Remember when Italo first started his barn-burning run on the Tour, and we wondered how the ‘CT had managed to hold our attention before him? Well, ditto for the overlapping heat format that the WSL rolled out yesterday.
It’s some combination of a changing of format and a changing of the guard that made Day 3 of the Quiky Pro something truly remarkable. The overlapping heats meant that for the first time in professional surfing’s history (well, besides Pipe), there was a wonderfully short supply of wide-angle shots of surfers listlessly bobbing in the water while Pottz and Turpel try as they might to fill the entertainment void till the next set. The action was borderline non-stop, with the two surfers in the primary heat strategically hunting for the best sets on offer, while the surfers in the secondary heat were free to get scrappy on the lesser wedges and try to manufacture a score. It helps that Duranbah has been more consistent than a wave pool, and the WSL could actually probably run four heats simultaneously if it wouldn’t give the judges aneurysms.
The fan pick metrics are also a nice addition, if only because it made the upsets feel that much starker. Julian Wilson came in hot with an 85 percent fan vote in Round 3, while his opponent Reef Heazlewood clock in at a meager 15. Of course the fans backed Jules–he was the runner up for the world title last year, not to mention the winner of this event. But Duranbah isn’t Snapper, and Reef clearly forgot to read the fan pick stats.
Many surf fans probably had no idea who Reef was before this event, but he’s going to be their favorite surfer by the time it’s through. Over the past few days Reef won the trials into the main event, he made the final of the Red Bull Airborne and stomped what should have been the winning air, and he managed to cause the biggest upset of the Quik Pro so far, sending Julian packing in Round 3. Jules seemed almost mechanically refined in his turns, and Reef seemed the opposite in a good way–he was all white knuckle fin ditches, teetering just on the edge of being out of control. His second highest scoring wave was a buzzer beater that started with a fins-out turn and ended with a full rotation into the flats for an 8–funny thing is, he didn’t even need it at that point.
Reef doesn’t have a major sponsor at the moment, but he’s got something much more useful in the competitive arena, and that’s a chip on his shoulder. Reef was recently dropped from the Billabong team, and while some would be deflated by that, Reef seems to only be more fired up. “I feel like its just kinda been going up and up since I lost my sponsor,” Reef told Rosy Hodge post-heat with a smirk. If perennial title contenders like Julian are hungry, as they say, then kids like Reef are starving, and you can’t underestimate that kind of motivation in a heat.
The Tour is looking very different this year, much more dynamic than any I can recall. With Slater eliminated in Round 2, and Mick, Joel, Taj and co. having left by their own accord over the past few years, suddenly it feels like a whole new Tour. Guys like Italo, whose years on Tour you can still count on one hand, seems like a veteran. But that’s not to see his surfing has been de-fanged with hail mary airs being replaced by turns, which has been the hallmark of Tour veterans past. No, Italo made the space above the lip his playground yesterday against Ricardo Christie, shifting into a gear that many of his fellow Tour mates simply don’t have, conjuring inverted rotations at will, regardless of what the sections looked like.
But Italo wasn’t the only one making good use of the Duranbah skate park. Between John John Florence, Seth Moniz, Griffin Colapinto, Kolohe Andino and Gabriel Medina, you had enough stomped airs in Round 3 to fill a whole Red Bull Airbone event. All of their heats are more than worth a click over to the heat analyzer, but none will give you a better sense of who is heading to the podium than Medina’s match up against Mateus Herdy.
Watching Medina surf in this event, it’s like he never even had an off season. He won his second world title, climbed into a cryogenic chamber, and emerged as the beach marshall was looking to give him his Quik Pro jersey. His massive straight-air-to-air-reverse combo showed that he hasn’t missed a beat, and he even started dancing to it with his claim. Perhaps the only indicator that time has passed is that he’s probably got a new tattoo somewhere, otherwise Medina’s last world title campaign never stopped. And maybe it never will.
With the buzzing, anything-could-happen energy permeating through the majority of heats yesterday, surf fans probably forgot the fact that this is all happening at the WSL’s backup venue. It’s looking likely that competition may move back to Snapper this weekend, although I’m not sure that we want it to.