The Doherty Report: The Zipline Simulator

Time zones, hermit-crab racing, more backwash, and observations from Day Six of the Oi Rio Pro

I missed Saturday night's surfing in Brazil.

I know it's hard to believe, but the world beyond Saquarema, beyond the spellbinding action at the Oi Backwash Pro, has kept on turning. Apparently, I didn't miss much. From all reports, the wave of the day was ridden by Strider on the zipline surfboard in the car park. The wobbly carny ride would actually have made a legitimate simulator for surfing the Saquarema backwash.

Instead, I was in Melbourne watching the premiere of Taylor Steele's new film, Proximity, watching John John and Steph surfing in all their cinematic, surround-sound glory. John was in Micronesia with Kelly, surfing windblown rights, racing hermit crabs, and playing chess under the light of a single low watt bulb. The silence positively crackles as John moves into check, Kelly genuinely perplexed losing on a chessboard just as he is losing on a surfboard. John's pulse, meanwhile, doesn't skip a beat, winning simply being an end, not the means. As he's done all year, John makes winning look easy, right up until the point where his hermit crab loses to Kelly's and John promptly throws the vanquished crustacean into the ocean.

Steph's Proximity section was filmed in Baja alongside Dave Rastovich, the pair surfing a long, languid righthand point, doing crossovers like ice skaters, one beer-guzzling onlooker so moved by their surfing that he yelled to Rasta from the cliff above, "You two should have a baby!"

Of course, while I was watching them on the big screen in Melbourne, both John and Steph – the respective ratings leaders on Tour this year – were being uncinematically bundled out of the Tour event over in Brazil.

Devoid of any elemental rhythm, John went down to wildcard flyboy Yago Dora, the result at least breathing hope that the world title might be stretched out beyond July. As for Steph, after surfing well enough at Snapper to win both the women's and the men's, she's come off the boil big time and surrendered at Saquarema in the quarters. Steph runs on a perfect paradigm, and when the waves aren't perfect or she's not in a big budget surf film and walking through the Baja desert looking radiant in white cotton and 4K, she gets knocked out of orbit easily. Saquarema has been far from perfect, and Steph, for the third event in a row, couldn't win ugly.

That brought us to today, last night, yesterday…whatever it was for you. The timezone difference and watching Strider flying on the zipline surfboard makes it feel like this event is happening in a neighboring solar system. The drop in swell at Saquarema also dropped the backwash and actually made the whole thing more digestible. Fun, even. There, I said it.

There are two schools of surfing that will win this contest, and we saw the first of those in the women's final.

Tyler Wright and Johanne Defay made the final by simply not falling. All week, the backwash has thrown everyone ass over apex, and simply finishing waves has been claim-worthy. In an earlier round, Tyler got flipped by the backwash so violently that it looked like she'd just been shot out of the barrel at Cape Solander. Tyler has surfed strong this week, her crew calling her Tyborg, but she won the final on flow, finding some rhythm on the inside righthand bank. Tyler now leads the women's ratings in a year where it seems nobody can string together two good events in a row.

The last time Adriano de Souza fell was 24 years ago in the Guaruja shorebreak. He was seven years old at the time. Today, he didn't look like falling, and in this contest, that might be enough. Drawn against Gabe Medina and Wiggolly Dantas, this heat would have been a nightmare to accidentally stumble into, the three Brazilians collectively the most wave-hungry on Tour, and they didn't miss many out there today. But while Adriano surfed to the beach, clinical and crisp and surfing the backwash as assuredly as Strider surfed the zipline, Gabe simply raced down the line and hucked one big ol' spinner. Adriano's three turns versus Gabe's one. The judges will have to split the two approaches to decide a winner at Saquarema, but today, they gave it to Adriano, the boy from the "flavela," as Gigs so eloquently described him.