The Conceptual Shark

Breaking down the final rounds of the Hurley Pro and Swatch Women's Pro

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It’s turns like this that see Mick Fanning making repeat trips to the podium. Photo: Ellis

The star of Steven Hall’s novel The Raw Shark Texts is a “conceptual shark” that lurks in the narrator’s memories, devouring great chunks, cleaning up the weak and old pieces of his past until there is nothing left.

At times this week, I longed for a similar conceptual shark that could stalk surf websites devouring brainless commentary on message boards. We got to the end of the Lowers event today, and the biggest talking point of the week remained Kelly’s failed backhand air in the early rounds, and the confected outrage around it. By day three of 4.17-Gate, commentators — scratching for an angle having exhausted their incredulity that pro surfing actually had rules — donned the foil hats and started on conspiracy theories, displaying all the logic of a troop of retarded clowns. From all the guff written about Kelly’s wave, this statement stands tall for the stupidity of its convictions: “The simple fact is this: if Gabriel Medina, Filipe Toledo, ANY rookie, or even JJF had pulled off what Kelly did for his soon-to-be-infamous 4.17, then they would have been awarded a score in the excellent range, at the very least.” My message-board shark would dine on that piece of carrion, and anyway, old mate’s ageist conspiracy theory hit the rocks today with the combined age of the two finalists being 62 years.

The most interesting quarterfinal on paper – stylistically anyway – proved the least interesting in reality, as Parko was out-hustled by Filipe Toledo in the first heat of the day. Parko later called the break “Slowers,” and indeed it was slow. The waves were the weakest they’d been all event, and watching bantamweight Toledo slaying rail all over the lineup, the challenge became to imagine a scenario where Phil Toledo didn’t win this contest.

The one guy who looked set to challenge Phil was countryman Gabe Medina. I imagined him racing down the line on the left, throwing forehand airs at will, basically a mirror image of what Toledo was doing on the rights, the pair splitting the peak and the judges getting dizzy. Gabe didn’t win his quarter on forehand spinners, however — he won it with a bit of gamesmanship, suckering Nat Young into an interference and theatrically waving his arms around like he’d just been tripped in a World Cup soccer final, just to make sure the judges knew.

The rest of the quarterfinals were largely uneventful, and I found myself drifting away from the action and instead reading a Tweeted review of the most unlikely book ever written, even more unlikely than a book about a shark that eats memories. Did you know that basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has written a Sherlock Holmes novel? Is that not the strangest, grandest thing you’ve ever heard? I shit you not, he’s done it, and according to the reviewer it’s actually quite good. After trawling surf message boards for a week and then discovering this, it’s clear that while basketball gets smarter, surfing is clearly becoming more stupid. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar writing Sherlock Holmes was the most incredible thing I’d heard in a long time… until I scrolled down and discovered Tupac had, overnight, been found alive.

The men’s semis were far more entertaining affairs. When I tried to conjure up a scenario where Filipe Toledo didn’t win Lowers, getting “sevened” to death by Adriano de Souza wasn’t one of them, but alas, that’s exactly what happened. Adriano is the master of oversurfing a wave without actually appearing to oversurf it. He keeps flow nicely, while you could see Toledo getting frustrated and just looking for somewhere to launch his forehand finner and land a knockout blow. The only blow that got landed however was after the siren, in the locker room, to Bede Durbidge’s plywood locker, which got splintered up. This was a huge chance for Filipe to set the tone for the world title-run home, and he knew it. He will do something big in Europe, bank it. But he could have headed there wearing the yellow jersey.

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Mick reigns supreme once again. Photo: Ellis

“What are you going to do with your next millisecond?” The broadcast promo asks me this as Carissa Moore shoots across the screen, challenging me not to waste my life. I reach for a donut, scratch my ass and think for a second. The life-affirming platitudes on the broadcast keep coming, and I realize just what a wonderful place the world tour is… but maybe a little too wonderful. If there’s one criticism of the way the tour gets presented, it’s that it’s a little too happy-happy joy-joy, like one big Instagram account, all #blessed and #dreamy and #passion, the darkness and the mundane and the negativity all edited out, and when it can’t be edited out they simply come up with a more positive euphemism for it. A shark attack becomes a “sled reset,” a f–k up a “bobble.” It struck me a couple of times this week. First up was when Carissa’s dad, Chris, was described as “The happiest person in the surfer’s area,” a point of fact I’d be happy to challenge. The best one today, however, came just before the men’s final when Chris Cote did his best Bruce Buffer build up, with, “The beach is about to go wild, here comes… Adriano de Souza!” The silence was deafening and Adriano walked into the crowd anonymously.

The tour’s bubbliness may just be an overcompensation for the vat of boiling hatred simmering away online, but maybe the tour coverage could go a little noir, bring some darkness. Maybe they could start by broadcasting the next event from France in black and white and only interviewing the losers over cigarettes and coffee.

Chris Moore was smiling today, I’ll concede, as he watched Carissa cruise to the win here at Lowers and the lead in the world title. At the same point where the wheels fell off her campaign last year, she got it back together here at Trestles today, and suddenly another world title looms likely. She laid a blueprint for winning the final today that both Mick and Adriano would use in the men’s: surf from behind the section, maintain speed out of turns, and join the dots down the line.

The happiest daughter in attendance, your Swatch Women's Pro champion, Carissa Moore. Photo: Ellis
The happiest daughter in attendance, your Swatch Women’s Pro champion, Carissa Moore. Photo: Ellis

There was no danger of too much positive commentary coming from message boards about the men’s final, however. I’ll save the Internet the trouble and write some material: “Judges juicing Mick all the way”, “Fanning and De Snooza… most boring final ever!”, “The future of surfing right there!” For all the talk of Lowers as a progressive hotbed and Toledo being the guy, it was won by Mick Fanning with beautiful, knifey rail-surfing. There was no Toledo, and there wasn’t a single forehand finner thrown, and yet it was a great final. Few people had even noticed Adriano and Mick – the world number one and two – were even in the event until this morning, yet here they were in the final, Mick’s win swapping their positions in the ratings.

I did hear Chris Cote use the word “recidivist” to describe Mick Fanning’s recurring appearances in finals. There was no hint of it being a backhanded compliment, but there’s a reason Mick Fanning makes finals and wins them – he is very, very good – and on a crowded leaderboard now has to be the new world title favorite. I’m sure there’ll be some other viewpoints argued online. I’m sure if you scroll down you’ll find some… if the message-board shark hasn’t devoured them already.