As Mayor Larry Vaughan might say: "Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July."
At certain breaks here this week, it has felt like Amity Island on the Fourth of July, visiting surfers gathering in the car park looking over an empty lineup, waiting for someone to paddle out first and halving their chances of ending up as fish lunch. Visiting surfers have been jumping at shadows this week, panicky, jumpy, walking on water to the beach at the sight of a dolphin fin. Everyone's seeing something. As Mayor Vaughan said, it's all psychological.
This is not to be confused, however, with the irrefutable reality of the Internet. Nothing pulls a cheap headline like a shark...let alone a killer great white shark and Kelly Slater on the same wave. That's some sweet low-hanging fruit right there for online editors, and the Internet has fed heartily this week like Jaws with Quint in its mouth, sinking slowly over the transom and back into the briny. The footage revealed conclusively Kelly in the tube with what appeared to be the cartoon shark, Jabberjaw. The image was reasonably abstract and you could make of it what you wanted, but that's about all it took. The media have been looking hard this week for their shark and by God they found it. If they looked a little closer in that clip they would also have seen the nose of flight MH370, alongside Harold Holt and Jimmy Hoffa scuba diving.
The only people in the media it seems who aren't talking about sharks this week are the ASP broadcast crew, even though they apparently got chased out of the water yesterday by something big and sharky themselves. Their chairs appeared to be wired and any mention of the "S" word is likely to result in 50,000 volts to the testicles. Countering the trillion page impressions of Kelly and his shark have been plenty of dolphin shots spliced into the event coverage, friendly, frolicking mammals who you just want to throw a ball to and have them bounce it on their nose. Again, the spin doctors could take their cues from Mayor Vaughan: [to reporter] "I’m pleased and happy to repeat the news that we have, in fact, caught and killed a large predator that supposedly injured some bathers. But, as you see, it’s a beautiful day, the beaches are open, and people are having a wonderful time. Amity, as you know, means 'friendship'."
The only people who don't seem too perturbed by the panic in the air are the local crew. Local grom Jack Robinson has been out there alone at dark during the laydays, spearfishing the back of the reefs. The boys have been down on their hookah lines dragging crays. Life on the fringes of the Australian continent continues unabated.
Playing cricket with Jake Paterson yesterday in the annual Squeezers versus Blow-Ins match at Cowaramup Oval, I asked him what his thoughts were on today's swell. As a lifelong local he is just about the foremost authority on what the surf in this neck of the woods is doing. "Mate," he replied, "Thursday could be anything." The westerly aspect, rare on the west coast and the result of ex-Tropical Cyclone Ivanhoe, is a less bankable beast than the traditional Roaring Forties swell, but it is actually a better direction for pretty much everything here in front of the contest site.
Late yesterday afternoon, Kieren Perrow was sitting on Joel Parkinson's veranda with an uninterrupted view of The Box. The wave was lifeless at the time, but the plan was hatching already to move the event there, whether it would be today or Sunday or both. The first incarnation of Margaret River as a World Tour contest hasn't exactly been blessed with a cornucopia of great surf, and a day, a morning…hell, even a heat at The Box would go some way toward evening the score. In many ways, anchoring the titanic contest site to Margaret River works against what makes this stretch of coast one of the richest in surfing. There are waves everywhere, but you need to go to them. They won't always come to you. You need to stick and move. Today they moved.
It was Parko's birthday today and he got the present he wanted when he lost his Round 4 heat at Margaret River main break this morning. He'd joked on the way down to the water that he was going to open the turnstiles for the other two guys in the heat and give them all the waves they wanted. The reason of course lay half a mile across the bay. The Box was spitting venom this morning, and by that stage they'd announced the next round would be surfed over there. The fine print of Joel's loss in Round 4 however--that now won't play out till Sunday--is that it moved him into Kelly's quarter of the draw.
Parko put the foot down about the move across the bay. It's A-grade, he said. Margarets is B-grade, he said. But what he didn't say was that it closely resembles a reef just 15-minutes from his door that he and Josh Kerr dominate, and they showed why in their heats. Both had their lines sorted--slide in behind the peak, put the pie in the oven, take it out once cooked. It's a one-dimensional wave--there will be no cutting back--but if that single dimension doesn't fire then you're not left with much. That threatened to happen at several stages during the round, but the dying breaths of Tropical Storm Ivanhoe were just enough to finish it and leave us with eight surfers in the contest.
The final will run Sunday. Put your cue in the rack until then. The new swell fills in Sunday morning and there will be a race to get this thing dusted before a forecasted onshore front blunders through and turns the place to a raging soup. The hope is to get The Box on a strong, long period swell. Get the final out there in that.
Till then let's go surf. You paddle out first, I'll be out soon.