They laid it on thick in the opener.

What sounded like a rights-free stock library version of Carmine Burina played in the background as Joe laid out the life and death importance of finals day at J-Bay. John John surrendering the yellow jersey was made to feel like he’d surrendered a kidney. Would Filipe Toledo make it three in a row? Would Medina stalk the field like a rogue white stalks seal pups? Even Carissa, I think they did something with her voice in post-production because she sounded like James Earl Jones telling the camera how much she wanted to at J-Bay, my bru.

Pan to live action and a dog walks the beach and it’s three foot.

Travis Logie assures us the swell is coming–it looks f*cking cold and the wind is ripping around the corner so you can assume it is–but it’s going to be a struggle early on, especially on your backhand.

Owen and Gabby up first. It’ll get easier later once it’s bigger and moves off the bricks, but for now they’re locked onto the J-Bay high-speed monorail. Owen falls twice. Pottz loves the variety but from here every one of Gabby’s turns looked the same. Already though the swell is jumping and Medina gets one that moves out into the bay and he opens up. He pulls into the end section and busts out like it’s a sheet of drywall and he’s on a three-day meth binge. Gabby walks up the beach with the swagger of a man who has a dozen half-million dollar stickers on his board.

Pete, for the second time this event, posts up in the judges’ booth. You can see them slump in their seat, pull their hoods over and mutter, “Here we f*cking go” as they realize they’re being rolled out live in a dog and pony show. Pottz’s Attenborough gorilla analogy makes me laugh. But the fourth wall still exists. Crossing down there and seeing the back of their heads does nothing for the show…nor the verisimilitude of the scoring. Has the time come for a retail judge to demystify and entertain in equal parts? What if critical scores got explained in real time, by someone who could unpack them technically and with a little color? Give a face to the faceless?

Just a thought. Or does pro surfing need faceless boogiemen for existential tension?

Piccanin Bwana Buchan is looking for the most unlikely upset event win on African soil. Not as unlikely as you think. As jittery as he looks off the bottom, he’s commanding off the top where it counts. He holds the lead and makes Kolohe sweat for most of the heat. We’ve talked about seeing his air rev way too much this year, but with 25 knots of croffshore we wouldn’t be seeing it today. We might however see an alley oop, bringing the board around into the wind. He alley-ooped. He got barreled. There was his blueprint to beat Gabby in the semis.

Phil Toledo has had the flow, proper like. A J-Bay three-peat beckoned.

All week, every turn has been better than the last and every time he’s been ready to hit a section, there’s been a section there for him. He’s had perfect pace, but pacing was tougher today. The front edge of the swell came in 40-yard girders. It was uneven. Phil’s heat with Seabass was more dangerous than most thought. Today was Phil’s to lose, and when Bass went top-to-bottom on the wave of the day for an eight it looked a chance. When Phil waited 10 minutes with priority and fell on his first turn it looked on the cards. With five to go Bass led and was as close as anyone’s been to beating Toledo here in three years. Phil took off with a minute to go chasing an eight. The flow returned, he backdoored a crumbling section but he had to navigate elbows and sections, went top-to-bottom only once and then fell. I didn’t think they’d go there. It wasn’t a set.

They went there.

Friday night here in Australia and a midnight finish was going to require beers. I’d run into Dunc McNicol this afternoon, back from the desert and carrying a case of Furphy and I been thinking about Furphies ever since. I ran down to the bottle-o and encountered a Splendour In The Grass zombie apocalypse. The music festival has taken over Byron as it does this weekend every year…the difference today being Instagram springing an announcement that it was trialling the removal of likes from all posts in Australia. People can like your shit, but nobody can see it. I saw kids walking the street tonight, spiritually lost, clearly pondering what the point of Splendour without likes even was. What’s the point of living without likes? What’s the point of laydays in J-Bay without likes?

I came back and a squall had chewed the shit out of J-Bay, Italo had beaten Kanoa, and the storm rolling in from sea looked decidedly Brazilian. Only Kolohe now stood between a Brazilian clean sweep of J-Bay.

Sal Masekela gets swapped out for Sal Fitzgibbons for the women’s semis. I liked it. What we lost with the rich timbre of Sal M’s voice, we gained in surprisingly sparky and sharp little quips from Sal F. Tour banter mate! The end section was The Casino. Jordy was the Jedi. Even better, she threw a question at Pottz (Joe’s job!) and it momentarily discombobulated Joe so much that Joe answered it! And even better, Pottz told Sal she needed to look for waves bending out to sea…and Sal disagreed! “Nah, but don’t you reckon Pottz…” I wish they’d had the camera on the booth.

