Writing on the Wall

Shea Lopez on the perceptions vs. the realities of competition at Lower Trestles

The Champ's signature carve, serving him well on his way to his 50th event win. Photo: Ellis

I've been immersed in the Hurley Pro webcast all week but my immersion deepened when Barton Lynch entered the booth and brought a breath of fresh air and relevance as few others in his position have. He presented irrefutable evidence that with passion and knowledge a commentator can give us a well-informed opinion on what excellent surfing is. Barton let everyone know how a surfer should see things—from the smallest details to the largest flaws in the system. This former World Champ showed class, respect, and honesty in deciphering the tangled mess that is the reality of a surf contest. Only Barton and a few others get a pass to really call it like they see it.

For me, the biggest issue all competitors face is knowing one thing to be true, and then having to forget it in an attempt to think from a judge's perspective. Here are a few cases of this alternate reality:

1. Kelly Slater receiving an interference against Julian Wilson when every surfer in the world knew it was Kelly’s wave. Now, every newbie in the world who was watching thinks it's your wave when you paddle underneath and into someone’s way. Great.

2. Kelly losing priority vs. Flores when the wave clearly broke on their heads.

3. Jordy Smith's loss in the quarters. Poor Jordy. Nobody can do powerful of turns like that. What Jordy did in his heat against Parko was possibly the best on-the-face surfing to be done in competition at Lowers. And it was impossible for any other surfer in the event to match it. Not even T-Knox in his prime turned with that amount of fervor and precision. Turn after turn, wave after wave, Jordy gave it all he's got. All he got in return were lower scores than Parko received for his pretty slices that he released before completion in order to blend them into more of the same all the way down the line.

Now back to our winner and his struggle through the early rounds of the Hurley Pro. For a world title contender, there is a very real push from the judges that becomes obvious to fellow competitors. Kelly actually appears to be experiencing the push—only this time, the push is against him. My guess is it's an attempt to prevent another year where he gets too far ahead in the title race and coasts into a ho-hum world title.

In Kelly’s case, he fought through the challenges presented him, never allowed the drama around him to drain his energy, while slowly streamlining his equipment and improving his performance every heat. By the final he was the one in harmony with his surroundings in a wave-starved heat—always in the position he needed to be in. It is a good thing Kelly didn’t win Bells or the writing would be on the wall.

Maybe it already is.