Echoes of the Über-Oop

Sean Doherty reflects on one of the biggest airs ever done in competition

John John Florence and the alley-oop heard 'round the world. Photo: Lowe-White

Okay, so turns out leaving the beach yesterday afternoon with two heats still to run was not such a smokin' hot idea, and your correspondent sits here this afternoon, humbled. He broke two golden rules: never turn your back on the ocean...and never turn your back on John Florence.

Yesterday afternoon I was back at the hotel in Sanur, having beat the traffic, having just filed my post for the day, full of self congratulation at my endeavour and initiative and was just contemplating running down for a quick surf when I first heard the commotion. Bemos from the contest were dropping crew back to the hotel from Keramas, and they were all buzzing as they got out, the buzzing paraphrased thusly: "Holy shit!", "Oh my God!", "That was the single greatest thing I've ever seen!" That kinda stuff, much of it coming from the ASP judging panel who themselves were still in disbelief. Pretty soon the foyer of the hotel was full of people with phones and laptops gorging data, all watching and replaying the same video. They were double checking they hadn't been seeing things.

Apparently--I was discovering--in the last heat yesterday John John Florence had pulled an alley-oop of such amplitude and audacity that it dwarfed the one that opened his latest movie, Done...made it look like a kid's trick. A big ol' drifting hanger, he'd even claimed it; a rarity. It was a 10, straight up, the easiest call the judges will make this year, but the score was incidental to the scale of the move itself. And when he backed it up with a 9.8 it was the exclamation point on what had been a momentous days surfing. Icing, meet cake.

The guy on the receiving end of John John's awesomeness was last night philosophical about it. Sebastian Zeitz had no choice...he'd surfed the best heat of his life, scored 19 out of 20, and had still lost comprehensively. He recalls being as stunned as anyone by John's oop. "I thought I was going okay in that heat...then he just came out with the biggest air that's ever been done in competition! I was paddling back out and I saw the wave and I thought he was going to get barreled on it. Then I saw Miguel Pupo who was sitting out the back and I saw his face just go white--pale white--and I heard the beach explode and I asked him, 'What did he do? What did he do?' And he couldn't even tell me. He couldn't speak. Then he pulled himself together and went, "Biggest… air... ever." I swear it took him four minutes to spit it out. I was just kinda bummed I didn't turn around and see it. Looking back already it was a historical moment. I'm just stoked I pushed him hard enough to break some boundaries."

This morning people were still coming to terms with The Oop, John John included. The move was viral within minutes of him landing it, and had flooded every dark recess of the Internet. Waiting for a coffee in the surfers' area I asked him his thoughts on the reaction to his über oop. "Yeah, it's pretty rad. It's kinda gone everywhere." As for the move itself he was kinda nonplussed. "I dunno...I just threw it up there and was lucky to get a good landing," was his summation. Something this instinctive and grand is maybe not meant to have a rational explanation. It just is. John earned the day off and spent it surfing out front of his villa, just up the beach.

Meanwhile this morning it was back to reality for the guys who'd lost out yesterday--a cold hard reality in a tropical warm fantasyland. Keramas was firing again, of course, and Kelly took little Jack Robbo to school in the first heat of the morning, before Parko redeemed his scratchy heat yesterday, gear-shifting past Sumbawan wildcard Oney Anwar. Bruce Irons, meanwhile, had drawn Taj Burrow. I'd also caught up with Bruce last night and had a rap about his cameo return to pro surfing. I asked him, "How good is it to be back? Is it good to be back? Are you back?" "Brah," he replied throwing double shakas, "I never left! It's nice to be back amongst this level of surfing though. I've always said this is the place they need to have a contest. Keramas is the way it should be. It's a high-performance wave for every type of surfing."

Bruce was nervous this morning, the nerves having little to do with the heat, but more to do with the nature of the wave he was surfing. He wasn't intimidated by the wave--he's recently been surfing a triple-overhead Mexican version of this wave--but by the potential of the wave. The wave at Keramas is so ripe, so rippable, it almost compels you to go above and beyond yourself. You don't want to throw a turn at it; you want to throw every turn you've got, all at once. And while some guys thrive on a canvas like this, it breeds a special kind of neurosis in others. And after what JJF did yesterday afternoon, every surfers' hands are leaving their rails here with a sense of performance anxiety.

"I felt nervous. F–k, I said it wasn't, but let's be honest. That wave is such a high-performance wave that as soon as I took off on it I kinda froze up. It's such a rippable wave, you've kind of got too many options and your brain just spins in circles." Bruce looked a little lost in his heat this morning, the wave catching him out of position and in two minds a number of times. It was hardly vintage Bruce, and his performance highlighted that once you step off the Tour, that performance train chugs away from you quickly, the critical mass of 34 guys surfing together day in, day out, all trying to outslice, outdice, and outsurf each other, lifts the collective bar until things like yesterday happen. Just watch the freesurfing hour at dawn here every morning this week for proof of this. Bruce, for his part, was gracious in defeat and enjoyed the experience. "Yeah I had nothing but good vibes from everybody, all the guys I haven't seen since being on Tour. They had a big smile and a good word for me. I miss that. I miss that camaraderie. You're all friends but you all still, ya still wanna rip each other's heads off! But I'm in a different place in my life and in my head now, and I don't think I'd wanna be doing the whole Tour. For now I'm just happy to be in Bali."

Aren't we all. Sampai jumpa lagi.