The Tachi Palace Casino is a strange scene. The doors of the Tachi have an airlock, two sliding glass doors designed to keep the smell of fertilizer out of the building. The casino rises seven stories from the adjacent farmland. Hard-earned farm money enters and never leaves. The Tachi has been an even stranger scene since Kelly opened the Surf Ranch two minutes up the road.
The last time we were in Lemoore we lost our associate in the dark recesses of the Tachi. After wrangling waves at the Surf Ranch all day we were spent, but our associate had only just started and disappeared onto the gaming floor just north of midnight, looking for a good time. We were concerned, as the casino was hosting a local MMA card and the place was crawling with malcontents looking for any opportunity to turn an Aussie party boy into a pretzel. It was a dangerous scene, made even more dangerous by our associate himself. He knew nobody, was on his own, and was after some assistance in warding off the curse of sleep. The first person he asked was an off-duty cop. He eventually returned to the room around dawn, and we could hear voices coming out of his room for the next three hours. When we finally went to check on him he was asleep in a bathrobe, a middle-aged cowboy sleeping in a hat and boots on the floor, the room strewn with scotch bottles. Check out was 10am. He didn't stir until one.
The judges, tomorrow night, after the final wraps up, may embark on their own unholy Tachi bender. They'll need it. They've had the job of sequencing 216 waves for the men and 108 for the women, across however many parameters you care to name – backhand/forehand, tube/turn, flow/hustle – all set against a universal constant, a cookie cutter wave.
In the ocean, the wave plays no official part in the judging criteria, but we know that's bullshit. The wave is everything. Here the wave is simply wallpaper, and they are judging surfing; nothing more, nothing less. The judges have been preparing for months for this, but it didn't matter. Just as the wave shows up every flaw in the surfing, it shows every flaw in the judging and there've been a few. I got a text message from Mark Richards this morning who's watched every heat. He described the judges' job as "impossible".
In the men's draw, most of the pieces fell into place late yesterday afternoon, so the whole field were surfing for maybe three places in the final eight. Miguel Pupo and his Katy Perry wig came from nowhere to get one of them. Kelly backed up his overcooked 8.50 with a good left to make the cut for the final day, which regardless of where you stand on the 8.50 is what we all wanted to see, if, for nothing else, the theatre.
But it was Kolohe and Jordy who got gypped, and Kolohe wasn't afraid to say it. He had a point. They'd been told all along that risk and point of difference would be key. On his final right, Kolohe went big on his first and last turn, falling at the finish and needing an eight, but you sensed he'd already resigned himself to missing out and had a few thoughts ready to go for the post-heat interview. He lined the judges up and didn't miss. He cited Jordy's waves yesterday as Exhibit A and B. Jordy should have been in the final eight.
The surfing today, in theory should have been the high-water mark of the event as it was the last chance saloon.
On the whole today disappointed.
There's simply too much distance here between the best guys and the others. The backmarkers chased scores they knew they'd never get, while the top guys were already safe, so they didn't bother chasing anything. The final eight are Medina, Wilson, Toledo, Owen, Igarashi, Miggy, Seabass and Kelly… and with the exception of Jordy and maybe Italo that seemed kind of right.
Couple of observations from the day. Medina caught a left that made me double take, as it seemed half the size of every other wave ridden. Was the pool out of juice? How did that even happen? We might know more tomorrow if it's Gabe versus Kelly for the win and Gabe's final wave mysteriously closes out. Kelly, well Kelly surfed like he'd never broken his foot at all. And finally I think we've found our new WSL commentary anchor. Inviting Hiroto Ohhara to do a cameo in the booth was a spot of genius. The Japanese surfer needs to do the rest of the tour in the booth as a color guy. I want him interviewing Sophie Goldschmidt tomorrow, the pair smoking spliffs while discussing topics including sending cars into space and whether a Lemoore wave has a soul.
Like the men, there's been a big gulf here in L'Amour between the best women and the rest. Some girls were completely bamboozled by the wave, while others joined the dots without pushing hard. The top four women at the start of the day were the top four at the end, and they'll be great to watch tomorrow. My pick? Baby Occ… Caroline Marks. The left is bad news for the regularfooters – too crumbly, too quick, nothing to hit – but the screwfoots can dance all over it. The numbers back it up, and the contest will be won on the left. I'll take Caroline Marks to win the women, Gabby to win the men's… and the Tachi to take half of everyone's prize money.
The only person at shorter odds will be Joe Turpel getting on stage tonight with Social Distortion for an acoustic version of Prison Bound.