With the Oscars happening yesterday in Hollywood, we thought we’d open today’s missive with a closing Hollywood scene, one from the action classics, a Die Hard special. In Jordy Smith’s case it has become an all too familiar closing scene…
Scene: Jordy’s in a car, which has crashed and is teetering precariously on the edge of a cliff. The car shifts as rocks give way underneath. There is the blind and edgy panic in Jordy’s eyes as he tries to ever so slowly shuffle his weight and find a way to escape his fate. The rocks continue to tumble. The car seesaws. The camera locks on Jordy’s face and there is the moment…slowed agonizingly to 600 frames a second, the moment Jordy suddenly becomes weightless and realizes the car—and him—are going over the cliff, Jordy getting smaller, mouthing “Nooooo”, arm outreached grasping a handful of fresh air, Jordy about to be engulfed in a comically over-stunted fireball. Today, the real Jordy Smith went over the figurative cliff at Snapper Rocks.
There was a moment in the dying seconds of Jordy’s heat with Tiago Pires where that look of horror registered on Jordy’s face, the moment he realised he was going out backwards at the first hurdle of the first event of the year. Left chasing a score just north of a five, Jordy waited for more than 10 minutes for a wave that never came. The instant where it dawned on him he was falling to Earth saw his face etched with confusion and anger. This can’t be happening. I got new boards, I’ve trained, I’ve surfed my Mozam sand point which breaks just like this. In that instant he looked like a kid whose mom had backed over his new puppy in the driveway. He looked like that YouTube kid whose mum cancelled his World of Warcraft account, prompting an epileptic, apoplectic tantrum that ends with him trying to jam his TV remote up his ass. With no remote controls handy today, Jordy instead took his frustrations out on his surfboard, swinging wildly at it, missing it completely with a giant right cross. Watching on from inside the surf club, South African surfer Beyrick DeVries in a thick, mouth-full-of-peanut-butter South African accent goes, “Bru, you could proper-like hurt your shoulder doing that!” Jordy may need to take board-punching tips from the pros (Kolohe’s available) but Jordy’s reaction today was understandable. This year, like the last five, was his year. The addition of J-Bay was almost a talisman for Jordy’s title chances this year, but after J-Bay it’s this wave at the Quik Pro Snapper that was his most bankable result and he blew it.
Like pretty much every regular-footer who surfed today, Tiago had drawn out his forehand carve by an extra two-feet. Parko didn’t surf today but there were Parkos everywhere—open shouldered, long front leg, parabolic arc, smooth as butter. Being the first event of the season, the surfers are still trying to gauge what the judges are scoring, and they’re banking they will still be judging on rail as they were last year. The prototype world title surfing however was laid down today by Julian Wilson. His heat with Brett Simpson was actually a scratchy heat, but there were flashes of the kind of surfing that could win Julian a world title this year. Just like Josh Kerr demonstrated yesterday, flow will be king this year, and on one wave Julian strung four beast turns together in a way he could never have done three years ago, when his surfing was more disjointed and compartmentalized. Where he famously rode out crabby at Trestles from a backhand shov-it and got called out by Parko for it. Those days are long gone. Today Julian Wilson looked scary.
When asked post-heat what he thinks is going to be scoring big this year, Julian was diplomatic. No surfer wants to judge the judges second heat of a new season. “I don’t think it’s going to change too much. You just have to have that flow between turns to get the big scores. You can pull a big score out of one air, but even in beachbreaks you’re linking major multiple manuevers to get a score. Mick and Joel can do two of those hacks they do and they’ll get rewarded nine points every day of the week. There’s a lot of focus on the airs and they’re good to have in your pocket, but at the end of the year it’s not the guy who did the gnarliest airs who will win the world title, it’s the guy who has speed and flow and power.”
And a big-ass air that can be produced on demand. Trailing in his heat, Jules let the cat out of the bag when he threw—and almost landed—a Chippa Wilson Big Spin, last seen in a contest when Julian used it against (ironically) Jordy in Durban last year. It’s a turn that Jules alone on Tour has mastered, and he was kind of dirty on himself for having shown his ace today in Round 2. “I don’t really like to show my cards when I don’t need to in an event, but I also don’t like losing in Round 2 so I was going to give it everything.” It’s a gnarly ace to play though, that stuff wins contests, and it won’t be the last time we see it this year, if not this week.
