ellis
You can never count former Pipe Master Kieren Perrow out when there are barrels on the table. Photo: Ellis