"It’s going to be almost impossible for a goofyfooter to win this contest. History and hydrodynamics say so. But watching Connor O’Leary, you could almost, for just a second, imagine it happening." Photo: WSL/Cestari

Sharks, Facegate and Jordy v Kelly: Sean Doherty on J-Bay Rounds 2 & 3

On the Bricks

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The last sarcastic word on the Facegate scandal that has consumed the surfing landscape for the past 24 hours goes to the lads from The Dooley podcast, who asked on the J-Bay comment feed this morning, “Does anyone have a problem with WSL’s move to Facebook? Anyone, anyone at all? Just wondering.”

This is what the WSL crisis management team are banking on. That we’ll simply move on to some other outrage in some other part of the internet – someone will get a seven for a floater, someone will put their fins in backward, someone will hand a female surfer a giant novelty check – and the show will go on and everyone will forget they’re even watching the tour on Facebook. The outrage over the platform itself is already cooling, the real issue that’s been exposed, however, isn’t the comments at the bottom right hand corner of the screen… it’s the anaemic live viewer count in the top left. It’s not how they’re watching, it’s how many of them are bothering.

A few teeth looseners into the devil wind to start the day. Pupo light like a cat trying to dance through the chop, Bourez running through brick walls and onto the J-Bay bricks. We just need Brad “Brickez” Bricknell commentating, and the J-Bay drinking game, the one where you drink every time the commentators mention the “bricks”, would be really on.

I’d spoken with Parko at dawn and he didn’t think they’d run. Kelly doesn’t want to surf. It’s early. It’s devil wind. His foot is a brick. Drawn against Jordy in the biggest heat of the round, there’s a bit going on around this one.

Jordy dropped what Parko rated one of the best of the 1341 comments on his retirement post yesterday. Jordy to Joel: “You have no idea how much you have inspired me and this sport, bru.” But then Kelly dropped the bomb of his own impending retirement. In December. Next year. Theories abounded as to why Kelly did it. Some believe it was a dish left sitting on a table in an empty house for 15 years, ice-cold revenge served for the wave Joel took off Kelly in the Pipe Masters final in 2003. Joel was way too deep, Kelly in the spot, Joel went to block him. The wave cost Kelly the most important World Title of the modern era. Some believe, meanwhile, that he has no actual control over the shade reflex. It’s purely involuntary. Whatever the motivations, nobody mentions a word of Kelly’s retirement on the broadcast today. Not a syllable.

Shaun Tomson loves Jordy’s corving orcs. The Big Cat is surfing loose but at 70 per cent, while Kelly comes out sparky on a bigger board than yesterday’s 5’3”. Jordy builds into the heat like a locomotive leaving the station. Kelly gives Jordy the wave of the heat, and then gets outrun by a long Impossibles tube. Jordy wins. It was the big heat of the round but only topped out at a concurrent viewership of 14.9K.

I was watching Owen Wright’s Uncle Jamie digging a drainage trench out the front of his house next door this morning. Hard yakka as they say here, and it suddenly became clear why all the Wright kids surf so well. They were never going into the family business, but digging a muddy trench might have been preferable to surfing into the teeth of the devil breeze this morning, which jumped five knots during Owen’s heat with Ian Gouveia and threatened to ruin the day entirely. The commentary assigned them African spirit animals. Ronnie called Owen “The Giraffe”. Pete called Ian “The Puma”, despite pumas living in South America. Ronnie was too nice to point it out.

Mikey Wright paddled out with the full skullet shaved into his head, and unlike much of the field – and his opponent Jesse Mendes – Mikey wasn’t out there to surf beautifully. By this stage the devil wind had disappeared and there was a green sheen across the whole line-up, and the trap was trying to surf as sublimely as J-Bay looked. Mikey didn’t seem too concerned between turns, he just wanted to get to the angriest part of the wave and, as Shaun Tomson called, “stab it”. He’s seventh in the world despite not being on tour, riding his luck with the wildcards, but all along you’ve just been waiting for the magic to disappear, and the second wave into this heat looked to be that point. A jinky bottom turn, a fluffed top turn and a cartwheel in the tube and Mikey suddenly didn’t look top 10. But as he’s been able to do in close heats all year, in the dying minute he got down in the trenches with Uncle Jamie and dug out the win on a sandy inside drainer. It’s no longer just possible that he’ll qualify as a wildcard, it’s almost certain.

It’s going to be almost impossible for a goofy-footer to win this contest. History and hydrodynamics say so. The wave is too quick and drawn for anything but the most metronomic of backhand reps. Lack of variety and the exponentially quick Impossibles tube section provide natural disadvantage for the screwfoot. But watching Connor O’Leary, you could almost, for just a second, imagine it happening. He’s got the heft and he’s got the flow, what he needs is some of what Occy (and, to a degree, even Wilko) had. He needs to come unhinged. Just slightly. Shake the predictability. It’s not Connor’s nature, he’s a sensible lad, but if he just occasionally kept us a little on edge, he’d be deadly.

Parko should retire more often, as this week he’s looked twice the surfer he has all year. You can measure his mojo in yardage up the point. He opened deep, his trademark during his dominant years, and it was a wonder he didn’t have company up there. Once the wind abated it was surfable from further up, but no one, short of Parko, took the risk. And it wasn’t even risk. At worst if you had to simply race it, you’d come flying into Supers like a re-entering Sputnik. Same theory applies at Bells. Parko surfed like his J-Bay heyday and now draws Jordy and Conner Coffin in a battle of the J-Bay big cats.

Speaking of wildlife, the inevitable shark stoppage soon followed, and it seemed nothing more than procedural. Water cleared, nothing to see here, back out you go. There certainly never felt at any time that the event was at risk. In fact, it’s become such a part of this event here that it can almost be laughed off dismissively. The water was cleared, but there was never a chance this thing would stop. West Australians might well be pissed. The tour just upped and left with their taxpayer dollars without a shark in the line-up, while a toothy brute cruises through the line-up here and it feels like the 1pm dolphin show at Sea World.

Sean Doherty