Mick Fanning. Photo: Ryan Miller
Mick Fanning. Photo: Ryan Miller

The Doherty Report: Less Than Lovely

Surfer's 'CT correspondent reports on opening day of the 2018 season

I read with interest yesterday a piece in the press here in Australia whose title I’ve borrowed for today’s column.

Written by Tim Elliot – “Sketchy Tim” from his days at Tracks – it’s a piece on Tim Winton, the celebrated Australian novelist, whose latest work has been inspired by observations he’s made of some of the young guys he surfs with at home. “Less than lovely” is how he described their demeanour in the water, before adding, “Some of these guys were the full Dickhead Package.” He lamented a lack of sensitivity and gentleness amongst them. The book follows his familiar exploration of “toxic masculinity” and the tormented transition from boyhood to manhood, although this one doesn’t feature surf, nor a brooding, mysterious middle-aged big-wave surfer with a dark past. The subtext of it all, to quote Morrissey, is that “it takes strength to be gentle and kind.”

Winton lives in remote Western Australia and would be lucky to surf with half a dozen guys on a good day. I imagined him jumping off the rock at Snapper to take notes for his next book. The Tim Winton Snapper novel... now that’s a book I’d like to read. Snapper is not gentle and certainly not kind. It’s an aquatic zombie movie. I’m picturing Winton waveless after an hour of being snaked by 12-year-olds with tattoos, before finally catching a wave, being faded by some low-level surf industry team manager, then screaming profanities and flicking his board out in anger. Snapper Rocks is not a place for the sensitive, evolved, or curious soul.

Opening day of the season at Snapper Rocks was less than lovely.

Pissing down, a seasick lineup, swell too south, dunny-flush current and only half a sandbank robbed the day of any performance potential. It was hard to watch... especially so after someone earlier in the week had posted clips of the Superbank circa August 2002, when it looked like a righthand version of Skeleton Bay. The local guys reckon that with the sand pump on full, and the southerly flow in place, the bank can grow at 20 yards a day. It’ll improve over the next few days. But today, once the wave ran off the bank it quickly disappeared into deep water. It took just six minutes into the first heat for the term “downtime” to be rolled out on the broadcast.

It took just as long for the broadcast to mount a spirited defense of the non-elimination first round we were watching, despite the WSL finally biting the bullet and getting rid of the non-elimination fourth round for this season. Hallelujah. The accompanying press release stated they were out to “demystify some of the more technical and complex elements of the sport, through all WSL channels, with ten initiatives.” None of these 10 initiatives were however outlined in the press release. I’d just be happy if when people lost, they actually lost. That would demystify things enough for me.

The only vital pulse of the morning came from Medina, who drained a deep pit then launched three backhand rockets for a score of zero. As I’ve pointed out in previous columns, when Gabe hassles for the inside at the start of a heat it more often than not backfires and today was no exception. Leo Fioravanti knows it, and the Italian hassled him for the first wave of the set before slipping around Gabe’s inside on the second and taking off. Gabe had no idea, and it was a textbook interference call. Gabe got relegated to weekend detention in round two, but he looks frisky.

Rookie Griffin Colapinto. Photo: Ryan Miller

The rookie class is an interesting mix. There are four Brazilians there we know little about. But then again four years ago I got into a lift at my rented Rainbow Bay apartment with a short, swarthy Brazilian guy who I figured must have been one of the hundreds of Brazilians in semi-residence in Rainbow De Janeiro. The following morning the same guy paddled out and took Kelly to pieces. It was Italo Ferreira of course. The one rookie in no danger of dying from anonymity this week will be Griff Colapinto. The Californian kid owned his heat with John John, seemed to barely break third gear, and it’ll be interesting to see how both he and Wade Carmichael go when it gets serious. According to the WSL’s new “Fun Facts” sidebar (please don’t tell me that’s one of the 10 initiatives) Pat Gudauskas believes in Bigfoot, and probably thought he’d seen Bigfoot during Carmichael’s heat today.

The Festival of Mick began today at Snapper but was overshadowed by Kelly being a no-show for their heat. Kelly’s had the pins taken out of his broken foot recently, has barely surfed, and been smoky about whether he’d surf Snapper or not. And that’s his prerogative. But the shitty part of it today was that the broadcast made no mention of Kelly’s no-show – or even potential no-show – until five minutes into Kelly’s heat. Are they seriously telling us they only just got the call? I don’t know where the prime directive came from, but it felt stage-managed and was very far from “a positive fan experience.” And by announcing it mid-heat it also had the effect of sucking the air from the first surf of Mick’s farewell home event. For Mick’s part he won the heat, looked pretty good, and announced he was going to, “See how weird I can get” this week. Let’s hope Mick wins, and that Tim Winton is still in town researching his Snapper novel.

Stephanie Gilmore. Photo: Ryan Miller

The women were actually sent out in the best waves of the day, and before a wave was surfed I was ready to give Carissa the title... Snapper, world title, whatever… even with Steph and Tyler looking good. The clip Carissa dropped last week from the South Pacific would have won every heat surfed today – men’s and women’s – and I’m interested in what she does this year. I think she’s circling something big. She definitely was today. The best barrel of the day – again, men’s or women’s – a pair of eights, and a lucky interference call going her way.

More tomorrow. Cyclone Hola looks like arriving Tuesday. We could roll straight through this thing.*

* See you Thursday week.

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