During the night the reefs were making a hell of a lot of noise, so amongst the mosquito slapping and sleep walking our sleeps were peppered with anticipation. We woke to news that the event was not only going to run at 7am, but that they were going to run the whole way through. This seemed ambitious. 19 heats would take us from just after first light all the way through until 5pm, if heat-restarts didn’t make nuisances of themselves. The ruggedly handsome Murray, all ‘round nice bloke, room mate and photographer for a rival surf rag/website paddled out in his canoe and said it was weird, irregular, lumpy and slooooow. With Adam Melling scoring single figures before I had a chance to hit the channel it seemed likely that the day would be over before it started, or at least be so complete with restarts that it’d be a space and time impossibility for them to get through it all.
But we aren’t going to go too far through Ace’s victory until we’ve had a chance to celebrate it with him. Ace’s victory was one of tactics working hard with skill, of patience and cool heads. His was a victory of momentum, of truly saving the best until last. Throughout the event I was waiting for a 10 from Ace, and we got it, in the final, but it was called a 9.57. Apparently, according to a head judge, two of the five judges gave it a 10, but the others held off because it was the first wave ridden in the final, and they didn’t want to paint themselves into a 40-point heat wall.
In any case he won, but before he did so some other people surfed, and there were some moments well worth mentioning:
In the third round Jeremy Flores got properly pumped in his heat against Damien Hobgood. He went down on the takeoff and his board tombstoned furiously until he popped just before the next wave smashed down on him – he was mere seconds off a two-wave hold down. Once the second wave of the set washed past, his board was tombstoning more furiously than before, and the water patrol started to move towards it when, out of the frothy mess, he popped up and paddled back out like nothing had happened. The kid’s got a set of cans on him, let me tell you.
CJ Hobgood had the ASP chaplain caddying for him. CJ is a devout christian, and often makes this known, and the chaplain has a direct line with god, so it might give him a slight advantage, but whatever. I hope that when Jihad Khodr makes the tour the ASP employs a mufti for him…
Anyway, that’s that, for now. Ace won and we best be getting to finding him, and joining in the festivities. Check back in tomorrow for more in-depth and updated analysis (basically how many tins we put back, and who tears on the dancefloor).
Around Here We Call Them Slay Dayz
Words: Wade Davis
Adding to the motivation to get out there was the new Stacey rounded-pin quad burning a hole in my coffin case, and the apparent lack of crowds. I figured I could pick the perfect from the horrifying and find something between the rogue west closeout sets. I waxed up the newby, and put in the fins – two left and two right – and made my way out from the river that runs through the valley, between the mountains, and shapes the channel that makes the wave. The paddle out is long, a leisurely 15 minutes or so, but the sun was shining and the water was warm and clear and it gave me plenty of time to convince myself that it wasn’t too bad and that everything was going to be all right.
There were a few boats in the channel, anticipating a 10 o’clock all-clear and about six guys in the lineup. There was a slight sea breeze which wasn’t really effecting the clear, three-foot, Teahupo’o tubes. Perfect, right? I’d get a couple while it was like this, I told myself, and this afternoon when it picked up I’ll have the place totes fucking wired. I sat a bit wide so to get the measure of the place and made my way up the point. Teahupo’o has three main peaks. Furthest to the east, or up the point, there’s a spot that receives mostly unmakable thin lipped peelers, then there’s the middle peak, where you snag the better ones and the west peak, where the best ones from the middle peak hurl. It’s best to start your campaign on the west peak, but to finish it on the middle.
My wave came, a mid-range set through the middle peak, and I swung to paddle in to it, but quickly realised that it was too west and I was too deep for the left so, inspired by J-Flo, I went right. Yep, my first wave ever at the infamous Teahupo’o left was a right, and I kinda got a barrel on it. Where you kick out of the rights is very shallow, and that pesky east peak threatens to grind you across essentially dry reef, so it was necessary to make haste back the lineup lest my brand new shooter be forced to kiss the coral. Back in the lineup I again waited, and once the “crowd” had had their roll of the dice it was again my chance to shine. A slightly bigger set came through, not so wide, and I paddled my little heart out to get into it, got to my feet and realised that it wasn’t going to tube straight away, so I straightened out intending to bottom turn back up, do a little snap and barrel ride my way to the channel, again ala J-Floz. What transpired, however, was that as I was bottom turning my board immediately and completely slipped out, like it had no fins, and I slapped the water hard and without ceremony and got rolled around under water. Upon resurfacing I noticed that I had overlooked screwing in the two fins on my toe side, which went a-ways to explaining why I could catch the right, but not the left. And Teahupo’o is, as we all know too well, overwhelmingly a left.
