A few days ago, I made the bold prediction the surfer who didn’t fall would win the Oi Backwash Pro, and as the picture came into resolution on my screen late the other night, and the three feet of backwash at Saquarema had been joined by three feet of sidewash, it only reinforced the notion that there was one man who would win here yesterday. In the early hours of yesterday morning, as I slept like Kelly Slater in a Matt George article, that’s exactly what happened.
To be fair, the waves yesterday weren’t that bad.
That became clear in the first heat of the morning when Joel Parkinson, trailing against Wiggolly Dantas, somehow found a backhand tube amongst all that wobbling jelly. We’ve had some fun teasing Saquarema this week, but the reality is that it was a better option than the straighthanders of Rio in that it was possible to do more than two turns, at least.
In saying that, though, it still wasn’t much of a spectacle, and not even the return of Charlie Medina to the surfers’ area after serving a six-month suspension for giving the judges a free character assessment over a buffet breakfast in Portugal last year could bring the place to life. There was a brief moment in the dying seconds of Gabe’s heat with Yago Dora where Charlie appeared to actually move, Gabe landing a big wheelie air that appeared to be enough for him to take the win. Only problem was that, on the wave behind, Yago had gone even bigger. Charlie resumed his street mime pose while Yago Dora’s parents hugged joyously beside him.
And just as Yago Dora is now everyone’s new favorite Brazilian surfer, I think Leandro Dora has to be our new favorite Brazilian surfer dad, moving straight past Charlie Medina and Ricardo Toledo. Every time the camera found Yago’s dad, however, it would pan quickly to Yago’s mum and hover there for an uncomfortable period of time. It appears there are a couple of WSL broadcast producers hoping Yago (and Yago’s mum) get some more wildcards this year.
Yago provided the only glimmer of unpredictability in an event that ended predictably, beating world champs John John, Gabe Medina, and Mick Fanning before eventually losing to another – Adriano – in the semis. It was quite a run. The airs come easy to him, but rail-to-rail he also looked great, and from what we saw at Saquarema, he’d be right at home on Tour. He’s currently sitting at third on the ‘QS and natural selection should get him there, although natural selection on the ‘QS has given us plenty of dodos in the past.
I don’t know where the loss leaves Gabe’s season. Most had him as a challenger for John John this year, but he seems down on mojo. Yesterday was made for him: long lefts, air sections, surfing at home. But nothing clicked, and he leaves Brazil barely hanging in the Top 10 and dropping out of sight. The eight security guards in matching black lycra flanking him as he ran up the beach outnumbered the fans chasing him, and Gabe goes to Fiji with one last shot at doing something this year, out on The Ledge at Cloudbreak.
My interest waned as we hit midnight and the lumpy lineup started making me sleepy, and I flicked between Saquarema and some late-night TV to keep me awake. The first image I came to was of Jude Law playing the Pope, the first American Pope, busy with his hands up the shirt of a blonde female member of the flock. American Popes, it seems, have many similarities with American Presidents, and as Pope Jude The First got busy, he talked about the absence of God, who, at that point, was busy pulling some strings over at Saquarema.
If it wasn’t clear a few days ago that Adriano would walk away with this contest, it certainly was when the eight quarter-finalists averaged over 30 years of age, even with 20-year-old Yago Dora dragging the number way down. If Kelly had been in Brazil, he’d probably have been in that group, pushing the number up to 35. Half a world away in Australia with his bad back, Kelly must have been watching Adriano, Joel, and Mick and thinking he suddenly didn’t feel that old after all. The move to Saquarema and its big ol’ lineup, turned what had been a young-guys contest in Rio into one for the old boys.
The Big Guy upstairs was certainly pulling some strings when, in the early stages of Adriano’s quarter with Parko, two judges threw Adriano perfect 10s for two bread-and-butter backhand turns and a backhand hook. I thought I might have drifted off to sleep and it was a bad dream, but I checked the heat analyzer yesterday morning, and there it was. It seems like the scale was juiced all week, maybe to compensate for the surf, who knows, but that would have been the lamest perfect wave ever dropped if the three other judges hadn’t pulled the average back under a 10. If that was indeed a 10, then be prepared for some 50s in Fiji.
It wasn’t just Adriano, though, and sure, the waves had everything to do with it. But after speed-scrolling through all the scoring waves from the quarters onward, there wasn’t much out there yesterday that set it miles apart from surfing a decade ago. Yesterday was more attrition than anything else.
The challenge for Adriano appeared to be coming from the three Aussie goofyfooters in the bottom half of the draw – Ace Buchan, Owen Wright, and Wilko. The goofies have been crying out for a turning left on Tour and yesterday they had one, although I’m not sure Saquarema was everything they’d dreamed of. All three goofies looked silky out there, drawing long lines on their forehand, the problem being they ended up surfing a bit lateral. Adriano went lateral when required, dusting off the floater for the job, but the big difference, and the thing that won him the contest, was that he squared it up and went vertical. Adriano went straight up at the lip when no one else could. He didn’t fall, he never falls. He sleeps standing up. Yesterday at Saquarema, he was the last man standing.