Sean Doherty: Italo Goes World No.1 and Carissa Moore Let's the World Title Slip as Caroline and Italo Win Portugal
COASTALWATCH | SEAN DOHERTY
Feel the Feelings – 2019 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Finals Day
After a week of waiting in Peniche this is where we land this morning… low-tide straight handers with the occasional corner. The wind threatening onshore out of the south… no threat of an offshore drifting richly across from the neighbouring sardine plant. Not Supertubular. Jordy generously described it as, “not the greatest”. It wasn’t promising early, but Supertubes would have a couple of surprises in store.
Portugal is both a great and a terrible event to run second-last on the schedule. You don’t want Portugal as the kingmaker. That’s Pipe’s job. You don’t want world titles decided in waves like we saw in the morning… but Portugal as we’ve already witnessed this week has also got history of kneecapping runaway ratings leaders and sending world titles to Pipe.
While Supertubes has been flat we’ve needed a whole week anyway to forensically examine and explore the historical heft of Gabbygate. After the procedural online death threats against Caio Ibelli simmered down, after the tape showed Caio sitting up on his board halfway out to get priority to be a strategic masterstroke, after Gabby had flown home with the shits, we were left with the world title wide open… a prospect unthinkable during Gabby’s mid-season reign of blood. Jordy, Phil, Italo and Brother were now in with more than half a chance. Today was key. It would be far easier to win heats today than it will be at Pipe in six weeks’ time, trust me.
Plenty of conspiratorial ink was spilled this week about the WSL robbing Gabby to keep the title alive – not so much with the priority call but certainly with Caio’s generous winning three-point tap turn – but here’s one theory for the true foil hatters. Gabby threw the heat. He was pissed with the priority call and faded Caio to make a point to the WSL. Call them on it. Demand they re-surf the heat. Remind them he’s got twice as many Instagram followers as they do. World title be damned, Gabby putting the WSL in their place. A power play. Something to ponder over your fifth bong of the morning, but for me? Gabby just loses his bearings when he hassles. Gabby lost his bearings and Gabby lost the heat and then Gabby lost his shit. All good… as rightly pontificated at length this week, without moments like that the whole show becomes very boring, very quickly.
Jordy and Brother up first. Jordy with the chance to lead going into Pipe. Brother needing to win the whole event to have any chance. The pair sat on peaks 50 yards apart, making life easy for priority judge, The Rat. The Rat had messaged me during the week after I’d commented he might have been distracted watching his beloved All Blacks at the Rugby World Cup. No worries tonight. The All Blacks were losing badly as the heat started. Rat was eyes on the job. Kolohe caught 13 waves for two fives. Jordy found a long tube and looked on. Today was not the day for one of his patented final day fade-outs.
Electric Phil Toledo, down on voltage for the past month with a back injury paddled out and immediately looked sparky. Out of all the guys today Phil needed to win heats. His form line at the Pipeline, – while trending upward – doesn’t hold a lot of promise. Phil looked great today… only problem was that Igarashi found a super tube for a mid-eight. Phil found a superer one but couldn’t get out of it. Phil had a shot at the death but let a potential winning wave pass under him. The judges threw down all day on single-move big airs but Phil, needing an eight, curiously chose not to give them one.
Caio Ibelli prowled the lineup, head darting like a meerkat, watching everything that moved. Is he the best tactical surfer on tour? Was sitting up on his board to gain priority against Gabby not masterful in its own right? His record against the very top guys, the unbeatable guys – Gabby and John for instance – suggests something is going on. He can pick them apart like nobody else. It’s against everyone else that he comes back to the field, and he was lucky to get past Crisanto whose last-minute tube wasn’t enough.
Italo and Jack Freeballs put on the heat of the event. With the tide on the make the waves suddenly looked great and Jack opened with a hard-landing flat spin for a seven. But yeah… Italo Ferreira. The Brazilian slashed a long left top open, before launching his own forehand rotator. Two sevens. It felt like he’d just landed when he was up again, on his backhand this time. With the section approaching time slowed as he dragged his fingers in the wave face before time raced as he launched a wild backhand spinner. It went 9.5, and amongst a whole heap of eights it was the difference. Jack had chances. He drained a long tube and instead of safety tapping a finish for a nine, popped a big straight air chasing a 10. Jack lost the heat but Europe has been good to him and he looks safe for next year. Italo meanwhile wanted to “feel the best feeling”. He thanked the Big Guy for a miracle… from not being able to walk four days ago to landing outrageous airs on the very same buckled legs.
Kolohe Andino called the Italo/Jack heat on the broadcast and had washed off the loss. “I think I got the best attitude on tour,” he deadpanned and I couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic. But he might be right. Still wet after being booted from the title race and he’s making all the jokes. “Italo’s on the first and third waves of every set.” He offers, “My dad says I need to lose the beard cause I don’t look like an Olympian.” Brother won’t win the title this year but he’s made great strides.
