I've never been to Brazil, but that hardly makes me unusual as a Western surfer.
Flying straight over Mexico or Bali to get there and paying $10,000 to surf tapioca beachbreaks doesn't hold huge appeal to the discerning traveling surfer. So unappealing has it proved that guys in the contest have happily given up $10,000 simply to not go.
There's a classic photo floating around of Taj, Mick, and Kieren Perrow sitting at a press conference here in 2002, the last time the event ran in Saquarema as a 'CT, just after they'd all made the finals, and they look miserable. They look like someone had just backed over their new Christmas puppy in the driveway.
Ergo I've never been to Saquarema either, but a friend I surfed with yesterday afternoon who has assured me it's something like Byron Bay, just with less Brazilians. Small town, cruisey vibe, girls in bikinis, $25 parking. The water in Saquarema, like Byron, also appears to be of the sparkling blue variety, certainly nothing like the effluvial petri dish of Rio, this event's former home.
The irony of moving to the clean air in this verdant nook of Brazil is that as soon as it was announced they were moving from Rio to Saquarema, the area was promptly hit by an outbreak of yellow fever. This meant all surfers this year had to have their yellow fever shots before heading over or face being quarantined on the way home.
Yellow fever is this year's Zika and is bad news if you contract it. Without the shots, you'll have a tough time getting through Immigration anywhere on the way home. The vaccination, however, can have side effects, including a week of headaches and fever. At Bells, all the surfers were grizzling about it. Owen Wright, just back from a year of headaches, thought long and hard about not doing it. Your correspondent decided not to go, instead covering the Saquarema event from Byron, where he only risks several socially communicable diseases in the car park at The Wreck.
But at least they've had swell.
The waves that had been almost six foot on Day One dropped to three foot today, although those three-footers were actually headed back out to sea. Watching the Oi Backwash Pro this morning on high tide was like looking at waves through a funhouse mirror. Commissioner Perrow, after three events in Australia that ran day after day in pulsing surf, valiantly stepped aside for Saquarema to give his Deputy, Travis Logie, some game time. Thanks, Commish. While Travy's hair looked strand-perfect while being interviewed on camera today, putting the event on hold after just four heats, his face looked haunted by the fact that he has another week of this to look forward to.
Losing in this stuff wasn't fun. Just ask Kolohe. It seemed the secret to success out there today was to fly across the wave, time the backwash, and launch into one giant air. Unfortunately for Kolohe, he was surfing against Yago Dora, who can do this better than any man on earth.
Maybe the most instructive of the four heats today was Gabe Medina's.
The fourth event of the season is essentially Gabby's first. While he turns up in Australia to surf the first three, he surfs with the same enthusiasm the Australians surf with in Brazil. None. This morning, though, he handled the backwash bank with ease, throwing wheelie airs and little fin zingers. Gabby has hardly been sighted this year and sits 11th, but a result here at home would put him back in the frame headed into Fiji.
Kelly, of course, has no worries about contracting yellow fever, as he's currently on a 15-hour flight back to Australia to treat a bad back. We're unsure whether he even had the vaccination shot for Brazil or not. His place in the field was taken at the last minute by Gigs Cilliers.
Make of it what you will. Sure you already have. While Kelly says the injury was long-term, he was surfing 20-foot Two Mile the day of the Bells final, taking off deep up the reef, and his withdrawal just a week after his Continuance clip ends with talk of "perseverance" and "commitment" sends all sorts of mixed messages.
His absence from Brazil might be as much motivational as it is chiropractic, but who the hell knows. We're sure he's got his reasons.
We'll know soon enough, I guess. The press release says Kelly is taking five weeks to rehab the back, which would put him out of his pet event, the event he now sponsors, in Fiji. Unless his doctors suggest stretching his spine inside eight-foot Cloudbreak tubes, which might be, on the whole, therapeutic. When that happens, his absence from the Saquarema backwash will seem largely irrelevant.