I paddled over to the divers boat (they secure the line that we all moor to, to a four-tonne concrete block 25+ meters below the surface, without tanks) and borrowed a mask so that I might prowl the reef floor for my missing fins. I figured that they must have come out when I took the right, and so I snorkled through a lull and past the crowd, into the aforementioned shallow section at the end of the right that doesn’t really exist. No sooner had I started to navigate one of the many trenches, likely resting places for my departed skeggs, that I was pounded, without warning, by one of the many sets that would decimate upon my back during this impact-zone snorkelling session. To say that this was one of my least thought out ideas, and boy-oh-boy I’ve had some doozies, is an understatement, and if I was a little less lucky than I was I would have doubtlessly been the recipient of a Darwin Award*. Not only didn’t I find my missing fins, but got a royal thrashing for my efforts, some minor reef scrapes, and endured the 15 minute paddle back in with the knowledge that I’d kinda managed to get a Teahupo’o tube, albeit on a right hander.
The swell at the moment is coming out of the southwest, which is great for the Teahupo’o barrels that we know and love and want to catch as they horseshoe in on the reef, which provides the almost backdoor barrels the better guys get out there. When the swell does come in from that direction it can result in the odd right, but it’s a pretty dangerous situation that ends on dry reef and relies on the swell lump you are catching to have absolutely no wall on it, and for there to be no waves coming after it. At this size, at three-to-four-foot, you can absolutely get some great tubes, and some horrendous poundings, but you probably won’t suffer much more than a shortness of breath and some minor reef scratches. It’s uncrowded – the WCT circus is in town and the most people I surfed with today was six and the least two – but there are pretty long lulls, so be prepared to wait. The locals are super friendly and there is no bad vibe in the water, everyone knows their place and waits their turn, with the exception of the Hawaiian kook who dropped in on someone’s barrel, only to have his board run over and snapped into two pieces by the tuberider’s fins. There is very little tide here, and low tide is always in the morning and evening and high tide is always in the middle of the day. I know it doesn’t make any sense, and I am trying to get to the bottom of it. Some yacht types told me that the tides here are dictated by the sun, but the husband of the pair was a Cocoa Beach native who claimed to have invented the leash, so I’ve taken his lesson with a grain of trail mix (he gave me some boat-made trail mix, what a guy!)
The event should run again tomorrow, the swell was filling in while I was out there and will continue to do so until the morning. Event organisers are keen to wrap this thing while there is still some west swell, and with at least 12 hours of heats remaining it means a big day and a half of surfing when they resume. Until then, yew!
*Darwin Awards are given annually to the people who have died in the stupidest manner, called the Darwin Awards because their demise benefits the mental health of the human herd. Snorkelling the Teahupo’o impact zone would have made me a worthy recipient.
Day Two: Channel Surfing
Words: Wade Davis
The view from the channel isn’t the best, as we touched on yesterday, but it is made up for by the feeling of belonging to, and participating in, the spectacle. At most events the surfers have the surfers’ area, which is where they stay away from the prying ears and eyes of the stinking general public and they talk about their country club memberships, Italian sports cars, model girlfriends and fancy French mustard. In the Teahupo’o channel, however, everything happens within earshot of the general public connected, fortunate or intrepid enough to be a part of the flotilla. There’s a certain warts and all aspect of actually being in the channel that you probably don’t get from the webcast, or on Fuel TV, and so I’d like to take the time to give you some chronological snippets.
First heat is Michel Bourez vs Nathan Hedge. Hedgey is back on the qualifying trail after a long hiatus. He is surfing as good as anyone else out there. In the dying minutes of the heat Michel needs a score and a wave arrives with potential. He takes off late, pumps deep and makes a long clean barrel. He likes it. The buzzer buzzes and straight away Hedgey is paddling towards the amassed boats, asking everyone and no one in particular, “did he get it?” The announcer announces that Michel indeed didn’t get the score and The Hog goes nuts. Immediately after Michel paddles past with his forehead resting on his board and he doesn’t look up and we never see him again.
There was a guy standing on the reef for about three hours flying a single string kite. He couldn’t make it duck or weave, it just flew and he just stood. The reef is about 500 meters from the beach. He may not have really been in the channel, but I think this guy is worth mentioning.