The waves suddenly were kinda cooking – bigger, glassier – and you know what that means? Here come the women’s quarters. In years past the women would have got the shitty low tide close out heats, but not on the watch of Jess Miley-Dyer. The Commishette found herself in the middle of the Gabbygate shit fight, so having an unexpectedly good finals day land in her lap must have been a relief. While it was cooking it was mainly lefts, which wasn’t good news for Steph Gilmore against grommet Caroline Marks. The grommet surfs hard in the pocket on her forehand, and Steph’s backhand just couldn’t keep up.
Tatiana breezes past Sally Fitzgibbons and then it’s over to Carissa. If the cards fall her way and she wins the event she will take the title today. She’s immediately in a groove. A deep righthand tube goes nine, and they must have started polishing the trophy at this point. In waves like this you couldn’t see Carissa losing. In the next quarter her challenger, Lakey Peterson looked patchy, broken rail lines on her forehand and a flat backhand act for two fives that barely got her through. The pair would surf a semi and a win for Carissa would take the title. She was short odds at this point.
Form switched up in their semi. Carissa lost her assuredness. Carissa got wobbly on her backhand while Lakey started throwing down. Carissa opened with a five and a six. Lakey surfed hard and crisp for a backhand eight. Carissa pulled into a tube, didn’t come out, then wore a set on the head and got washed to the beach. As she ran past the crowd her face said it all. There was psychic weight there. Carissa doesn’t flourish in high pressure environments. She flourishes when she opens with an eight. Instead here she got stuck with that five and six for the whole heat and never looked like getting going. She only needed a six but it was clear that six – and the world title – was never going to happen today. Maybe Honolua is more fitting for a Carissa title anyway. At Honolua she can detach and just surf.
On the other side of the women’s draw the grommet kept winning. By the time the final paddled out the tide had dropped and the lefts had switched to rights, but this was no problem for Caroline Marks… it actually worked for her. Any dissenters to the claim she’s got the backhand on the women’s tour? Anybody? She got busy jamming herself under the lip and never looked like losing the final. Caroline’s second win of the year won’t be enough to give her a look at the title in Hawaii, but she’s clearly broken through this year.
Jordy surfed with real hustle in the first men’s semi. He started throwing his big frame into the growing swell but couldn’t stick anything. I didn’t mind that at all. I’d rather he swing for the fences and lose chasing nines than doing that timid thing where he languidly joins the dots for sixes. We’ve seen way too much of that in recent years. Igarashi held the lead and priority with a minute to go, but inexplicably gave Jordy a wave. Bang. Jordy finally connected with a wildly spun forehand rotor. But it was more the energy of the thing and his reaction to it. That was the most alive Jordy Smith has looked in years. It was Young Jordy… Jordy ’09 when he had the world at his feet. It dropped as a nine and he was through to the final.
A Jordy and Italo final seemed about right. The two showiest guys on tour; the winner taking the ratings lead heading into Pipe. By this point Italo wasn’t missing with that backhand spinner and he went there straight-up on his first wave. The camera missed him taking off, and he came flying out from the side of screen, launching manically into his backhand spin, sticking it clean. Just four minutes in it killed the final off cold, but the judges giving a 10 risked something even more outrageous going down. Italo kept messing with different incarnations of that backhand air – boned out, a backhand varial even – but the spring-loaded Brazilian never gave Jordy a break. Italo stood on the trophy to pose for a photo eye-to-eye with Jordy, and now goes into Pipe as the ratings leader. I kinda also think that feels about right. An Italo world title might just be the squeeze of lime this beleaguered league needs.
This sets up a real Pipe showdown. Italo, Gabby, Jordy, Phil all arm’s length from each other. A heat either way at some point will decide it. History, rage, reverence, reward… and maybe even a priority interference. Add to that the sub plot of John John still being 3000 points ahead of Kelly with an Olympic spot on the line… well, you really got something.
There's more late summer goodness in the forecast this weekend.
The Sunnyboys or Xavier Rudd by an epic Maldivian righthander?
Standout Sessions: Crewsy, Macy Callaghan, Malia Manuel on the tear!
The Surfers Always Come out on Top
Asher Pacey, Nick Vasicek, Mitch Crews, Conner Coffin, wipeouts and more!
From the GWC2020: The Law's On Our Side
You gotta see this!
Joel and Mitch Parkinson, Asher Pacey, Sheldon Simkus, Damon Harvey, Nick Vasicek and more score pumping waves at Snapper Rocks as Cyclone Uesi pushed swell in from the east.
Taj Leaves Billabong, Channel 7 To Broadcast the WSL, and Mason Ho x Tommy Peterson x Sweet Hawaiian Sandbank
This Week In Surfing: Ten Things from Surfing & the Internet on the Week That Was February 14, 2020
The Surfers Always Come out on Top