Much has been written about the demise of Australian surfing recently; the more money gets thrown at it the worse it gets, suffering from terminal entitlement, the Olympics a lost cause already. But I'll see your schadenfreude – world – and raise you Wade Carmichael.
Avoca Jesus lit the J-Bay dawn. Ronnie Blakey went straight to Carmichael's biblical doppelganger, but while Jesus was a carpenter, high up the tradie totem, Carmichael in his previous life was a humble laborer. Flawless 4-foot J-Bay shits all over a cold mid-winter job site, and Carmichael surfed like he knew it, drove hard off the bottom, went hard at the lip, but at the same time had the spatial awareness to calmly place the final turn, something that's proved tough for pretty much everyone else.
I first met Carmichael as a spotty teen with a spikey haircut at the world junior titles five or six years ago, kinda nervous in that company. This morning after his win he was interviewed by Rosy, his confidence was mainlining. I swear at one point he looked to see if Rosy was wearing a wedding ring. And Carmichael has done it his way, with little grease from the surf industry. He would have made perfect company a decade ago for guys like Hedgey, Phil Macca and Trent Munro, the last generation of Aussie animals, but now Carmichael, along with Mikey Wright, keep the dream of the Aussie animal alive. I hope they both make it to the Olympics, at worst for the haircuts and interviews.
At the other end of the scale Julian Wilson was next, and from the outset it was clear that losing to Wiggolly Dantas would not fly. It's the kind of heat he's managed to lose this year. The only problem is that the harder he tried, the more jumpy he looked, and the less it suited the wave. It's been a strange year for him. It feels like the only time he's dropped the mic this year was the final day at Snapper, but in between, to his credit, he's grafted his way to the ratings lead and is hanging in here at J-Bay.
As the Facebook outrage simmered down from Krakatoa to Kilauea, a slow flow of online magma, the WSL got the distraction they were after – pumping Jeffreys Bay. It's no accident they pulled the trigger on Facebook here and J-Bay delivered. It almost felt comical when they started plugging tickets to the Lemoore wavepool event with J-Bay roping in the foreground. It was running the length of the point today, and today guys were actually using the whole racetrack, sitting deeper and mapping it out. Six turns, seven… cutbacks were death, and as a herd the surfers had a better feel for it, including J-Bay newbies like Carmichael and Griff Colapinto. There's been criticism of two, three-stage bottom turns, of everyone failing to resemble Tom Curren, but the asterisk here of course is that it's four foot and the margins are squeezed. An eight-foot day would iron that out. Today was a good day, performance-wise the best of the season, but I suppose it was perfect J-Bay from top to bottom and I'd be worried if they screwed it up.
Did Michael Rodrigues walk down to the keyhole with oversized headphones on? That must be some serious psych track. The only thing sillier was Occy's old trademark of walking down to the keyhole in his full suit and sneakers to keep his feet warm.
Owen Wright pulled out with a bad African flu, before his younger brother paddled out against Griff Colapinto in what many flagged as the heat of the round. This is what the post-Kelly and Joel apocalypse looks like. Mikey's success this week has come by ignoring the flowing aesthetic and just going hard at the lip, while Griff has been channelling the Parko retirement, going to bed dreaming of himself surfing J-Bay like Joel. At times today Griff looked like Joel, just better. The same lines were all there, but Joel doesn't tail-slide on copings. The kid must have toes like fingers.
Round four started with the accredited J-Bay specialists – Jordy, Joel and Connor Coffin – and some hints as to whether J-Bay surfing would win J-Bay. It didn't last year. The surfing was everything billed. Jordy lifted, Connor drove with flourish, and Parko, for a while there, kept the dream of a final J-Bay win alive. In the end though it wasn't his surfing – the gold standard here for two decades – that did him in. It was losing his radar and catching a lemon with priority mid heat.
There would be no fairytale final win for Joel, and maybe that's a good thing. Last time he won he was swinging from the rafters in the local Mexican restaurant after a tequila binge, knocking over tables full of food while a member of his entourage, for reasons known only to themselves, set their hair on fire, the hair smoke filling the restaurant and eventually clearing the room. Instead, for Joel today the celebrations were more reflective. He handed Connor Coffin his last J-Bay jersey, thanked the crowd, and walked off with his family. He even stopped to pose for a photo with Kelly, who in his post later apologized with good grace for the retirement shade he'd thrown the previous day.
The question though is anyone going to beat Phil Toledo? It still seems odd to think Toledo is a J-Bay made man now, but if anything he's gone up a gear from his win last year, and he hasn't even gone to the air yet. The dangerous thing for everyone in the field is that there's a half-day of devil wind forecast tomorrow, and if Toledo gets near it you know where he's going. Pete Mel is warming up his girly-man scream, which might replace the paint-stripping whistle of Ricardo Toledo who's sitting this one out to the relief of everyone's ears. Filipe put the cleaners through his round four heat, and is drawn against Gabby Medina in the quarters.
Medina was the sole goofyfooter to make the last 12, again an indictment of how tough this place is to surf well on your backhand. Sporting the Neymar frosties as Brazil reach the football World Cup quarters, there was no fake rolling down the point for Gabe. He's got the best down the line backhand in the game, making impossible sections before pointing himself skyward. Gabe was lucky though. Griff Colapinto was sitting on a mid-nine when he broke his board, making it back out only to sit through the only real lull of the day that lasted to the end of the heat.
Igarashi is the sleeper. Last heat of the day saw some mad flow from the Japanifornian, backing up a strong heat earlier in the day. His carves had great release and he had a great feel for the speed of the wave. He's also one of the few guys who've been able to drop clean finishes on the Impossibles sandbar, his air reverse finish this afternoon will keep winning him heats tomorrow if he can have it on lock.
As Shaun Tomson said, it was a great day's surfing that reflected Shaun's Three Pillars of pure surfing. The First Pillar of tube, carve, air was all there. Then the Second Pillar, the spiritual metaphysical pillar, guided the surfers around Jeffreys Bay without them even knowing it. And the Third Pillar? Shaun forgot what the Third Pillar was, but was sure it was there too.