Felipe Toledo’s dad was doing his usual ranting, raving and whistling during his sprog’s heat. First wave that Felipe gets he pulls in, comes out and his dad loses his noodle. The score comes through and it’s a 3.5, but this doesn’t affect Toledo senior, whose beady, steely gaze seems to be operating on pure medulla oblongata alone. Sets come through and Felipe doesn’t want them, and his dad gets mad. When Felipe eventually loses to Miguel Pupo his dad yells at him, and Felipe backchats. His dad continues, probably saying, “don’t backchat me boy”, in Portuguese and Felipe resigns to receive the barrage. I imagine him saying, under his breath, “don’t yell at me dad, not in front of my friends.”
Before his heat Brett Simpson cups his hand and prays. I make a deal with the universe that if he wins his heat it’s conclusive proof that god exists. His opponent, Jeremy Flores scores a perfect 10 and then a 9.33 on a gosh-darned righthander and Simpo is left without a hope. God might still exist, but he didn’t prove his existence today. Later on Brett smashes his face to bits during the post-competition free surf, which I’m sure the poor guy doesn’t need. Speedy recovery, Simpo.
Kolohe Andino rolls out on a Red Bull jetski driven by Mike “Snips” Parsons followed by his dad, ‘90s Californian superstar Dino Andino ,on another Red Bull jet ski. They spend a while before the heat assessing the line up, discussing strategy, and working out how they are going to win. Kolohe’s opponent, Kai Otton, paddles out and surfs. He scores 19 something and Kolohe scores 14 something. Surfing is still cool. Afterwards Kolohe looks real upset, despite just surfing Teahupo’o for 35 minutes, with one other guy and getting tubed off his face. Competition sucks for the losers, but rules for the victors and the bloodthirsty spectators. After the day’s done Kolohe returns and free surfs and gets some bombs. The kid’s still cool too.
The perfect Tahitian pals who drive my media boat spend the entire day trying to feed me beers. I resist, mostly, but then they put on house music and pretty girls start lurking about. They teach me pick up lines, which I am sure are stitch ups. Hinaro vau pupa ia oe, nehenehe oe. Anyone know what this means?
Adrian Buchan bests Bede Durbidge after their heat is restarted due to a long lull at its start. He pauses on his way from his post-heat GTing to tell me about the differences between eights and nines (you got to grind through that second section to get the nines) and about the tens he almost got ( has to be huge, and you got to go just a little further – two times he’s had waves that have had the potential and faltered at the exit of the tube). Kelly Slater paddles past and says, “you guys missed a good right before the restart, the thing spat we could see it from the boat”. Ace says, “the left was good too”, Kelly agrees. At Teahupo’o the lefts are usually better.
At the day’s end the world’s best paddle out and a super session goes down. My Tahitian boat pals are joined by their extended family and they blast the tunes and start drinking spirits. I resist. I am joined on the boat by Nathan Hedge, who has just caught one wave so that he can shake his third round loss to Jordy Smith (it was fucking close). He resists too. Kelly Slater paddles past for a late surf with snowboard legend Brian Iguchi. I see Kelly explain to Brian how the wave works, and Brian gets a mid-sized one but doesn’t come out. A short time later Brian gets caught inside and snaps one of Ian Walsh’s boards. Kelly inspects the board, confirms it’s a snap, and dismisses Brian to the channel. Despite the crowd, Kelly takes one switch and falls. Joel Parkinson snags the set of the afternoon, as reigning world champ quite rightfully, and pulls through it hands-free and with as much steeze as you’d like. Gabriel Medina puts himself in the spot for an extra-large wide one but pulls back on it. Anthony Walsh pulls in holding an inflatable palm tree. The sun sets and I’ve finally given in to the beers. Life’s good out here in the channel.
Day One, Part One: Before Lunch
Words: Wade Davis
But that was then, and they were them. Nowadays we find paradises everywhere and in every shape. We have paradises on our doorstep (hello Hamilton Island), paradises lost (selamat pagi Kuta) and paradise themed party nights in the least likely of establishments (g’day Cooma RSL). But no matter to where we appropriate the appellation, we are subconsciously applying Tahiti’s paradisiacal attributes. In short, calling somewhere paradise is using the most favourable elements of this very isle as the basis of the descriptive metaphor. It’s the archetype, the benchmark, the Shangri-la by which all others are measured and then leaves them lacking. It’s the lush mountains that jut skyward from the shore, the steaming jungles that cling to them, the crystal blue waters, the affable nature of the locals, the perfect weather all encompassed in a modicum of civilisation that does it. It just has more of these attributes than anywhere else that claims to be a paradise, or so it seems to me thus far.
