Sean Doherty: Perfect is the Enemy of Good

22 Sep 2019 7 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Vankirk

Photo: WSL/Vankirk

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

2019 Freshwater Pro, Finals Day

If I was in charge of this pool the first thing I’d do would be to put a driver on the train. Sit him up top, big ass bucket seat, stick shift with an eight ball, beer in one hand. Dress him up as a Fury Road extra, maybe Lord Humungous, Ruler of the Wasteland. The train would immediately appear more badass and go 20 per cent quicker. I think rather than trying to disguise it with shade cloth the WSL need to embrace an apocalyptic aesthetic with their facility. It’s halfway there already. When the Apocalypse actually arrives the WSL will be celebrated as ahead of their time. This thought was sparked while waiting between waves this morning and after Pottz commented, “We’ve got so many beautiful venues on tour. We’ve got Tahiti… we’ve got the Surf Ranch.” There was a dead pause between the two.

The first two days of the Freshwater Pro have played out tamely. That just left today, finals day, which a more ruthless commissioner would run with, cutting the rest adrift.

The day started with the final qualifying runs, and a little consequence at least spiced things up a little.

What’s become patently clear is that this is a goofy’s pool. Second year in we’re seeing an historical trend beginning to emerge. The right is easier to surf backhand than the left, ergo an advantage for the screwfoots. If we didn’t see it last year with Medina winning, if we didn’t see it with Owen Wright making shit happen late yesterday, four goofies making the final eight today confirmed the bias… a bias the goofies will argue is corrective after losing Cloudbreak from the tour.

Medina and Toledo were already safely through to the last eight and surfed dead. Jordy was through as well but remains a creature of confidence and needed to keep pushing. He threw a rodeo on the left and landed it clean. Ronnie Blakey remarked the turn “kinda woke me up.” Jordy was interviewed by fellow South African Rosie, swooning at 85 per cent. Jordy mangled his cliché. “Nerves are external things,” says Jordy, who must have been on a boat trip and missed biology class.

The two critical runs in the morning’s qualifying were Steph’s and Kelly’s.

Steph needed a mid-eight to make the women’s last four. She needed to make the last four to cool off the four or five other girls circling this world title. It’s a great paradox. Steph Gilmore is lavishly lauded as the perfect surfer, and yet at the technically perfect wave always seems to struggle. It’s less the wave however, more the situation. On her final wave, on a flat section and for no apparent reason, she bogged a whole rail and was flushed out of the competition. Kelly meanwhile got clipped on the left and fell ooping the right. He was gone, and made a forlorn figure walking the length of his own pool, and his loss took the air out of the crowd.

Kelly soon reappeared. There was a break before the finals, and while the engineering Oompah Loompas oiled the sprockets and gears of the great machine, the broadcast flashed to an Outerknown ad of Kelly surfing inside solid Teahupoo wearing a pair of boot cut blue denim jeans. Kelly’s company was sponsoring the event in Kelly’s pool, making a pitch for the booming Eastern European and Indian swimming jean market. I was kind of hoping they’d run an expression session with everyone surfing in jeans… or better still, like they did with the old Stubbies contest, forced all the competitors to wear the sponsor’s pants during their heats. There was little doubt about who was sponsoring the event. The intro promo started like this: “The Freshwater Pro brought to you by Outerknown is brought to you by Outerknown, Jeep…”

Yago Dora was first out in the final round and, was it just me or did the pool seem to be acting a little hinky? Dora’s first left sectioned twice, while he got caught in dead water on the right. He hopped for a hundred yards and got nowhere. Julian Wilson finally lit the fuse on the contest with his next run. His Big Spin on the inside finally put some volts through surf fans. His run also begged the question: why has Jules folded so tamely during so many early round heats this year, against crew he should have had for breakfast, when he can deliver on demand like this? 

Photo: WSL/Miers

Photo: WSL/Miers

Julian came in and made a decent point of noting how hard it is to land anything on top of a barrelling wave. Much has been made of them shortening the middle tube and giving the surfers more wave face, but while they were at it, maybe they should also have shortened the end barrel and wedged a close out back at it, Waco style. The pool needs an ending, and right now it goes from square tube to dead water in the click of your fingers.

