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The Doherty Report: The Chlorine Elite

Jets to Lemoore, hardball from Strider, and more from Day One of the 2017 Hurley Pro Trestles

With half the Trestles waiting period having slipped away like sands through the metaphorical hourglass with the Pacific showing few signs of life, haven't we contemplated, for just a delicious second, airlifting the entire field onto private planes and flying them direct to Lemoore to surf the event in Kelly's chlorine hot tub? What a Plan B! Airlifting entire contests is not an entirely new idea (Coke Classic 1979, anyone?) and from what we're hearing from the clandestine meetings happening in Santa Monica this week, might not be such an old idea, either.

Imagine the whole Trestles field standing on the tarmac with boards under their arms, excited like kids on a school field trip, looking at the single Gulf Stream jet before doing the math and working out 36 surfers into 8 seats doesn't go. The door opens and Kelly stands there and points at John John and Mick and Gabe and Jack Johnson and Chris Hemsworth (what are they doing here?) and they climb the stairs and the door closes and the jet taxis away and everyone else is left standing there with a face full of jet exhaust.

If this was 2019, that's exactly what might be happening.

The WSL – from what we're hearing – has finally thrown out the baby, the bathwater, and the bloviated, dysfunctional sport they bought from the ASP four long years ago. They're poised to finally rebuild the whole thing from the ground up, and unlike the previous incarnation, it will be built for the fans, and not for the surfers. A radical idea, I know, but after decades of watching 50 surfers not losing and events running out of swell, it's probably time. The idea apparently hasn't gone down well with the surfers who didn't make it onto Gulf Stream jet. They've branded it elitist, but long suffering surfing punters – the few of us who've hung on this long – have dreamed of a day where elite surfing was served up by design, not accident. We'll explore the changing landscape in more detail this week, but for now, we had heats to run, in a saltwater ocean.

While the brave new Tour may have already been branded elitist, yesterday, everyone got an award for participation. Inclusion was yesterday's buzzword, right down to the rainbow livery draped over the contest structure. Here in Australia, we are currently awash in rainbow hues. We are voting whether to allow gay marriage, and judging by the number of rainbow flags flying around the place, we'll surely be breaking our conservative shackles and saying love is love and voting yes.

The judges, the fans, and even his fellow surfers voted yes for Filipe Toledo yesterday. Why wouldn't they? Spring-Heeled Jim dazzled out there. First-turn airs into short-rail slashes then dancing all the way to the beach, he was peerless on a day where flow beat sizzle. Weak, chest-high Trestles quickly loses its skatepark reputation. Guys simply start joining the dots, and we're all left wanting a little more.

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When Frederico Morais cleaned up Freestone and Andino with the same forehand turn that has cleaned up surfers all year, Strider grilled him directly. "Is that the turn that's going to win you the contest?" Taking some license with the rookie, he hit him a second time. "I'm going to ask you again. Is that the turn that's going to win you the contest?" Strider was playing hardball with the rookie, and I couldn't imagine him asking Mick Fanning the same question after five forehand whips. Anyhow, Fred owned the reply. "Ask the judges."

The week before he flew to California, Matt Wilkinson shaped his very first surfboard. Given free rein to shape whatever he wanted, Darren Handley had suggested to Wilko that he should try and shape a board to surf in the contest. Handley wasn't joking. He actually wanted Wilko to shape and surf his own board at Trestles. "Just think," said Handley, "you could be the first surfer since MR to win a World Title on your own board." Without missing a beat, Wilko replied, "And the first to lose one."

As it turns out, maybe Wilko should have surfed his own board, because he got no love out there yesterday. He was bogged in five-point rides all day and couldn't get out. Just as they did at this same point last year, it was like the judges had suddenly fallen out of love with his surfing, and there was nothing he could do about it. Against another wildcard, Wilko might have scratched through to surf another day, but Evan Geiselman was always going to cause somebody trouble, and Wilko was a sitting duck. I missed Geiselman's sevens live. My browser was playing the ads but not the surfing, a cunning but ultimately unsustainable broadcast model, but in replay, they were good. Geiselman might mess some people up in this contest.

And so might Hiroto Ohhara. Everyone's favorite Japanese thug-lifer drew Owen Wright, who at six-foot-twenty was at an immediate disadvantage in the diminishing surf. Owen actually did pretty well to make it close, but the Japanese kid dropped a nine before dropping the clutch and drifting out of the car park in a lowered Nissan skyline with a spoiler and disco lights. The kid will be a star…if he gets a seat on the plane to Lemoore.