And so, to a new generation of seafarers, seamen and seawomen who fare in the pursuit of pleasure not transport, Tahiti still remains the paradise. Thus when the call up came to venture across the Pacific and into paradise my excitement was encouraged by both the legends of these Society Isles that enticed and enslaved the imaginations of adventurers, artists and men of letters in centuries past, and the more recent lore of perfect waves and bikini clad women and the other ingredients that go into making a modern day surfers’ paradise, which is actually the precise opposite of the ingredients that go into making Surfers Paradise on the Gold Coast. Go figure.
These days airlines ply the routes between islands and winds and seasons and navigating by the stars have all but died out with their advent. That said, these islands are the kinds of paradises that, if you really wanted to, you could reach by casting adrift on a hessian sack filled with coconuts, as I am sure that Tahiti would offer up fortuitous winds and currents and would assist you on your pilgrimage here. Paradises like this just are like trees falling in forests, and cease to exist unless they are brought to your attention and within your conceivable reach, and so they will aid and assist your discovery of their charms. Nevertheless, while the thought of casting off from Burleigh Point on a Papillon style coco-boat was tempting, the fact of the matter is that jumping on a tin bird and being attended to by delightful and aesthetically agreeable Franco-Polynesians isn’t that bad, or inauthentic, a way to reach the islands. It is, as a matter of fact, downright pleasant.
Having arrived by night, and breakfasted by the lagoon, we settled under a rusted tin roof, by a palm tree, next to a green grass lawn, and watched some heats. The day opened with perfect, albeit not all-time-cartilage-pulverising, waves. Anthony Walsh got a perfect 10 that would agitate even the most languid of islanders, an impossibly deep barrel that was less a foam-ball ride than it was him embedding himself into the least rideable part of the wave for as long as he could before popping out with a no-claim claim that screams, “what were you bothered about?” The heat, however, wouldn’t go his way, with Joel Parkinson scoring two of his bread-and-butter eight-ish scores that left Walshy chasing an unrequited back up score. The other Walsh, the Ian Walsh, almost ran away with the upset of the day, besting a wave-starved Kelly Slater up until the final moment, when the Darth Neptune conjured a lump out of the river-bored oceanic channel and scored .27 higher than the required heat winning 8.33.
Before that Wilko won towards the end of his heat, Jordy dominated his, Freddy P defeated Mickey F and Bede Durbidge took out the opening heat of the day. The victors will cherish all the victories and all the losers will temporarily rue their losses, but they all will live to surf another day, which may be later on today, after the remaining six heats of round one are surfed. I am off to find a canoe, so that I my join the throng in the sea, jostling for position and tanning my shoulders under the perfectly mild sunshine and running the crystal clear waters through my fingers and admiring the gorgeous reef fish and generally enjoying paradise in all of its splendour, as well as catching a few no-loser heats up close. The greatest show on Earth is again unfolding in paradise, and it is no secret that we are all, both watching live and online, are the beneficiaries of this confluence.
Day One, Part Two, Watermen We Ain’t.
Words: Wade Davis
There are watermen everywhere here. They paddle surfboards and stand up on stand up paddle boards, whizz past on jet skis and re-enact BCF commercials in their centre-console fishing boats. They fish, also, but usually with their spears, bare hands, or with a pod of purpose-trained porpoises. They can hold their breath for days, nay weeks, and put this to use when harvesting pearls and walking volcanic rocks across the reef bed. They walk volcanic rocks across reef beds because usually they are poor swimmers, or they are poor swimmers because they spend so long walking along reef beds and not swimming above it.
There are Polynesian watermen, continuing the skill sets and knowledge passed to them through stories, customs and genetics from the ancient mariners. Those ancestors braved the blue expanse and floundered upon these verdant dots of terra firma in the middle of the biggest puddle of brine there is. There are also the guys who come from outside of Polynesia, but who are caught up in the romanticism of it. They’ve marvelled at the exploits of Laird and co. and desire to have a thick body built from core exercises and chiselled from the relentless aerobics and a jaw chipped away, and swollen by, incessant bumping against coral heads and it’s consistent rubbing on paddle boards.
