I didn't make it up the road yesterday to watch the women surf and regretted it almost immediately. A magazine deadline saw instead me penning tributes to Mick Fanning in haiku form using only Grinspoon and Tool lyrics.
I kept one eye on the broadcast however and the women on the diamond dancefloor at Snapper. It was like fricken "Xanadu" out there, and the women put on a marquee day. Steph, well, the small legion of coaches here for this event should just sit their surfer down in front of a tape of her at Snapper with a pointer and a remote control. The lines. And what about Caroline Marks? Sixteen, but with the Baby Occ backhand. The revelation however came in the afternoon when, after years of willing it to happen, Malia Manuel went bananas. Malia threw down. Drawn against Carissa Moore she had little choice.
Carissa and Steph are unbeatable on video platforms, but remain entirely beatable in heats if you know what you're doing. Carissa is vulnerable in the first five minutes. Put an eight on her, like Malia did, and she withers. Steph is vulnerable in the last five. Make her chase something—like Keely Andrew did—and she starts falling.
The women surfed down to the last four yesterday, and it was quite a day.
The cameramen have been instructed, as part of the Great Enlightenment the Tour has experienced under the WSL, to button-off on female surfers as they duckdive. No cheap ass shots. This sits in stark contrast to the previous incarnation of the Tour, when the cameramen were occasionally encouraged to hit the zoom, while spotters were employed to find beach talent. The memo made it's way to the surfers too. I noticed Macy Callaghan paddled out in shorts for the first time I can remember. Come to think of it, the draw was exclusively shorts anyway, no bikinis. There's a first.
In concert with a benchmark performance day, it felt like a great leap forward, a perfect day of women's sport. Almost.
There were, however, a couple of accidental double-entendre moments in commentary that would have left Finbarr Saunders sniggering, "fnaaarrr, fnaarrrr." In the future, there will be a note on the wall of the commentary booth urging commentary to avoid the terms "deep throat" and "exploring herself internally."
The one benefit of watching yesterday from home was that I got to see the new WSL telestrator in action. The replay would roll, before some kind of Matrix-style grid would appear on the wave that provided no meaningful insight in terms of physics, hydrodynamics or least of all actual surfing. Then Pottz jabbed the pen at the screen and started squiggling. I waited for him to turn it upside-down Mister Squiggle-style and reveal a camel on rollerskates.
I laughed. It reminded me of the first time the telestrator got used back at this event about 10 years ago. Ronnie Blakey and I were the cub callers but had been given first use of the telestrator, due mainly to Ronnie's skill with drawing dicks on the surf magazines left lying in the booth. Pottz, who was the big dog of the commentary team, wasn't impressed that Ronnie got to make history on the broadcast and use the magic pen first. As Ronnie and I called the heat Pottz paced inside the stuffy booth with his arms crossed and sunglasses on like he was in a Gotcha ad. Then when the moment came to draw on the screen and the producer screamed, "Draw!" Ronnie froze, worried his hand was instinctively going to draw a dick on Mick Fanning. Pottz pounced, yelling at the panicked rookie, "Draw! Draaaaaaaaw!"
I walked down the headland at Snapper this morning and watched waves rolling into the bay, although without a patterned grid over the top of them it was difficult to tell what they were actually doing. It was smaller, but clean as a whistle. The contract boat checked the shark nets. Groups of surf fans crawled out of a time fissure from 2004 in Aussie flag shorts and white-framed glasses. The Goo Goo Dolls played over the PA. It was hotter than an oven at 8 a.m.
The first thing I saw was Mikey Wright flying out of the tube and savaging a green wall. It was like watching the greyhound finally catch the rabbit, and it was nice to see something raw, something that hasn't had the life force coached out of it. John Florence had been out of phase since tripping on the rocks yesterday afternoon and having it go viral, and he stayed out of phase this morning. Mikey caught the rabbits, Johnny didn't and the World Champ was the first guy out of the draw…the first time in 25 events he'd lost this early.
The Gabby and Leo rematch was disappointing, in that they didn't paddle each other around to Froggies, no one was elbowed in the head and no one was faded into the rock. It was positively civil. Gabby got that corky epoxy to go wack-wack down the bank and it was over before it began. Gabby's win set up a third round heat with Mikey Wright. That one might get wild.
Fresh aesthetics again in the next heat when Mikey February made his Tour debut in place of Kelly. February surfs like no one else on Tour. Loose limbed, knock-kneed, languid, he surfs like he's on rollerskates, which was ironic, because the guy he was surfing against—Wilko—made his Tour debut by rolling into the competitors area on skates. February was too smooth. When they make him a jersey with a number on it, it will be the number 54—the number of countries in Africa. He's surfing for the whole continent.
Joel Parkinson had a run-in out at Snapper yesterday morning. Red Dog, a big-wave guy more frequently seen in Puerto Escondido, went a bit red wire/blue wire on Joel, who was quietly going about his own business at the time. It was actually Adriano who'd dropped in on Big Red, but Joel wore the wrath. Joel and Mick have a love/hate relationship with Snapper. It's been the launching pad for their careers. Joel might be tiling retirement units if he'd stayed up on the Sunshine Coast, but he moved to Coolangatta and it made him a champion. But it also means he's never going to get a minute's peace out there. Snapper does not provide sanctuary, but the wave is just too damn alluring to drive away from when it's on.
I figured the Red Dog incident would push Joel one way or the other in his heat today. Joel watched the heats before his, and with the tide dropping was silently praying no one went behind the rock. That's his party trick and wanted to be the first today and he was. He paddled around the back from Froggies and dropped straight into the first pit we'd seen behind the rock in a month. He then found another better one. He was suddenly surfing a different wave than everyone else.
Joel paddled in and the waves stopped. The rest of the round was largely uninspiring, with the possible exception of the very last heat of the day, featuring two rookies: Carmichael and Mendes. The Brazilian was precise, the Australian lumberjack chopped trees. In the end Carmichael, who we all wanted to see swing the axe, won a cheeky little air reverse. They called it after the round.
No one seems to know much about this new swell tomorrow. It's local, and comes up then goes down quickly. Word around the contest is that even if Snapper is washing through they don't want to move to Kirra, and due to the steel monstrosity created for the Commonwealth Games down near Big Groyne, they might not be able to. No one could give me a definitive answer on whether they even could. But at the same time they seem keen to get this thing done in the next few days. Gold Coast sports fans are already salivating at the prospect of a big Commonwealth Games lawn bowls match up between traditional rivals Australia and the might of the Seychelles.
As the pack squabbled behind the rock late this afternoon, down the beach a crew paddled out in memory of Pierre Agnes. It's been a sombre event for the Quiksilver crew, for most of whom Pierre was a kind of spiritual leader, and a hard-ass spiritual leader at that. Most of them are still coming to terms that he went squid fishing on a calm Capbreton morning and never came back.