Sean Doherty: Sally and Filipe Take Rio!
COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY
Fast Twitch Phil Wins Again, Finals Day at the 2019 Oi Rio Pro
Finals day and Barrinha had been neutered after yesterday’s heavy water.
Sleep wouldn’t have come easy for the WSL brass last night. So resigned to scrapping for whatever waves they can get in Brazil, they kicked a gift horse in the nuts yesterday by running at the wrong end of the beach. It’s hard to tell how it would have worked in heats, but Kelly described Barrinha as “like Off The Wall". They were the best waves anyone had ever seen for a contest in Brazil – and maybe the best waves on tour this year – and yet they watched them from down the beach, only moving once the wind had swung el diablo. They waited 20 years for those waves and surfed the other end of the beach. If KP was in Brazil would they have missed this golden bird? Unlikely.
As quickly as the swell arrived it disappeared overnight. Not the end of the world, I thought. The straight bank might hold better at three foot. But no. Two turns before the closeout was a par score today.
Women’s quarters started the day. Energy was low. The crowd was still sleeping it off, just a few of them there to watch their girls Silvana and Tati bow out. Lakey Peterson sat there for a week waiting for a one-pointer. Sally Fitz mopped the floor with her. Steph surfed purely on tactics… and did it well. But this was looking like a day for Carissa.
The crowds built. Twenty thousand, 30,000…. 50,000! Do I hear 100,000? I think the same guy counting the WSL’s web traffic was on the beach head count, but it seems to be the new paradigm for this event. Tap the energy of a big crowd, throw Stridinho amongst it, and sell the Carnivale atmosphere. If this were the naughty noughties, there would have been five dedicated cameramen whose job it would have been to exclusively film cutaway of Brazilian girls in Brazilian bikinis. Guys surfing waves would have occasionally interrupted the show. The ratings would have soared in landlocked markets. Instead in these enlightened times the cameras are locked above the waist and it’s all smiling faces and shakas all the way.
The WSL need people who actually give a rats ass about pro surfing, and in Brazil they’ve got plenty right now. We earlier pondered the future of the Brazilian contest, how the Brazilian dominance of the tour warrants something better than beachbreak chum. Well maybe, just like yesterday, it’s been staring us in the face at Barrinha all along?
Renato Hickel, his bleached bouffant slicked down into a Caesar cut, delivered the news we’d been expecting to hear. John John was out of the game and on the next plane out of Brazil. Now we just have to guess when we’re going to see him again. Last time he injured his knee it was six months. J-Bay is two weeks away. If it’s structural, he’ll have some thinking to do. Last year when he tweaked his knee in Bali he was languishing in the ratings. That was an easy decision to sit the year out. This time he’s 5000 points in the lead. The ghosts of Parko’s 2009 season are still dragging chains. Parko was leading the ratings by twice as much in 2009, blew his ankle out in Bali, and hobbled through the season only to lose the title to Mick at Pipe. You ask Parko about it today and the first thing he’ll tell you is that he should have sat out that first event after he injured it. John will have some thinking to do about J-Bay. His specialist might do the thinking for him.
“Sometimes it’s not about the show.” Phil Toledo wasn’t getting carried away by the crowd just yet. His side of the draw was opening up. For the quarters and semis he just needed to do enough to get past Igarashi and Morais. And again, winning heats today was more pragmatic than anything else. Squeezing in two turns before the closeout. Morais had worked it out and taken Julian Wilson out by doing so. Where this leaves Julian’s season is anyone’s guess. He’s been falling on mistimed final turns at critical points all year. Same again today. It almost feels like he’s taking off with the wave already surfed in his head, then he gets to the end and the wave has changed, or as today, a giant backwash has gone through it and he falls. Conversely, Toledo looked like he was surfing the wave five yards in front of him and not thinking about a thing.
I don’t think anyone can quite defeat himself as well as Gabby though. If he’s not into it, forget about it. He’ll be Nick Kyrgios serving underarm at Wimbledon. He doesn’t like The Box and surfed The Box like he didn’t like it. He came out yesterday and said he doesn’t like the Barrinha right, and he surfed it today like he didn’t like it. He eventually landed a backhand rotor to make it close against Kolohe but finished the heat by catching the only left of the day in symbolic protest. When Gabby wants to win he will eat lightning and crap thunder and nothing on god’s green earth will stop him… but that wasn’t today, in his home event. No such problem with Brother. Brother wants to win all day, every day. He’s been dependable all year, two sevens all the way.
Most believed the Carissa-Steph semi would decide the women’s title. Carissa had the formula down by now. The closeout sneaks up on you. Surf short. Drive out of the first turn quick and keep speed for the closeout. She did that for a pair of sevens. Steph got tubed for a nine but couldn’t find a six. Steph dropped the ratings lead but she made progress in Brazil. She’s got to win ugly and win tactically at some point in the season – it can’t all be kick-stall dreamboat Balinese 10s – and she showed plenty of that in Brazil. At J-Bay things swing back her way.
By the time the women’s final was surfed the tide had brought the backwash, which played into Sally’s hands. She needed an imperfect final to beat Carissa. She needed to get tubed too. Carissa had the wave to ice the final but nursed it and over-thunk it. Sally needed a six, and a cover-up to close out would be close. The judges came on hot and heavy for an 8.67. It seemed way overjuiced but Sally ended up two points clear anyway. Sally mightn’t have the chops to win a shootout against Carissa or Steph anymore, but she can win heats – and finals – and at the halfway mark leads the women’s tour.
Phil was fast twitching by the time he paddled out for the final. Jordy had been the sleeper in the field, but Toledo put him to sleep in the opening minutes. Phil’s nine was a down-the-bank scrap but he made it sing, with a tube into a big hanger into a slash. He backed it up with an eight a few minutes later. Phil surfed short; Jordy surfed long. Again, Toledo never looked down the line, he simply lit up whatever the wave threw at him, but he surfed so goddamn quick he never missed sections down the line anyway. Jordy meanwhile was long and drawn out, which will work in two weeks’ time at J-Bay but not here today. The amazing thing however is that Fast Twitch Phil has shown that he can surf eight foot J-Bay the same way he surfed three foot Barrinha today.
So for two years running now the critics – your humble correspondent amongst them – have had to watch the Brazilian event and tip their hat. For so long, writing off that contest had become a sport in itself, but between Toledo and Barrinha it’s become compelling on several levels. And they didn’t even surf the best waves they got! And with John’s injury it’s also opened up a title race that was threatening to be over before September. If Joe had been there you can bet he would have said that “Things just got spiiiiicy, Pottz!”
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