World’s hardest sport debate heats up as Kelly Slater says skating more difficult than surfing!

Epic Sunset Beach contest shows absurdity of a world title showdown in Trestles mush…

Pipe and Sunset Beach done and dusted. Gender equality amidst stellar waves for a Finals Day once again. Victory for Australia. New faces in the finals. Nary a Brazilian in sight, except Italo who exited at the quarters. Miley-Dyer conspicuous only by absence.

Are you not entertained?

Pacified, at least?

All day we were told it was as good as Sunset Beach gets. For once I believed it wasn’t just WSL bluster and hyperbole.

Opportunity abounded for all. The four men who made the semis, Jack Robinson, Kanoa Igarashi, Ryan Callinan and Jordy Smith, were a curious collection, diverse in styles and demeanour, but all were deserving of their place.

John Florence and Italo Ferreira would have deserved it, too, but there’s no shame in losing to Jordy Smith or Jack Robinson on days like that.

As mentioned in a recent report, Italo must have far and away the highest losing heat totals over the past twelve months or so. Continuing the theme, the 15.60 he logged in his quarter loss to Robinson would have won all but four heats in the entire competition. Surely, he’s due a run?

Despite John Florence’s loss in the quarter, he wears the yellow jersey going into Portugal. He seems to have found a new verve for competitive surfing that perhaps no-one outwith those who know him well could have predicted. The tragedy is that the excitement we might feel for John’s renewed vigour is completely nullified by the current Tour format.

More on that later.

Jordy Smith and Ryan Callinan were standouts throughout the competition. These waves at Sunset Beach were always going to suit Jordy, and seeing his power was a reminder of the gaping hole in the schedule left by J-Bay. Callinan, for his part, did some of the most vicious backhand hacks seen at Sunset. Both lost at semi-final stage, but neither in disgrace.

Which left childhood rivals and former Young Guns, Kanoa Igarashi and Jack Robinson, to duke it out in the final.

Robinson had made his way there in a blitzkrieg of warbly barrels, scything hooks under lips and nappy fumes.

His heat totals from the quarter onwards were 17.37, 16.10 and 18.04. It was a finals day run of the sort of veracity that I thought we may not see from Robinson this year, given his circumstances. Children are a blessing, no doubt, but they do not facilitate zen.

Kanoa posted his standard pocket sevens, and there was a little flash, but he never displayed the joie de vivre of Robinson, nor was he on the best waves in comparison.

The ocean was “part of his body or something,” gushed Joe Turpel of Jack Robinson. “He feeds off mana!”

“Another cool redirect,” he said of Kanoa.

But for me, Jack’s Sunset Beach barrels were a touch overscored.

He notched the highest single waves of the event with a 9.77 and a 9.87 for finding tubes where others could not. Perhaps that in itself is justification for the scores. Certainly you had to appreciate how deep he took off for his 9.87, a backdoor entry no-one else conceived, let alone attempted. But in a competition defined by critical turns, the scores for the barrels were a little jarring.

At the prizegiving (where drone shots made the average school sports day look like the Superbowl in comparison) Jack Robinson told the few gathered souls that he’d held a board that had belonged to Andy Irons on his lap that morning. He’d talked to the board.

“Just go frikkin surf,” it told him.

And that’s what he did.

But you’ll forgive me for ending on a despondent note. Come down or otherwise, it’s how I feel as we leave the North Shore.

You see, I like watching turns.

Turns to make us ooh and aah. Turns that make our balls wince. Turns that we can only do in our feathered dreamscapes.

I like watching barrels, too.

And it strikes me that there were so many turns carved at Sunset Beach and tubes threaded at Pipe, but that none of it matters when we know it’s all going to end with a damp flatulent echo at Lower Trestles, where turns and tubes like these can never exist.

Yes, the Final Five showdown can be great entertainment. The concept works. But it is not how world titles should be decided. How are we supposed to get behind a title race if it’s not really a title race?

More to the point, how are the athletes?

We might have John and Gabby (if the latter picks up, which he will) in the prime of their careers, the white knight/black knight rivalry we’ve longed for since the heady days of Kelly vs Andy.

Add to this genuine Australian talent (for the first time since the Coolie kids) in the shape of Robinson and Ewing; wildcards like Yago Dora and Italo (given it’s slightly disrespectful to call a past world champ a wildcard); mainland America’s best hope since Slater in the shape of Griffin; and even Barron Mamiya and the absent Chianca to stir the pot.

That’s a lot of talent, a lot of character too. But, it might all be wasted.

John could thread mind-bending barrels from here til Trestles, win every single comp, and still lose the world title to Kanoa Igarashi stitching sevens in Trestles’ mush.

Without treading too much old ground, the premise that underpins the Trestles contest is solid. Yes, competitive surfing can lack excitement. I’ll vouch for that. The average contest in just about any other sport is better entertainment than the average surf contest. So competitions do need to happen faster, and they do need a sense of drama and consequence.

But this premise is flawed, because surfing isn’t like any other sport, and trying to make it like other things is a fool’s errand.

(Let’s put the argument about whether it should be a competitive sport at all to one side for now.)

The WSL should be doing everything in its power to highlight the unique aspects of surfing, not stymie them. A world title fight deserves waves of both quality and diversity, and a single day showdown to decide a world title – particularly at Trestles – makes a mockery of the skills it requires to be in the top five at year end.

Trestles remains a creeping effigy of Erik Logan, and it should be exorcised at once.

Make the changes, WSL. The athletes and fans deserve better.

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