It was hardly Saigon in '75, but after the craziness of yesterday I evacuated myself from Coolangatta last night…not in anticipation of the situation deteriorating. Just the opposite. I fled in anticipation of the pro surfing status quo being restored and the final day of the event playing out with a vanilla sameness that would make the events of yesterday seem like a Lombok mushroom bender.
I was only partly right.
As I boarded the last flight out of Coolangatta overnight, meetings were being held into the evening. Public Relations shills were hard at work spinning statements, working damage control, and planning charm offensives, all aimed at buttering over yesterdays historic madness. All the while the consensus from surf fans at home was that they didn't want it buttered over.
They wanted more. Please.
There were metaphorical fire extinguishers being sprayed everywhere this morning. After yesterday's post-heat freestyle character readings, the world champ went on breakfast TV this morning to hose down the fire his interview had ignited. There's been no talk of sanctions from the WSL, although the rumors are that Gabe Medina's appearance this morning would mitigate whatever official punishment was headed his way.
After the awkward small talk challenge to get there, Gabe talked about his "bad words" yesterday, washed it off, joked, laughed, said next time he'll simply punch his board instead. It was slick, genuine maybe, although the Candid Camera staged handshake for the camera was a little awkward…Gabe sneaking up on the unsuspecting Micro Hall and the little fella almost soiling his keks when he turned around and found The Champ standing over him. Micro was a touch nervous already, his Insty account infested with online fleabags and all sorts of "see you in Brazil" threats, which were hard to laugh off a month after one of Brazil's favorite surfers was gunned down in the streets of his home town.
So, finals day dawned, and maybe Gabe's real apology should have been directed in the general direction of Kieren Perrow. The Commissioner got called out by The Champ yesterday, but the waves for finals day—the crucial metric for any surfing contest—were great. The fact KP had to deal with the worst forecast any event has seen in many moons, then stuck his neck out and spent some more Ziff dollars to extend the contest by two days to get these waves should have seen him congratulated rather than cooked. He even put the whole show on hold before the finals for an hour this afternoon—broadcast suicide—to let the tide drain out a bit. He did it as casually as if he was driving out of the Tallows carpark in Byron, saying he was going home and would be back in an hour. And in the end? Well, the end justified the means.
Starting with the girls, this morning certainly restored a sense of decorum.
Like, when was the last time Carissa Moore got up in a post-heat interview and called Steph out for telling her to f–k off? To my knowledge; not recently. Instead we got further evidence that with all things being equal Steph Gilmore and Carissa Moore are in a class above the rest of the girls on Tour. Why? It's the space between the notes. What they do between turns puts them religiously in the sweet spot, and when the canvas is as smooth as it was today they're almost impossible to beat. They've traded the past four titles between them, the momentum shifting event-to-event, year-to-year.
Today the momentum was with Carissa.
ROXY PRO: Heat Analyzer
I'd first met Filipe Toledo in France in 2010. He was surfing an international grommet contest, but didn't much look like a grommet. He was diminutive, sure, but had the swagger and the eyes of someone much older. The braces on his teeth were the only giveaway. He was only 15, but already was mercurial and assured in the surf. His air game was lethal and he won the contest easily. For the second year running an unknown Brazilian kid had won the event. The kid who'd won the year before? Some unknown goofyfooter named Gabriel Medina.
And so here Filipe was today at Snapper, still only 19, and with the big dogs in the event having all been skittled he sensed his chance. He doesn't exactly lack in confidence. Filipe doesn't look that much different today than he did in France. The braces are gone but the swagger is still there.
He's been ready for this day for a long while.
It's funny to listen to the arguments in Western countries about young surfers being thrown on Tour and having too much pressure placed on them too early. The cautionary tales of burnt out teenage stars are catalogued alphabetically. Heads shake. The kid can surf, but the world is going to eat him alive. He's not ready.
Filipe Toledo was born ready.
I often watch him in action and am reminded of watching the Pakistani national cricket team…obscure reference, but follow me here. Every couple of years they throw some 16-year-old kid out there, plucked from obscurity and thrown to the lions in a test match. They know he can play cricket, but as to whether he's psychologically up to the rigors of playing international cricket? Free of Western sensibilities and several strata of coaches and psychologists and backyard experts, they just back the kid to do his thing and mostly that's exactly what he does. A Brazilian kid at 19 looks so much more ready than an Australian or a Californian kid of the same age. Gabe Medina won his first Tour event at 17. Gabe Medina won his World Title at 20.
That day in France when I met FIlipe Toledo he was with his old boy, Ricardo, who was right there beside him today when he won. I don't profess to know how the dynamic works between them, but I know it does. Watching the pair embracing in tears after the final hooter at Snapper Rocks today proved that.
QUIK PRO: Heat Analyzer
Filipe tore shit up today. I'd checked his board out during the week in the surfer's area and the thing was tiny. Filipe is not a big guy—5'6", 150lb I guess—but he surfs that tiny board like he's essentially weightless. Go back and watch some footage of Sunny Garcia surfing somewhere like Bells and just watch his bottom turn. One of surfing's true heavyweights, he could essentially surf weightless by skipping his bottom turn into four short arcs, waiting for his section, then just unleashing hell on the lip. Filipe did the same today…although I can't remember Sunny ever throwing too many full rotation air revs.
Those are a given with Filipe—his completion rate on those things is frightening—but it was his short arc rail game that won him the Quiksilver Pro today. He whipped that board fast, tight, and with real verve. The extra beef and the unbroken, classical lines of Julian Wilson looked incredible on the right set waves, but the dying swell favored Felipe, and the kid danced all over it. The perfect 10 in the dying seconds of the Final confirming to him the divine nature of the day, and the second the hooter went he looked to the sky and threw an obrigado to the Big Guy.
I think back to last year at Snapper when Gabriel Medina won, the first Brazilian to do so, breaking the Old World shackles, and how he was greeted euphorically on the beach by his countrymen and women like he'd just discovered a purple Amazon berry that could be sold to gullible Westerners as a breakfast food that would make his nation unimaginably wealthy. I remember watching on and thinking, nahhhh, the Aussie boys just got unlucky. Let's see how the Brazilian guys go in Fiji and Tahiti.
Now with Gabe Medina as Tahiti and Fiji and World Champ and Filipe Toledo the new champ of Snapper Rocks, I for one welcome our new Brazilian surfing overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted media personality and a Bells Beach local, I can be helpful in convincing other surfers to give up the inside on the Bells Bowl.
Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast Final Result:
1: Filipe Toledo (BRA) 19.60
2: Julian Wilson (AUS) 14.70
Roxy Pro Gold Coast Final Result:
1: Carissa Moore (HAW) 18.43
2: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS) 15.50