Sean Doherty: The Contenders Need Them to Lose, But Medina & Moore Top Score Day 1 at Peniche

18 Oct 2019 3 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Masurel

Photo: WSL/Masurel

COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY

Historically Historic – 2019 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Day 1

“Every wave truly is history.”

Okay, let’s stop just there. The WSL promotional emails landing all week have been laying it on thick coming into the Portuguese event, building up the slim-to-none chance of a world title being decided in Peniche.

Ricardo Christie gets the first wave of the event and historic is not the first adjective I’m reaching for. Barely visible through thick sardine smog, the Kiwi gets slammed into the sandbank on a junky, onshore closeout. At this point I’m struggling to see this wave with its own entry in Warshaw’s mighty tome.

Or maybe I’m wrong. Pete opined that the scale was “suppressed” in the first heat. Strider called it a two out of 10 day, and when Joe calls it “challenging” it truly must be horseshit.

Portugal is a tough event, and the pro surf brass generally avoid it if they can, sending in the lieutenants instead. No Kieren Perrow again; the contest call duties falling to Women’s Comish Jess Middy Diddy, who had no hesitation in sending the men out into the junk this morning. It may not matter in the end if you believe the surf forecast.

Surfline has also rolled out the fresh troops. Where have they been hiding Kurt Korte? (Pronounced Kor-tay) And why didn’t they get Chris Cote to interview him this morning? Kurt delivered the forecast like a pro. So pro he was not even lured by the siren song of Rosie’s lulling interview technique and instead ignored her completely and delivered the forecast straight down the barrel of the camera. I don’t like the entertaining weather guy on TV. I like the weather guy to know the weather. I liked Kurt immediately. No bullshit. No sugar coating Kurt, tell me straight up, how bad is it going to be? Kurt delivered grim news. It’s going to be a long – or very short – week.

I thought back a few years ago when the WSL were planning to turn the tour schedule on its head, and end with the mythologic Mentawai boat trip, a concept that now seems to well and truly have been shelved. If they’d changed up the tour at that point Portugal would have already run in February, the second event of the year and not the second-last. World titles being decided in the sort of waves we saw today at Super Choobs isn’t what they’d call a promoter’s dream. The Portuguese event has delivered a handful of classic events, but you’ve got to wade through plenty of days like today to earn them. But what the randomness of the Portuguese event does is throw form out the window, and more often than not it has prevented world titles being decided there.

This is what Kolohe wants, and he’s one surfer who won’t be unhappy about the quality of the surf this week. At the start of the European leg I predicted he could win ugly and give himself a shot at the title. Well, he got to the last day in France and it was suddenly airbrushed and magnifique and he duly lost. This morning in Portugal the lineup was a shambles and he was all over it.

Back to back heats with Kolohe/Griff and Yago/Italo would be markers if the day was salvageable. If they couldn’t make it look good nobody would. When Griff managed to landed a forehand air rev for a six his coach’s instruction was simple – get a four. Ten points was a comfortable winning score today.

Phil Toledo still looks like he’s got a spine made of timber; still battling a back injury that has effectively taken him out of the title frame. He fought on today, winning with a couple of tubes but managing a forehand spinner. Doing some primitive math on the throwaway results however brings Phil within range of Gabby. It’s closer than it looks, but unless Phil can open up he’s not much chance here and even less at Pipe.

And on top of that he needs Gabby to keep losing. We saw in France a weakness. Put him out in a big, shifting offshore lineup and let him beat himself by paddling himself out of position. Well that won’t work here at Supertubes. There is no right place to sit ergo there is no wrong place. Gabby will just work the lineup like a shark circling a baitball, picking moments to strike. Bang. Backhand rotor. Bang. Forehand tube into a little whizz. In two minutes he suddenly had what would be the highest score of the day.

The waves were still terrible. Strider and Joe were contemplating a long seafood lunch – maybe some polvo a lagariero up at Tasca da Joel, washed down with a local rosé – but would be consigned to a long day in the booth with lunch in the mess hall.

As the grey, goopy surf continued I was looking for any distraction, and it soon landed in my inbox. It was an email from Vissla, announcing the release of their new Rising Seas wetsuit. “With a transformative, built-in Bio-Defense System, it will provide for a whole new level of protection and safety in the water.” Complete with LED gas mask and touch screen superhero control panel on the left arm it comes straight out of Halo 4… or straight out of the PR stunt department. But hey, in these anxious final days we look for comfort and it now appears you can not only surf through the most extreme winters, you can right surf through the End of Days. This is how we’re going out folks. We’ll now be able to watch it all burn from the lineup while jagging a few sweet waves, surfing around the bodies piling up in the shorebreak. Meanwhile back at Supertubes it remained grey and goopy and the Apocalypse Suit wouldn’t have looked out of place.

Final heat of the round featured Kelly, who comes into this event in a tricky bind.

All year we’ve been following his crusade to qualify for next year’s Tokyo Olympic games, and for most of that time we’ve presumed it was a lock. With John John blowing out a knee Kelly had a rails run to take the second spot on the American team, but a string of disappointing results in the back half of the season has left him struggling. Without a result in Portugal he may not even overtake John who hasn’t surfed since May.

I’m sure you’ve seen the behind the scenes WSL clip from the Surf Ranch event, where Kelly is coached by an Australian energy healer, the pair working through some deep-seated Kelly issues for the cameras as Kelly bombs out of his own event. It feels like an episode of The Office and is, by far, the single greatest thing the WSL has ever done… awkward to watch, bordering on mockumentary, but, as it rolls on the viewer comes to the realisation that this is actually happening. The WSL needs to sign this guy on for a whole series… have him shadow a different surfer each event, conducting energy healings while probing the darkest recesses of their psyche… all while filming his own show at the same time. How meta. Back to Kelly though, here we had the most stratospherically successful strategic surfer who will ever be, the man who has psychologically dismantled generations of surfing foes, taking heat advice from a non-surfing, self-taught, self-promoting TV shrink. Well, it didn’t do much good for Kelly at the Surf Ranch where he bombed, but the healer at least was able to put to Kelly a truthy notion those close to him probably can’t. I paraphrase: “Dude, you’re 47… isn’t still being here enough?”

Kelly surfed today and looked good. Portugal is not his favourite event. In fact, it may be his least favourite event, but he paddled out in the final heat of the round and it was pretty clear that no, just being here wasn’t enough. He’s still clinging to the Olympic dream and needs to make a bunch of heats here if that’s remotely going to happen. For most of the day guys were struggling to jam one turn, but Kelly found a wave for five turns.

By this stage the tide was in and the sun was out, and the women got the best of what was a pretty terrible day of surf. These are strange days indeed. The whole round was a struggle. Carissa managed two sevens, but there were plenty of single digit heat totals. The broadcast energy waned. Joe, Pottz and Strider may have disappeared into the old Peniche for that long seafood lunch.

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