Speaking with him after his heat win, eyes bloodshot after too many hours in the Snapper briny, Julian had a real presence. The puka shell necklace and the stunted, monosyllabic interview are long gone. This is now his domain. In an era of the Gen Y sporting bro-down, of Winter Olympic snowboard high fives, an age where competitive bloodlust amongst guys in their early 20s is largely pariahed in the West, here is a guy who is very, very comfortable about winning. When I ask Julian what a pass mark would be for Snapper his reply is returned in a heartbeat, without a second thought. “A pass is a win.” He then repeats the line again as a mantra, more for himself than me.
In a Leunig moment this afternoon I decided to watch a couple of heats on the TV inside the Rainbow Bay Surf Club instead of walking the 15 yards outside and actually watch it live in the water. They were the first heats I’ve seen under the new management. Now, I’ve been reticent to buy into the commentary on the commentary—I may be in a small sub committee here—as a dinosaur from the Jurassic era of surf commentary my view may be a little jaundiced. I’ve worked for years with almost all of the new panel in various Godforsaken corners of the world and, you know, we’re close and I dig them all. I’m hardly going to conduct the Salem witch trials here. But watching a couple of heats the first thing that struck me is that it seemed slick, drilled…and as a result a little wooden. I used to laugh when I’d read criticism of Commentary BZ (Before ZoSea) that it was loose and unprofessional and completely freestyled. These were the same people who’d argue in the same breath against structured surfing, championing Dane over Mick. I always recommended to be careful what you wished for. So although the old Tour broadcasts were a somewhat more relaxed affair—occasionally very “relaxed”—generally filmed in a shitty demountable cube in a godforsaken car park somewhere, the commentators hungover like mofos from the previous night, surfed out from the dawnie, no planning, no notes, just a microphone and another guy next to you. All you were left with was the secret of magic commentary—chemistry. You just need to be able to sit next to the other guy and talk surf like you do the other 320 days you don’t have a camera in front of you. Easy. The chemistry will gel…give them an amnesty till Rio before making your call.
The one genuine beef I do have with the new broadcast, however, is the lack of local voices. This may be interpreted as purely jingoistic, maybe sour groups from a former commentator, but having an American talking about boardriding clubs is like having an Australian talk about the American Civil War. Ronnie Blakey was added to the team for the Australian leg as an afterthought (should have been the first guy signed), but if I’m watching Pipe I don’t want to listen to Ron—sorry, Ron—I want to listen to Wassell. You travel around the world to tap into the colour and richness of where you are, and you don’t get that from Google. This cultural dance will be a theme repeated throughout the season as the new tour moves around the world, and the Californication—or Floridification depending on how you see it—of pro surfing, dealing with regional sensibilities and presenting an authentic experience that makes you laugh and learn and engage is one of the big challenges the new management faces.
I asked Julian his thoughts on the new Tour. Now, while he’s a born and bred Queenslander, Julian is almost more at home in California than he is in Noosa. Even Jules’ accent has lost all Striney Queensland twang it might once have had and is one of those global accents that becomes harder to place than Pottz’s. “It’s exciting,” he enthused, before chuckling to himself. “It’s Americanized a little bit, but it’s pretty mega. There’s a lot of positive energy around it. It’s always exciting, the first event of the year, but this is the icing on the cake, this…” he searches for a word, “monstrosity on the beach. But they’ve accommodated the public to come down and watch and they’ve really thought about what they’re doing.” Julian Wilson, a star on either side of the Pacific ditch, might yet be the biggest winner of the new era.
Jordy Smith, meanwhile, can take solace. At the very same instant he was losing to Tiago Pires this afternoon, Matthew McConaughey was accepting the Oscar for Best Actor, espousing his speechwriter’s faux Gandhi-shit like, “It’s a scientific fact that gratitude reciprocates.” Now, as we reported yesterday, Nick Cage showed up here at Snapper Rocks out of the blue, surely wondering what he was doing at some surf contest in Australia rather than being at the Oscars; his career, like himself, having flown south a while back [check the Razzy nominations]. But Jordy should take comfort in the fact that four years ago another Hollywood actor in career purgatory turned up here at Snapper Rocks. He’d just starred in a movie called Surfer Dude, a movie I tragically watched at the time, scooping out my own eyeballs with a tablespoon half way through to make the pain go away. Just as Jordy needs to now, this guy rallied, reinvented himself, and today climbed the stage at the Kodak Theatre, resisted the urge to remove his shirt, and accepted the Best Actor Oscar. McConaughey. Jordy, come on, as McConaughey said in Surfer Dude, “Love and waves, that’s what we need in these dark days.”