It’s been a long year.
Dog Marsh has been here in Hawaii six weeks… and 35 years. He’s pretty ready to go home. He’s been tallying the days on the wall of his bedroom at Monster Mush. As the last day of the season dawned Dog sat watching Pipeline emerge from the dark this morning. Apart from the noise of the waves it was dead quiet. Dog picked up a ukulele. “Is Jamie here?” Jamie is one of the filmers, who every morning while we watched the surf would strum the ukulele for hours. Badly. I informed him he went home yesterday. “Good,” he replied. “I was about to wrap that fucking thing around his head.”
After 20 years, this was the last day of Joel Parkinson’s gilded surfing career. He sat watching it but wasn’t quite having a moment. “I can’t wait,” he said. He wasn’t talking about getting out there this morning… he was talking about getting out of here for good. It’s been a long career and it was fitting it would end at Pipe today.
At the start of the year he’d wrestled with how to go out. If Mick hadn’t been retiring at Bells, Joel was thinking about pulling the whole season and retiring before it even started. He was cooked, but he couldn’t shade Mick’s retirement so he had to surf on. Finishing at Pipe seemed right. His Hawaiian track record is about as good as a haole boy could ever wish for. He’s won every event here, won three Triple Crowns, and went into today with a shot at a fourth. The waves were firing. You couldn’t have a better day to go out.
As we spoke, a fridge-sized monk seal shimmied out of the surf and posted up on the sand in front of Off The Wall. Dog Marsh laughed. “Hey Joel, there’s your spirit animal. Six months of retirement and that’ll be you!” The seal on the beach was an omen, of what we weren’t quite sure. But after the first gormless tourists started wandering down a few feet from its face to take photographs, I prayed the creature was going to grab hold of one of them and flay them like a penguin. Make an example to the rest.
We started the day with the inevitable prospect of a Medina win and worked backwards from there, looking for circumstances that might trip him up. The first of these was Backdoor itself. The buoys were 10 at 13 and the swell had notched even further north. Late yesterday afternoon was bombing Backdoor, and Australian Toby Mossop caught the wave of his young life. He came straight in and may have quit surfing entirely it was that good. But discount Medina’s ability at Backdoor at your peril. The list of great goofyfooters at Backdoor runs something like this, in alphabetical order: 1. G. Medina. That’s it.
Then there was of course Kelly, who after the sorcery of his boogieboard tube yesterday was back to his swaggering best. The only problem, of course, was that Kelly was on the wrong side of the draw to do anything about Medina, even if he wanted to.
And you know he did.
Your correspondent has had a torrid fortnight here on The Seven Mile Miracle, and in his foggy report yesterday forgot all about Gabby and Kelly’s heat here last year, when Medina, with priority, not only shut down Kelly’s wave, but tried to shut down Kelly himself, fading back at him to theatrically claim an interference. Reckon Kelly’s been marinating on that ever since? Reckon that’s why he was pretty quick to pick up the phone when Phil Toledo needed some Pipeline pointers?
Anyway, you already know how it ended today, but this is how it started…
Pretty slow. First heats kind of bogged on the tide and without the trades it was a little lumpy. If anyone was to come from the top half of the draw to stop Medina, most thought it would be Ryan Callinan, who’s been on a burner this week at Pipe. Ryan has taken to drinking a single Big Wave Lager every night with dinner as his lucky charm, but he ran shit out of luck this morning and instead Jordy and Conner Coffin went through to the quarters, both of whom were given no chance against Medina… but who’d both make life interesting for him later in the day.
Medina aced his first heat. Obviously.
The third heat carried Antipodean hopes with Julian and Parko up against Yago Dora. The Backdoor lineup most anticipated had turned into lefts, and it was soon clear the Brazilian was either going to end either Julian’s world title, or Joel’s career. Julian had a score, but as he did yesterday delaminated chasing a back-up. He caught a piece of shit, got caught inside at Backdoor, and with five minutes left would be lucky to get back out. That left Joel out there… and while he couldn’t catch Yago, a six would have seen him catch Julian… and take Julian out of the title race. For Jules, fortunately, Joel retired 10 minutes early. Joel said that once he retires he was chasing waves on his own terms, and there was no way he was hustling out there this morning to cruel Joycey. No way.
After being chaired up the beach by Occy and Mick Fanning, Joel eventually made it back to his yard where his crew were waiting with a cooler full of beer. Dean Morrison already had a head start. He cracked another. He yelled, “Go Kelly!” He followed that by yelling, “How was that one you pulled back on, Joel?” The first beer at 10am was full of spiders, but they got easier. From that point a procession of greats walked into the yard to pay their respects to one of the most extraordinarily ordinary stars surfing has produced. Gordon Merchant swung by, Bruce Irons, Lyndie Irons, Maurice Cole… a small army of friends and family.
