The Doherty Report: The Pacific Wave Tank

The Festival of Bede, Gabby's freesurf curse, and more from Day Three of the 2017 Hurley Pro Trestles

With the first wave pool event of this brave, new, chlorinated and mechanized era supposedly only a week away, we got a small taste of it yesterday at Trestles, sans pools and pool chemicals.

All day long, the vast Pacific wave tank pushed out uniform head-high waves at uniform periods, the long waits between them on par with the reset time between waves in Kelly's inland tank set to host the specialty event. And, like the Lemoore wave, they appeared wrapped in cling film, with just a faint, fluffy breeze pushing across them, barely an angel farting. With all natural variables yesterday minimized (as opposed to eradicated entirely next week), the surfing shone. Yesterday was a good day.

Jumping ahead quickly, I'm fascinated about how all this is going to play out in Lemoore, and the complete lack of any detail is fascinating me even more. While the concept of a man-made wave pains me on a cellular level, part of me can't stop thinking about how it's going to work, and the aesthetic of the whole thing once nature is removed entirely from the equation. There are matter–of-fact questions about how it will run. I'm imagining a golf-style leaderboard and a judging scale down to a thousandth of a decimal point. I'm imagining the surfing being judged and scrutinized at a subatomic level with technical mastery proclaimed at every turn. I'm imagining commentators cramming snow and skate tricks as we speak.

Will it be broadcast in real time, and will we be subjected to 15-minute packages of filler as the tank resets? And will Kelly be sitting behind a huge control panel, pulling levers as Adriano de Souza takes off and his wave closes out, the first wave in the pool to ever do so? Or maybe releasing a shark? Will we watch Phil Toledo take off on the first wave and realize we're watching the first wave of a new era, the day the machines arrived, the day we'll look back on with deep regret once the pools become self aware and take over completely?

But maybe the most pressing question is: will I be bored shitless within half an hour, turn the thing off, and simply go surfing out by the front of my house? I'm leaning here at the moment.

While we wait, the archaic ritual of the pro surfing as we've known it since time immemorial played out in a real ocean yesterday, and it wasn't bad at all.

We'll all cite the surfing of John Florence as the gold standard of the day – the scoreboard certainly did – and it'd be hard to argue. He owned the real estate above the lip, and any kind of onshore breeze between now and a final will only shorten the odds of him winning it. But no, the best surfing for mine didn't come from John John, didn't come even from Jordy, with both the World Title dookers receiving World Title bonus points.

No, the best surfing yesterday came from a most unlikely source.

Bede Durbidge, who, pound-for-pound and win-for-win, remains the most under-celebrated surfer on Tour, paddled out at Lowers yesterday and owned it.

The Festival of Bede is in full swing this week. With the ginger-haired Aussie journeyman calling it quits this year, swapping the blue jersey for a green and gold tracksuit and a job coaching Australian surfers to gold medals in Tokyo, all eyes have been on him this week. Well, okay, maybe not all of them – barely a Californian acknowledgement to be seen – but amongst the surfers, at least this modest legend is getting a royal send off.

San Clemente has little in common with his home island of North Stradbroke. There are no decommissioned nuclear reactors or even traffic lights on Straddie, just as there are no kangaroos hopping down I-5. But something clicks with him here in California, and he paddled out yesterday and surfed the house down, just as he did when he beat Kelly and won the contest at Trestles over a decade ago. It's hard to explain, but there it was yesterday. He had a better read on the joint than either John or Jordy, and hot-railed every turn. Bede showed that, while next week in Lemoore might be a Byzantine, technical mess, surfing is a pretty uncomplicated deal.

Will the Festival of Bede end with the man himself holding the trophy and moose-calling triumphantly, his trademark flip-top guffaw passing for a winning speech? Will the Festival of Bede carry on to Kelly's wave pool? Bede's lack of rockstar friends might see his invite lost in the mail, while his status as a rival national coach might preclude him from guided tours of the pool's control room. Despite the proclamation that Tokyo 2020 will be surfed in the ocean, the murmurings about the Olympics being surfed in a pool continue. Another question for next week.

While life has been peachy for Bede recently, it's been a kick in the stones for Gabe Medina.

Losing the Tahiti final was one thing, but coming to California and getting served by a guy on a soft top during a freesurf – then having the footage go viral and the world laugh at him – seems to have really eaten him up. I remember when the clip of him burning Jordy in a Fijian freesurf went viral a few years ago, and he rancorously stormed around the island all day. This stuff seems to bend him out of shape, and things metastasized even further yesterday when he lost to fellow Brazilian Jadson Andre.

Gabby would have been at short odds to be the guy who'd test the WSL's new start-of-the-heat priority rule, but close behind him would have been Kanoa Igarashi. Already having been involved in two priority shitfights this year, and with coach Jake Paterson in his corner no doubt hatching a plan to test the new rule against Mick Fanning, it was Igarashi who precipitated the rule's first controversial call.

The rule says you can't hold the inside at the start of a heat and shadow-paddle everything, keeping the other guy off waves. You paddle, you go. Well, Kanoa paddled but didn't go, and it looked like a textbook call for the judges, only that the call never came. Mick blew up, while Kanoa turned the next wave into a nine that ultimately won him the heat.

The resurf call came later, and we waited all day and even into the next round for the resurf to happen. It finally went this morning, with Kanoa winning the heat. But you can read between the lines: it's still being debated now. I can imagine the ol' Alex Ferguson hair dryer on full blast, Jake Paterson telling Richie Porta words to the effect of, "Well, you called it, mate!" And they did. It wasn't like Jeffreys Bay when the judges missed half a wave being surfed down in the bay; this happened right in front of them, and they made a call that was later reversed. It seems like the threshold for a resurfed heat has lowered significantly these days – that's two in three events – but if every human error earns a resurf, we'll still be here surfing the 2017 Trestles event in 2020.

Maybe the way forward here is to not only mechanize the waves, but create a judging algorithm that does away with human error entirely. Let's see what happens in Lemoore, huh?