These guys, all these guys, serve to make the below-average Joe feel pretty shithouse about themselves. Every man that stand-up paddled past the media shack made me feel bad about being a suburban ponce. This inspired me to loathe my desk jockey guts, my don’t-surf-anywhere-near-enough love handles and whichever chins were unfortunate enough to make themselves known to me at that given time. What better a place, I thought, than Tahiti to reverse these alarming trends, to dig from the flab the inner-waterman that resides in all committed surfers. So instead of jumping on the back on a jetski and mounting one of the various towers, or boarding one of the boats, I figured we’d hire a canoe for the duration of the contest and do all our reporting from it. We’d name it the S.S. Surfing Life, and we’d hoist a flag and take some beers and drag a surfboard behind it. We’d canoe up to the waves’ edges and ask the important questions while the surfers got spat from tubes. We’d reclaim our masculinity the only way that would be fitting, this deep in Oceania, by being watermen.
Like all plans that are worthy of recounting this one was ill thought out and poorly executed. Paradise had numbed our powers of critical thought and allowed us to overestimate our abilities, despite the 100-pound sea cucumber in the room that was screaming that neither of our crew of two had recently been to sea in anything larger than a 6’4” and smaller than a ferry, or was any kind of canoe paddler. Nevertheless we secured a canoe, one that the owner assured us was no good for us, but that looked the part we had imagined in our over-zealous scheming. It was immediately apparent that we were going to face manifold trials and multitudinous tribulations, with the canoe being of the unsteady variety, perhaps reserved for skilled crew. We were not skilled crew.
From the beach you head straight out to a pylon channel marker, which is largely unnecessary as the reef it is there to mark is dry and impossible to overlook. From videos and photos it would seem that the famous (occasionally infamous) Teahupo’o tube breaks into the safety of the channel, but this is not the case. Once reaching the reef you almost need to move parallel along its length, for the best part of 500 meters, before you get to where the magic happens. The nearer to the break one gets, the more likely it is that a rogue west swell will form up wide and take you down where you had immediately before thought you were safe. From around this zone the reef stretched seaward and it is here that the Teahupo’o wave creates its legend. As you no doubt saw on the webcast, or via the heats on demand, the waves today were by no means all-time Teahupo’o, but by an ever-bigger lack of means were they in any way to be scoffed at. From the channel we saw Two Johns win his heat, though from our vantage all we saw was him take off too late and then the wave would roll by and we’d see nothing until he popped over the shoulder. This was the vantage that we experienced for the back half of round one, and the first stab of round two. The channel that you see everyone sitting in isn’t the great vantage point its celluloid popularity would have you believe, or at least it wasn’t from the low-to-the-water canoe we had commandeered.
That the canoe was low to the water was due to its rapid filling with Pacific, which was due to the sides of the thing splitting apart where our (my) corpulent posterior (see: I’m no waterman, above) was pushing the weatherworn fibreglass beyond the point which its tenuous binds could hold. That we were about to dip into the drink was apparent enough for the various seaworthy vessels about us to comment on our precarious above sea-level situation, including Taj Burrow, who asked us if “we’d gone in yet?”
Taj, a heat after commenting on the seaworthiness of our canoe, suffered a craft malfunction of his own, snapping one of his purpose built sleds doing a re-entry when it came into contact with the thick, heaving Teahupo’o lip. This threw his momentum, and he was eventually taken by Ian Walsh, in the first of three wildcard “upsets”*. Also going down to wildcards was Nat Young to our round one 10-point superstar, Anthony Walsh, and Adriano de Souza, who all but extinguished his world title hopes when he fell on the mighty local sword of Alain Riou. Title race leader, Mick Fanning, stays with Alain and no doubt was delighted when his host eliminated a title rival.
That ended the day, and without a moment to spare when considering how much water we had taken out. We limped to shore dodging the rogue coral heads that threatened to hurl us overboard. Word under the palm is that they will be away again tomorrow morning. We’ll be all over it from the channel (in a boat,) or from the lagoon (on a tower, we aren’t watermen, we’re fairy-floss, cotton-candy, urban ponces) and you should be all over it on the webcast, starting at about three am Eastern Standard Time, four hours earlier for you sandgropers.
*Apostrophes due to our distaste in calling a defeat in competition an upset. The tour regulars take the wildcards seriously, as they are all as good as anyone else when surfing their speciality waves.
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