Die Trying

Kelly, Filipe, and a buttery Rushmore of Parko


Parko has played it cool all week. Photo: Craig

Lowers is hands down the most needy contest on tour.

Guys have surfed Lowers this week like that ex-girlfriend you had who left 80 messages on your phone that time. I don't know if it was a combination of a dying, lumpy swell, the contest – and the season – getting pointy, people melting in the oppressive heat, or whether being needy is just a product of pro surfing generally, but the groove largely disappeared out there today. Cote, who is warming to the task behind the microphone and may have slipped the punitive electrodes from his nuts, picked up on it when he said, "You're not exactly seeing Gerry Lopez against Gerry Lopez out there." Amen.

We, as surf fans, tend to gravitate towards those who seem to want it least, a product of a sport perpetually at odds with itself. It's why we love Dane and why we loathe claims. The guys who want it the most, we like the least. We shun wanton competitiveness, and which surfers we like on tour and which ones we don't are subliminally decided by who exhibits it and who doesn't. Even a guy like Kelly, who could win any contest anytime in any universe purely on God-given surfing talent, plays the game and it divides people. It doesn't matter that he has won Pipe 50 times or is the best guy at Teahupoo, Cloudbreak, or Jeffreys, we can't forget that one time he snaked Beschen. Or that he double-checked the score sheets at the Eddie that time. Or in his heat today when he had Adam Melling comboed with a minute to go then blew up when he wasn't awarded priority.

The Brazilian guys have suffered from this over the years. It's popularly characterised that it's the "beachbreak style" that fails to endear them to the rest of the surfing world, when in fact it's more that same neediness on a wave, that urgency, and the fact they largely engage in the contest that divides people. Look at Gabe Medina last year. His world title divided people more because he wanted it so bad than the fact he was the first Brazilian to do so. It's the great unwritten rule of pro surfing – don't try – or at least, don't look like you're trying.

That's why the surfing – and the seasons – of Italo Ferreira and Wiggolly Dantas have been so damn interesting to watch. Wiggolly in particular surfs with a low pulse rate, a very un-Brazilian trait, but even Italo who surfs heats like there are three of him in the lineup doesn't seem needy out there. Okay, there was the time he ground his legs to stumps on the reef in Fiji to score a three, but by and large Italo just paddles out and surfs. No histrionics. No bullshit. The pair has been a revelation this year and again they'll find themselves surfing on the final day of the contest here at Lowers. They've been great value this season.

Filipe Toledo, on the other hand, tries.

Clearly stung after his perfect zero in Tahiti, Toledo's taken to his adopted home break at Lowers like a man possessed, his reaction to his win in the dying minutes yesterday over wildcard Ian Crane was pure octagon. Today he showed why he's gonna be deadly here on this dropping swell. After two months of points and reefs and being out of his comfort zone, he dusted off the old gravity-free forehand spinner today, threw some whippy rails, and suddenly no one remembered Tahiti. Apart from Parko the entire top half of the draw is Brazilian, so despite Kolohe losing today there's still a real chance a San Clemente local might win the event.


The steely menace of a Brazilian tiger. Photo: Burgess

Parko, by rights, should be surfing needy right now, inexplicably having his worst season ever and sitting in 18th, but instead he is amongst a handful of guys who seem to be going with the flow out there. Joel dropped the highest heat score yesterday, and repeated the feat again today. If you had a pound of butter for every time the commentators have used the word "butter" during his heats you could sculpt a Mount Rushmore-sized rendering of Parko's head outta butter. More than anyone Joel demonstrates the axiom that Lowers is more a wave-catching contest than the high-performance shootout it's billed as. For every showreel Toledo air there are six heats won by 80 per cent surfing on the right waves. Joel is surfing with a bulging disc in his neck, and may be wishing he'd suffered the injury in the first event of the season.

With a bunch of ex-world champs on deck for the heritage series, the current world title picture remains as clear as mud. Julian Wilson went out meekly in a wave-starved heat, so the predicted momentum switch to Wilson we've seen here in recent years failed to launch. Adriano won and still wears the leaders jersey although no one can quite remember why. Mick was workmanlike against Kolohe, Owen got a walk through after Fred's retirement, but it was Kelly who made the biggest statement out here today. He summoned the ghosts of Trestle wins past with some real zip and hustle. Kelly was great today.

Kelly was clearly trying but we can forgive him for that.