And Then There was a Surf Contest


Round One of the Rip Curl Pro Search in Peniche Portugal

By Chas Smith

And then there was a surf contest. It started early this morning at an area locals call Molho Leste and Rip Curl calls "the wall." It is the seawall I wrote of yesterday. The very same where Kieren Perrow gave the lip a good crack. The very same that features a Jean Paul Gaultier lighthouse. There were still dark clouds in the sky. There were still occasional raindrops pelting onlookers. But there were also clean beach breaky waves and there was also a surf contest.

Rip Curl had set up the judging booth on the seawall itself. A large semi-truck pulling a Plexiglas walled trailer. Inside the judges worked and the commentators barked out scores in both English and Portuguese. Occasionally French when Michel Bourez was in the water. The competitors tent was make-shift, seemingly dragged down from the Supertubos site. Access is a unique part about pro surfing. The surfers put on their singlets and waxed their boards in plain view. Children would lean over the rail and easily get autographs from whomever they wished. An older Portuguese man in Georgetown Hoya baseball hat dutifully read his contest program, correctly identified Owen Wright, walked up to him and said, "Oi. dar-lhes o inferno, assassino." Owen nodded and smiled.

Jihad Khoder and Tim Boal had just begun surfing when I arrived. The crowd was surprisingly thick and involved. Jihad received the bulk of the attention. It seemed that all of Portugal was ecstatic that this event was finally on. The mad storm, the gigantic tow waves, the endless fish lunches were fun. But everyone was here to watch surfing. Everyone was here to see this.

These early rounds may not be the stuff of legend, but they could be. Each one of these surfers is living a dream. They get paid to travel the world and surf the best waves. It is their job. Maybe the greatest job on earth. And an early round loss for these boys at the bottom is possibly career ending. At least for a year. This is do or die.

The announcer emphasized the point by saying, "The loser is eliminated today."

Jihad beat Tim and the crowd showered him with appreciative applause. They love Portuguese surfers here. And they love surfers that come from places colonized by Portugal. Jihad threw a shaka as he ran up the beach.

In the next heat Heitor Alves beat David Weare in an uninspiring show-down. Or it might have been inspiring but the crowd's attention was firmly elsewhere.

Tiago Pires.

He is known as the Portuguese tiger, the first ever from this country on the world tour. Most heads were cranked back toward the competitors tent. Portuguese eyes watched as he pulled on his red singlet. As he scraped his board. As he applied wax. With seven minutes left in the Alves-Weare heat Tiago made his way to the shore. It was like a prizefight entrance, A flock of cameramen swarmed around him as he jogged slowly. The crowd hooted, cheered and parted to let him through. His jaw was firm. He showed no emotion.

He was pitted against Nathaniel Curran. When Nathaniel was announced there was silence. As they paddled out to the lineup a man ran up and down the beach waving a Portuguese flag and holding a stuffed tiger.

The horn sounded and Tiago paddled for the first wave but pulled back. The crowd caught its breath. Then Nathanial took off on a decent right. Two big hits and a 4.5. Tiago went on the next wave and quickly came unstuck. The crowd groaned. Tiago continued to paddle for smaller inside waves and continued to get mediocre scores. Nathaniel waited. And then the biggest set of the morning appeared. Nathanial, alone out the back, stroked into a gem. Two big hits combined with a floater re-entry gave him the score he would need to win the heat. He surfed smart.

When the final horn sounded the beach was quiet. Nathanial gave his post heat interviews and hurriedly walked to his car. I caught up to him and asked if he felt like Ivan Drago from Rocky, except winning. Crushing national pride. He laughed and said, "Yeah it was crazy. The whole beach just went quiet." I asked if surfing "the wall" felt like surfing Oxnard. He said, "Sure. I mean, it's cold, I am wearing a full suit and it's a beach break. I felt comfortable out there." I asked if he had had a plan or just went with his gut, and his coach came over. "This is my coach" Nathaniel said. His said to me, "I just told him to get one of the first set waves then just wait for another set wave."

It was smart and it worked. Nathaniel left the parking lot looking over his shoulder. Desiring security. It is only natural since he defeated a national hero on his home turf.

After an hour and half break round one resumed. And Portugal had another chance to cheer a native son. Except this one is German. But he was born here, raised here, speaks fluent Portuguese, drinks Super Bock and eats Bacalhau à minhota. So he is Portuguese.

The crowd, even thicker and more involved, cheered for Marlon Lipke and cheered as he defeated Michel Bourez. He did it with a series of backside hacks and a few closeout floaters. Natural and easy.

The sun was shining brightly now. Refracting off the ocean and shooting shards of pain into spectator eyes. But no one cared. It was warm. The storm had passed. Waves were rolling in. And the Rip Curl Search was unfolding.

Ben Dunn beat Phil MacDonald on a last minute wave. Pat Gudauskas eliminated Mundaka runner up Chris Davidson. And Rip Curl prodigy Owen Wright beat Kekoa Bacalso.

The crowd was pleased. It was a good day. Good for getting a tan. Good for watching surf. Good.

I saw world number three Adriano de Souza and asked him if he likes reverse colonizing Portugal. He answered, "Ahh, you know there are so many similarities between Brazil and Portugal. Of course we speak the same language and have the same food. I always love to come here. I feel real comfortable. And you know, it is sad for the people that Tiago lost, but maybe I can make them happy again."

I am a fan of reverse colonization. I am a fan of the British religiously watching Friends. I am a fan of Adriano winning in Peniche.