The squall hung around and started to look more like weather. It was tough going for Carissa and Caroline Marks. I was looking forward to seeing “Marksy” as Sal referred to her tackling overhead J-Bay on her backhand. Baby Occ is the same age that the real Occ was when he redefined this wave in 1984. It was frustrating, Baby Occ couldn’t string them together. She whacked a couple of great turns, but they were on different waves. Carissa into the final. Lakey joined her soon after. The ocean was feeling muscular by this point and Lakey pushed back at it. Malia Manuel got lost.

Kolohe was now all that stood between a Brazilian storming of the tour’s blue ribbon pointbreak event. How unthinkable that would have seemed even three years ago. That’s 30 years of tour narrative about Brazilians and beachbreaks turned to rhino shit.

Kolohe opened with a mid-tracker and was just thinking “finish.” But you don’t win friends with salad. Gabe took a set wave and even though he surfed jinky, he threw down big, including a mongo-sized floater over the inside double-up. Brother a six, Gabby an eight. Brother faffed around again on smaller waves. He threw corked air revs he was never going to land, and this was with 20 minutes still to go. Kolohe lost his radar. One of those inside waves eventually paid off when he landed an oop…a big oop on a tiny wave. The judges for reasons known only to themselves feasted on it. This is J-Bay. In the end though he was a half-point shy and it stayed that way.

If Brother can’t win an event he’s going to need someone else in the field to start winning events to stop these three guys. I don’t know who that guy is right now. But I’m not putting a red line through Brother just yet. I just feel he might do something in Europe.

Phil wasn’t going to get caught short in the semi but waited 10 minutes for his opening wave. For all the yabba-yabba about Phil’s surfing this week, not much has been said for how well he reads this lineup. He waited for his wave and it was a gem. Nine for Phil but then the shift. Italo’s next wave looked ragged but turned into a diamond dog through the inside. It got bigger and steeper and Italo tagged it royally. Phil pulled into an inside tube but to be fair never had the rhythm today he’s had here for the past three years. Party Boy Ferreira takes the party to the final.

Things started to look a little wild by the time the women’s final kicked off. Carissa and Lakey burned gas early, taking half-waves and closeouts. There was more energy in the lineup and more water moving down the point. When Carissa finally found a clean one and finished it with a typical Carissa layback jam, she opted to come in and get out of it for a bit. Her run back to the keyhole felt like it took a half hour. It seemed like a good idea at the time. I couldn’t tell if it was wild or clean. It was attritional. Carissa held the lead and Lakey paddled the length of the point to get just 30 seconds of time to find a last wave. She found it, she fell, Carissa cried.

Carissa Moore Wins JBay
Photo Credit: Trevor Moran
The much-deserved winner, Carissa Moore

An all goofy, all Brazilian men’s final. Ponder that. This event has one goofy winner in 35 years, and it’s been ten years since any goofy made the final.

And now this.

Gabby paddled Italo up the point then boogieboarded one back down the line. Gabby’s opening gambit backfired spectacularly. Italo took the first wave and was a re-entering spacecraft, weightless and at terminal velocity as he flew down the line for a 9.1. It was Italo’s turn to self-sabotage, taking the first wave of a 25-wave set, only to turn around and see Gabby on the wave of the day. It channelled Gabby’s wave at Bells, just more whackable. Two judges gave 10s. After 35 years, Occy’s performance paradigm was finally being honorably retired.

But then they sat there. The rain came down. The waves stopped. You felt that if it was a shootout Medina would win, but there was only eight minutes to go when the next set came through. Italo drove through a couple of big inside turns for a six. Gabby was on his way to topping it but fell when a section wedged back at him. It just delayed the inevitable.

Gabby found his wave, did his Gabby turns, then threaded an inside tube. It was better than his first one. Dude’s a stone-cold killer. Strider in his excitement called him, I believe, “a doctor of the orchestra of the ocean.” Ronny likened him to a warthog. Gabby’s Mum started pointing at the sky thanking the Big Guy upstairs. Gabby was the champion of J-Bay, and whatever Phil Toledo has done to redefine how you surf J-Bay on your forehand, Gabby did that and more today on his backhand.

Somewhere, a single tear rolled down Occy’s cheek.

Where that leaves the season, well, Gabby usually looks like this in October. It’s July. Tahiti is next.

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