Owen Wright’s next run put a glitch in the programming. A stalled blow tail reverse saw Owen with no choice but to pull into the turn section and get tubed. It threw out the whole choreography but as a point of difference it worked sublimely. The pool is not a friend of the tall gentleman, but Owen shortened his craft, tucked in his wings, and arguably owned the middle section of the pool. It was only the fact that he couldn’t match Gabby and Phil on their final turns that prevented him challenging for the win. The judges were lowballing anyone who either missed – or nursed – the last turn. 

At this point there needs a quiet acknowledgement of the Faceless Men (and finally a Faceless Woman as well!) who sat in a dark room for three days and judged this thing. They needed to keep a scale in place over three days, watching tiny screens, panning through thousands of near-identical turns looking for a glimmer of gold. It’s the hardest event on tour to judge and they got through it without a scratch. 

Electric Phil came out loose. Layback tube. Throwaway shovit. Only problem was that in doing so he tweaked his back and was soon walking around the boat ramp like an Egyptian mummy. Electric Phil lost all his spark, but in the end it wouldn’t have mattered anyway once his countryman paddled out.

The women’s came down to Lakey and Johanne. I wanted the Reunion Island girl to win. Her tube on the opening day had set the tone for the whole event, and up until the final wave of the whole event she had it in the bag. It was fitting though that the first air rev landed by any of the women won the event. As a group they made a great leap forward in Lemoore but going to the air on the end section – and landing it – was the final frontier, and when Lakey landing one for the win felt symbolic.

Lakey thanked God before dedicating her win to those who marched in yesterday’s Climate Strike. The clanging, juice-sucking hydrofoil sat in the background of the shot, and it’s been a tough sell for the WSL to sell their environmental credentials this week with the machine clanging down the rails. I’m presuming it still pulls solar energy off the grid as it did when it was launched, but nobody was making any mention of it during the broadcast. Maybe the facility is powered by a crystal found next to baby Kelly when his space egg crashed into a corn field.

Gabe Medina killed off the day on his first wave. Stone cold. He threw a reverse out the back, dispatched a series of dismissive forehand swipes, before Kerrupt Flipping the inside, cutting back and going spin to win. The judges flirted with a perfect 10. His following righthander slipstreamed in behind it, and that was it. The top four still had another shot at him but they were all broken and the more they pushed, the shakier they looked. Griff and Jordy kept falling. Felipe’s could hardly walk. Owen looked good but didn’t have the chops.

A Gabby win was fated. He’d broken them already. Earlier this morning, back in J-Bay, take your pick. Medina is a machine, but interestingly he went to lengths to explain he wasn’t counting turns or paddling out with a routine in his head. He was surfing on instinct, and while the pool psychology had his peers talking to pot plants, he coldly, coolly, mastered the machine. He won again in the pool today, two from two, and he’s hit the ratings lead, pulling away. If he keeps doing this it’ll be a short season.

As for the pool, second year in we’ve seen enough to make a judgement on its place on tour. As sporting entertainment it’s not quite working. A quote by Australian comedian The 12th Man comes to mind as he mock-calls a Formula 1 race. "These fucking cars just keep going round and round and round. It's been so fucking boring!" There is a lot of dead air and a lot of sameness to the surfing. The Facebook stream hovered around 2K for most of the day. The energy poolside seemed low. A tour event and that pool just don’t seem to work together. The pool was built-for-purpose and hurrying 54 surfers down it over three days wasn’t it. You’re only going to get conservative surfing. Lemoore might be the perfect wave, but as they say, perfect is the enemy of good.

The hint to its future was seen on Phil Toledo’s dead rubber wave. With his back locked up he surfed his final wave switch, almost coming out of the inside barrel. There would have been a deep gurgling sound in the judges booth as he almost came out. I’m not sure whether they even have a switchfoot scoring protocol. The pool needs to go freestyle. An exhibition event. A one-day, elite field, prog rock, big dollar shootout.

And my money would still be on Gabby.

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