The Doherty Report: The Rare Bird

Day One of the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro

The second someone dropped the claim that yesterday would be “a landmark and historic day for pro surfing,” it was doomed.

It feels like the hype around North Point and the chance of getting it on has been juiced for so long – ever since Margaret River was added to the schedule three years ago – that when the event finally got its day, we’d only leave North Point disappointed.

North Point is a rare bird – rare enough to get on when you live there, let alone when you’re there only two weeks a year – but to say there’s been some hype around the move is putting it mildly. On the charts, the system looked deadly – a snake-eyed twin low with 956 and 942 eyes spinning down in the polar fetch – but while the south coast of Australia will get hit more squarely, it would only glance the west. Strider described the scene yesterday as “velvety,” but we haven’t waited three years to surf red velvet cupcakes. We’ve waited three years for North Point.

We got to North Point yesterday morning and waited another three hours, and then finally started the first heat, and we kept on waiting. With Mick and Kelly drawn in that first heat, they were never going to rush out there. That pair with their collective clout have stopped more days of marginal pro surfing than they’ve actually surfed, so it was little surprise the event went on hold and waited while everyone watched the swell sail by on its way to Bali.

You had to admire the will of the WSL to make this happen – it was a royal pain in the ass to move the event there – and a marquee day at the southwest’s best wave would be good news here in the west, handy when the WA state government is footing the bill. Good news would be timely. The irony yesterday was that the Drug Aware Pro began on the same day Western Australia’s most high profile drug addict – footballer Ben Cousins – was gracing the covers of every major metropolitan newspaper in Perth after being jailed.

When Mick and Kelly and their collective 500 years of pro tour experience eventually paddled out, it soon became clear that pretty much everyone – Mick and Kelly included – were flying blind out there. The wave at North Point is so rare to get on that even a guy like Parko has only ever surfed it once, and while it looks perfect, it’s tough to read.

Photo: Joli

The wave is hard to surf when it’s big and hard to surf when it’s small and even harder to surf when it’s in-between, when it gets split between ledges. That was yesterday. Kelly and Mick got lost, missed the one good wave of the heat, and sat there for much of the heat doing two-fifths of not much. Ten minutes into the day, I contemplated a sacrificial rock start to each heat just to add some excitement as guys won heats with sixes…and that’s not a pair of sixes, that’s a pair of threes.

Either that or send them out to Cow Bombie, which was 20-foot and heaving in the background.

Mind you, life enthusiast Barton Lynch’s commentary from the scrub on the headland managed to bring the heats to life. Listening to him as Jordy walked down to paddle out, BL’s voice reminded me of David Attenborough lying amidst a troop of mountain gorillas, his voice hushed, studying his subject, his frisson clear but trying to keep a lid on it in case he spooked the beast and had both his buttocks ripped from his body. I’m just glad he didn’t start talking about Jordy’s mating ritual.

With the exception of local wildcard Jacob Willcox and maybe Josh Kerr (who recalcitrantly ended his heat with a pair of donuts), Jordy might have spent more time out at North Point than anyone in the field…although he’s usually surfing into the teeth of North Point’s cross-shore air breeze. I don’t need to remind you of his nosebleed alley-oop here two years ago. When Jordy paddled out yesterday, it looked like a different wave. Jordy actually broke double figures, getting barreled at will, and the crowd watching on silently hoped for an onshore change.

Sadly, it stayed beautiful and offshore all day.

John John was never going to land his flip in an airbrushed offshore, but gave it a go anyway. The one he landed two days ago – along with Mikey Wright’s almost-made zero gravity air – helped raise the general froth level for North Point, but John won yesterday by surfing sensibly. Like Jordy, he’s done a ton of filming time here, surfing into the air wind, but around him, other heats were won by renowned North Point specialists like Caio Ibelli, Ian Gouveia, and Jesse Mendes.

I saw Jesse’s name in the draw and tried to work out how he’d got in.

Turns out he’d been given the outright WSL wildcard, which puzzled and troubled me equally. So, you’ve got free reign to put whomever you want into your contest. On this swell, you could put Jack Robinson in there, a guy who lives five minutes up the road and the guy every other guy in the contest yesterday was taking their lineup markers from. You could have put a certain recently-retired, high profile, high-living Tour veteran who lives even closer up the road at Yallingup (admittedly I remember Taj saying he wouldn’t take wildcards up). You could have put quasi-local Clay Marzo in Margarets (I’m looking for the hashtag key on my keyboard as we speak). Jesse is here only because he leads the WQS. He’s a great surfer and won his heat, but it was a mildcard option that did nothing to create a wildcard buzz, and highlighted again the sport’s proclivity to look after its own at the expense of the fan.

And so that was North Point. A five-out-of-10 day at North Point is better than pretty much anywhere else on Tour, so we’ll take it. But before the day had ended, we’d already begun building the hype for today. Because today, we go to The Box.