"All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh-water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?"
Whenever I get too carried away poking holes in the Tour and how it's run, I think of this quote from "The Life of Brian". The People's Front of Judea (us) incessantly grumbling about the iron rule of the Romans (the WSL). Like, I was going to start today by mentioning the boho rope swing set up in the surfer's area with plastic vines attached to the ropes, which, I imagine, has been installed for Instagram purposes. But no, I stopped myself, because we can grumble as much as we like about the Tour and the WSL, but it's a fair way better than the current alternative—nothing, a black hole in space.
Because just when you start making jokes about a rope swing in the surfers' area or some double entendres in the commentary, a little bird whispers in your ear and suddenly everything is right again. I've heard on the coconut wireless that Fiji is back on Tour next year.
Yes, Fiji, the same Fiji event that got calved from the schedule this year. Whether the loss of Pipe from next year's schedule had anything to do with its reinstatement, we don't know. But Sophie's here. I'll go ask.
Just when it's all doom and gloom and a mechanized future advances and a full-blown retreat from surfing's Polynesian roots is called, we get thrown a bone. It was funny, the retiring Mick Fanning was talking with Parko last week, and Joel joked that Mick needs to get back on the 'QS and chase some QS1000s: Nias, HTs, Cloud Nine, Krui, Yoyos. The Dream Tour is far from dead; it's just been downgraded.
There was no danger of any collisions or slaps in this morning's freesurf. There were only half a dozen guys out. The front edge of Tropical Cyclone Linda was glancing the coast, resulting in some big, dumb ocean. It looked like a dropped pie. "Mate, send 'em out!" It was Gary Elkerton, who in his heyday revelled in this kinda stuff. He finished, "And then send 'em back out tomorrow when it's bigger!"
They listened. I also heard a whisper, however, that through some kind of scheduling f–k up, the Commonwealth Games baton relay is due to run through the contest site on Monday and we need to be out of here. Don't know if it's true or not, but they seem to be in an awful hurry to get out of here. We could be done by tomorrow.
Mick Fanning is getting a saloon passage through his final Snapper event. This morning he made it past Conner Coffin simply by getting less lost out there than Conner did. At this point in the contest, we contemplated the prospect of consecutive days with performance levels set somewhere around 1996. That changed pretty quickly when Toledo and Ferreira paddled out.
I watched the heat upstairs in the Surf Club with my mate, Gezza, who was coming off an all-night heater in Cooly and was squinting trying to follow the red and blue dots blipping around out there. It felt like a game of Mario Kart. Blip-blip-blip-blam. Gezza had surfed with Italo Ferreira yesterday and was still coming to terms with it. "How do they do it? How can they just explode like that?" He was now referring to all Brazilian surfers. "Why can't we?" He was now referring to all Australians, not just him. "Do we just drink to much piss?" Gezza was genuinely perplexed. He farted horribly as Italo hit the lip. Technically it was the heat of the contest. It wasn't lined up, so they had to hop and hustle between sections, but when they found them their fast twitch surfing just committed bloody murder. One Toledo turn literally made a 4-foot wave disappear, just not be there anymore. Toledo got the win.
Imagine two years ago, when Phil Toledo won here in 2-foot zippers along the bank and we proclaimed him the guy who would redefine small-wave surfing? The same Phil Toledo today looked just about the deadliest guy in 6-foot storm surf. As the heat ended I looked at the guy next to me whose shirt read, "It's not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin." I pondered the shirt…although the guy wearing it was drinking a schooner at 10 a.m., and looked as though he'd done that every day for the past 20 years.
Gabriel Medina versus Mikey Wright was billed like a cage fight, held inside the Octagon behind the rock at Snapper. Gabby will be intimidating as f–k in five years (and a couple of world titles) time, because he's intimidating already. He's demanded the inside of every heat he's surfed since he won the title, but today he gave it up to Mikey Wright and it was crucial. "It was pretty intense at that start but I wasn't letting him have that inside and he was doing everything he could to get it off me but I stayed strong and stuck to where I wanted to be and I got that wave at the start and it was one of the best waves." You'll notice there was no punctuation in there because in real time Mikey Wright didn't use any. Straight up told it how it was.
He might be the antithesis of where the WSL want to take the Tour, but Mikey Wright has been a huge breath of fresh air for this contest. I joked a month ago that the Tour really needs him, but after this week it's no longer a joke. The Tour really does need him. If you want unscripted, you need people off-script. You need people you can't entirely control. Individuals. Mikey's had a profound effect this week. Guys in the draw will be getting mullet weaves between now and Bells. When asked what's different, he replied, "I could tell you but I'd have to kill ya." Gabe meanwhile came in and headed straight to the judging tower to complain that Mikey's legrope had snagged the nose of his board.
Mikey lost late this afternoon. It was a shame. He would have met his brother in the quarters. I think the dynamic of the three-man heat, and not having just one guy to shoot laser beams at might have thrown him. Will Webber—'90s Tour surfer, guitarist with punk three-piece Mindcrack, alter ego of Tour commentator Chud Spivens and, yes, one of the Webbers—said watching Mikey reminded him of the '77 Stubbies and another dark knight cleaning up the squares. He didn't invoke the name but he didn't have to. Peterson.
Today was the first day we really saw the transition to the new head judge tested, and it was a pretty heavy baptism. For starters, Pritamo Ahrendt had a close Jeremy Flores heat and gave the decision the other way by 0.1, when there was a solid case for it to go in Jeremy's favor. The scale has been crushed all event, lowball numbers all the way, but rightly so. Nobody has earned it. The judges have worn down the 4s and 5s on their keyboard, but it wasn't till late this afternoon and Owen Wright flattening in the barrel like a falling cat that we saw the first 9 dropped. The real test will come they get above the lip, but that won't be here. For the most part the judges have been invisible. I give them a 7.83. When judging the judges my scale is always crushed.
Mick Fanning was a difficult draw for anyone here at Snapper, simply because nobody wanted to be the one to knock him out and finish his career here at Snapper. It was almost like up till this afternoon anyone who drew him turned into the Washington Generals and made the heat a training drill for him.
This afternoon it seemed like Mick himself was playing for the Generals. I'm not entirely sure he really wanted to get out of the heat. He caught waves he shouldn't. He made odd choices with priority. He never looked like he was in the game. And the great irony was that the first person to be eliminated in a Round Four heat under the new system was Mick, a guy who'd played that round better than anyone—played it to a couple of world titles. At the start of the contest I wondered what the moment would look like. Mick losing. The beach packed. His people all on their feet applauding. The emotional quotient peaking as Mick's reign behind the rock came to an end.
Instead it was poignantly quiet. It's been a long day, a long Wednesday, and whatever crowd was left was never going to be enough to do that career justice. Mostly Brazilian, a few guys in hi-vis dropping bay after work, a handful of diehards who'd waited around all day just in case Mick indeed lost. Mick walked back up through them graciously, took off his jersey, and then disappeared out the back door.
He won't be here tomorrow and that's a shame, as they're making plans for Kirra. Mick will watch on from his verandah and I don't think he'll miss it one bit.