THE NINJA POET

Filipe Toledo Wins the Corona Open J-Bay!

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I woke up this morning exhausted to the sounds of drums coming from rental house next door, heavy on the kick with some weird time signatures going on.

I hadn’t sent my communiqué till 1am, the timezone difference and consecutive days of dream surf gradually depleting the essential minerals. I lay there and listened. Splendour in the Grass starts tomorrow and I tried to pick exactly which of the bands on the bill were staying next door. The Queens? The XX? King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard? The guy drummed in 10/8 for a while so I think maybe Queens. My head thumped in 10/8. I reached for the phone and scrolled through Peak Toledo, then walked out, switched on the TV and hit Peak Shark.

The previous day had been taxing to cover, let alone surf, and with just five heats left to run it’d be a case of who’d left enough in the tank to push through it, not only physically, but psychologically. Perfect surf like we’ve seen this week taxes the psyche. Your eyes drink it all in, the ones you get, the ones you don’t, you surf everything regardless. The whole fucked up dreamscape this week has been too much. Drugged on the perfection of the past days everyone arrived on the point yesterday morning and stared through the aloe plants to discover that, if it was possible, it was even better again. No one had much left in the tank but the Indian Ocean had plenty, pulsing under dark, sharky skies.

Frederico Morais with a career best finals showing at J-Bay. (Tostee)

Jordy surfed flat. He admitted to it later. Maybe it was the extra heats he’d surfed the day before. Maybe it was all the venting and shadow boxing about having to surf those extra heats. Maybe it was perfection fatigue or the weight of Saffa expectation. But drawn against the sparky Toledo he needed to come out gnarly. I’m thinking Wikus Van Der Merwe at the end of District 9, juiced on prawn DNA, unhinged and dangerous. But instead Toledo went nine then nine again and whatever fight Jordy had left in him leeched away. Jordy losing meant there’d be a new winner at J-Bay. Winning J-Bay used to be a Masonic kind of deal, you needed the handshake to get in, but that no longer seems to be the case and it’s largely down to one guy.

Toledo has clearly been stung into action by some barbed criticism from Dave Neilson, the tattooed-aerial-punk-nudist from the early ‘90s who recently stated in a magazine interview that he had no time for Toledo’s surfing. Too flicky. No rail. Well, like many, Dave is eating his words after J-Bay. Toledo dismantled Jordy on rail. Better waves, better hustle. Shaun Tomson called him the “Ninja Poet”, and I don’t think he was referring to Die Antwoord’s Ninja.

If the surfers were tired I can only imagine how the judges felt. Their brains would be boiled grey meat after a week of this. They’d done a great job – ie they were invisible – up until lunchtime yesterday when they started to delaminate a little, went 10-happy, and some strange numbers started to drop. When they threw a 9.5 on the first wave of finals morning I thought they’d painted themselves into a corner. With the lineup looking like Kelly’s wavepool hooked into the Fukushima reactor, I thought they’d be judging the heat in a half-point range between 9.5 and 10.

As it turned out, only Toledo challenged that range.

Medina was still a sleeper. Just like he’d done in Tahiti in 2014, he threatened to win this classic event without anyone realising he was even there. Drawn against the Portuguese rookie he should have gone in a braii-hot favourite, but Morais, on his first outing at J-Bay reads the place better than Jordy. Maybe it’s all the righthand reefs he’s got at home but he was surfing 50 yards ahead of himself the whole way and was on all the right waves. I still reckon his strategic gambit against Medina at Bells where he paddled Medina onto the Winkipop Button to hold the inside still messes with Gabe’s head today.

Fred was lucky to get past John John the previous day, and was even luckier to get a 10. But while some of his style markers were a little off, the foundation of Fred’s act was rock solid, and with Dog Marsh, that rabid little Jack Russell in his corner, he had the best strategic act of anyone out there today.

Holy Toledo! (Cestari)

Despite the hullabaloo I was waiting for Toledo’s run to end prematurely at some point, and figured the second semi against Julian might be the end of the road. The offshore wind was fairly tearing through by that stage, and I figured the offshore would work against him in the same way the devil wind yesterday had been his friend. It would simply, as Shaun Tomson described, “blow him away like a leaf.” But Toledo’s board intrigued me. While everyone else stepped up he stayed short, but he compensated with a straight outline and a heavy glass job. It meant he still had the long turns, but once he got up into the pocket he could spritz the shit out of it.

While they had the world’s attention yesterday afternoon, the WSL announced the appointment of their new CEO. Sophie Goldschmidt’s appointment was intriguing in that she belonged to two of surfing’s traditionally most marginalised and disadvantaged groups – she’s female and she’s English. But in her first five minutes on the job she’d already exceeded the public discourse of her predecessor, Dirk Ziff, although that wasn’t exactly a challenge. He’s never spoken publicly about the sport he owns and remains a very silent investor. But Sophie sent me a personal email, which I thought was nice until I realise everyone in the database had got one.

Your Corona Open J-Bay Champion, Filipe Toledo. (Cestari)

The press release was layered thick with impenetrable corpo babble. Five magic beans to whoever can provide an interpretation of what this means: “She intends to advance various athlete development programs to build authentic interest in the sport in addition to tailoring fan experiences to be as immersive as possible through new formats, live content and other media.” I don’t think it was a press release for the people, but there were coded and not so coded hints about the direction of the WSL, wavepools and the Olympics being top of the list.

But a female CEO of a horribly male sport is refreshing in the extreme. You have to remember that the current WSL ownership all began not with Dirk Ziff, but with his wife, Natasha. The tour isn’t patronised, it’s matronised, and they’ve already made great leaps with the women’s tour… just not the point of having a women’s event at J-Bay. Steph Gilmore is already somewhere asking for Sophie’s number.

Filipe had an Arms Wide Open moment in the keyhole before paddling out for the final, although the Big Guy dropped him cold on the bricks while he was paddling out, fully drydocking him. You always felt a Toledo win felt fated, although the front end of the new swell and blinding rain made it trickier to pick. I had flashbacks of Filipe’s Snapper win two years ago. The same dark skies. The same slashing turns. The same groomed lines… only this time around they were four times the size. The evolution in his surfing was stark. Frederico must worn out some old tapes of Parko because his top turn was indistinguishable. Fred went long and swoopy; Phil went short and pocketty.

Numero uno. (Cestari).

But man, seriously, was Toledo ever not going to win? It just seemed right. He washed in across the bricks and in order thanked his wife, his daughter, Bruno his filmer, and then God. There’s now one challenge left for him – two actually –and the first of them is waiting for him in three weeks time on a jagged black stone in the South Pacific.

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Sean Doherty