Desperate days in the sardine and softboard capital of Europe. The swell was down but at least the onshore wind had stalled dead. Supertubes wasn’t super, nor tubing, but they’ve got no choice—they gotta go. I’m feeling for my boy, Kurt Korte, in his rookie event as a surf forecaster. Tough place for a rookie. I recall a few years back another rookie forecaster making his debut at Supertubes. The Englishman’s predictions for the following day comically dithered. “Well, it could be three feet and onshore…orrrr, if the system moves just a touch it could be six foot and offshore all day.” It was full Monty Python.

The women surfed first. I tuned in to the second heat of the morning: Steph Gilmore against Macy Callaghan. Steph’s had an ordinary back half of the season and is out of the game for the title. The Portuguese event is a pretty good marker for where a surfer’s head’s at. The second last event of a long season, you’ve either got something to surf for or you don’t. With the title gone, however, Steph at least kept at it, even on her non-preferred backhand. It’s been a long season for the commentators too. Strider started to sound like Dean or Gene Ween at one point… “Macy, all alone like a lady!”

Interesting point. There’s been a whole lot of noise made about the demise of the Australian men on Tour and how it’s the Aussie women flying the flag. The women’s rankings coming into Portugal, however, had only Steph and Sally Fitzgibbon in the top 10. Rookie Macy Callaghan was sitting in 17th. Steph and Sally are starting to feel like the Mick and Joel of the women’s Tour. Steph early 30s, Sally late 20s, both on Tour for well over a decade, and their success has masked the fact that the generation below hasn’t made a mark at the top end. The one exception of course hasn’t been seen on Tour all year—and Tyler Wright can’t come back soon enough.

The women’s title meanwhile is now Carissa Moore’s to lose. She’s throwing away two quarters, but beyond the numbers looks to be cruising in the lineup. Nothing and no one is knocking her off axis right now, and this could be done by the end of the week.

Carissa Moore
Photo Credit: Laurent Masurel/WSL via Getty Images
Moore, in cruise control on her way to the title.

Different story in the men’s. The four challengers today all stayed in the game. Jordy copped a low tide heat, but managed to keep flow across the straight bank. Kolohe came out throwing air reverses, found a long tube, and looked the most alive of the contenders. Phil Toledo next. He’s been nursing a seized back for a month and looked cooked, but in one turn today he hinted that he might still shake the tree. It was a big, drifting, tail high, fins-to-the-beach reverse that just seemed effortless. He’s tried tight, quick spins all week but threw this one to the breeze. Electric Phil suddenly looked sparky again.

But it wouldn’t matter what these guys did, however, as it seemed nobody was going to beat Gabby…with the exception maybe of Gabby himself.

Caio Ibelli is an interesting cat. The fact he missed out originally on the injury wildcard in favor of Kelly and John despite having a better claim summed it up perfectly—he’s the outsider. Even among the Brazilian guys who all run tight, he’s out on the fringes, and drawing countryman Medina was no different for him than drawing an Australian or a Hawaiian. He might be the single most annoying guy on Tour to surf against. There’s some quality you can’t quite put your finger on, but he rankles everyone he surfs against. Sends them nuts. Even the Brazilians. Even Medina surfing for a world title.

With 15 minutes to go, however, Ibelli was parked on a pair of 1s and getting smoked. Medina, as he has all event, had it dialled. Tight backhand rotors on the rights, big, drifiting straight airs into the wind on the lefts. The crowd and the judges dined out on it like a plate of barbecued sardines with a light salting. Medina had an 8 and a 6 and was not even being challenged. Ibelli needed a high 9 to take the lead, but was struggling to find a 5. Gabby was cruising to the quarters.

With 8-and-a-half minutes left, the pair sat there. Ibelli had priority. The broadcast crossed down to Strider crowd fluffing with a “pretty cool scene down here, 10,000 Portuguese fans, etc.” In the background you could see the priority boards clearly indicating Ibelli had priority. Cut back and here’s Gabby hassling Ibelli for the next wave. Huh? What did we miss? It was the most cut and dried interference you’ll ever get…but why did Gabby catch that wave? Maybe he just assumed he had priority and didn’t even look at the tower? Maybe he just had a brain fart? Whatever it was, only Gabby knew and we still don’t know, even now.

They called the interference and Gabby blew up. Joe had earlier called Charlie Medina a “really peaceful individual,” but Charlie was very fucking far from peaceful on the beach. Gabby was pissed. Ibelli still needed a 3 to win the heat, and Gabby started paddling over the top of him, windmilling him like an older brother. The judges generously gave Ibelli his 3-pointer and the world title was wide open again.

“He’s a competitive machine,” offered Pottz. “Have you ever seen him make a silly mistake like that?” Well, yes. The silly mistake is a Medina trademark. Whenever he gets lured into hassling in a heat he loses his shit, royally. For a guy who hassles as much as he does, he’s not actually that good at it. Today was Exhibit A.

But we still had no idea why he’d paddled for that wave. After the heat, they cut to Strider in front of a closed red door with a huge Portuguese guy in a red shirt guarding it. Gabby was in there tearing strips off someone. It felt like 2012 all over again; the famous final he lost on a controversial call that sparked tears and some impromptu furniture rearrangement. The red door stayed closed, symbolically blocking any explanation of the season’s key moment. For a sport that loves being a sport, they’re not very good at explaining it in sporting terms. Two heats later and nobody had said a word about the interference. They crossed down instead to street artist Mad Steez who explained his “weenified” color palette. It was a mad fail. The whole season had just been turned on its head and the red door stayed shut. I was quietly hoping they’d bring in Kelly’s energy healer to do a post-heat energy reading with Gabe—Gabe’s aura would have reduced him to ashes.

Regardless of what happened behind the red door, the title just opened right up.

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