Stories flowed. Joel looked at a tree in the yard and said to Mick, “That’s where I smashed my board after I lost the world title to you.” He flashed for a second. “And remember! I broke it in half and threw down the beach it like a frisbee and it clocked some guy in the head. I had to go down and apologise.” Later that night Joel took the board and threw it on the roof of Mick’s house. It still might be there now. The two cracked a beer and talked about surf trips. They talked about the swell hitting Hawaii tonight and hatched a plan to jump a flight to an outer island later this afternoon.
The backyard at Joel’s adjoins the house where the Wilsons were posted up. While Joel’s yard partied things next door were a little more tense. They were cheering their boy on, but the reality was that they needed Gabe to lose more than they needed Julian to win. Julian was doing his thing, looking almost as icy as Gabe, but the reality is they needed someone in the top of the draw to somehow stand defiantly in front of Medina, who was presently driving a Sherman tank.
Conner Coffin surfed yesterday like an aggro teddy bear. He ate dinner last night with a pool of salt water forming around his feet. Guy got rinsed yesterday but just kept on going to make finals day. Medina rips the arms off teddy bears, but as the heat started here was Conner hassling Gabby for the first Backdoor wave. He then got another. Conner had two sixes. The Wilson backyard dared to dream. Medina climbed back inside the parapet of the tank, engaged forward gear, and ran over those dreams. It was possibly the best three minutes of pro surfing you will ever see.
The first was a big roll-in Pipe wave. Biggest of the day. Gabe got to the bottom and time stopped. In one of the great ironies in modern surfing, the wide stance Gabby was initially shitcanned for actually works perfect at Pipe. He’s got a backfoot brake and a front foot accelerator, and switches between them better than anyone here. The wave barfed Medina into the channel and he threw a giant dinky air for a 9.4. He was in the rip and paddling through brick walls before his feet had even left the board. (In an historical footnote, the broadcast missed a small right Conner caught in the meantime, which handed Medina priority for what happened next.)
Gabe then went from the biggest Pipe wave of the day to the biggest Backdoor wave. This one looked too deep, even for him. He knifed in, drove high and weightless before surfing downhill into the guts of this thing. It wasn’t over. Somewhere in there he had to fade high again to somehow find a way out.
You know he did, but at the time, in the Parko yard, everyone had trouble comprehending it. “Holy fuck,” said Mick Fanning. “He’s a fucking monster,” said Seabass. “I don’t care anymore,” said Parko, “just give him the fucking trophy.” The Wilson yard fell quiet. Against that there wasn’t much you could do. Gabby then started salting the earth, hassling Connor for a wave he didn’t need. He then charged a Backdoor set, fell from the lip, and left a Gabby-shaped imprint in the reef. “I just walked past him on the street,” said Kamalei Alexander, “he had his headphones in, but he was just looking straight through everything. He’s a fucking beast.”
The title was done, not officially, but in spirit. The one guy who in times past could have done something about it – Kelly – was on the wrong side of the draw but paddled out and at least hinted that his great songline hasn’t fallen quiet.
Kelly looked in trouble for a minute against Joan Duru, who along with Yago Dora today proved the value of a bed in the dungeon at the Volcom House. Kelly caught a shitty right, got caught inside, and was flushed all the way to shore down near Off The Wall. He splashed the water. This was his stage and he wanted some kind of big cameo today, and instead he was suffering the ignominy of getting beat to shore. This is Kelly, however, and he made it back out in time to summon the biggest Pipe wave of the day from the North Pacific. In years past it was a 10. Today it was a 9.93… but there was a lot to like about what he did here at Pipe. If he intends to go out next year, Kelly needs to go out on top… and he took a big step toward that over the past two days.
It came down to Gabe needing to beat Jordy for the title. Looked a little mismatched. Gabe is ice cold. Jordy has a habit of melting at critical points, but to his credit Jordy took it to him. Jordy even blocked Medina and swung into an early Backdoor wave. Jordy, like Conner, got early scores on Gabby, a seven and an eight. But like Conner, it was never going to matter. Medina is a boss like pro surfing hasn’t seen in a long time. He rolled past Jordy, rolled to the title, then rolled past Julian in the final. The backyard at Joel’s, parochially Australian, put their beers down and applauded. Joel said it best. “He’s just too fucking good.”
The only person who on current form seems able to run with him long term wasn’t here today. Protocol demands the outgoing world champion hands over the trophy to the incoming. The outgoing world champ, the only guy you think might have Medina’s number, wasn’t there today despite living just half a mile away. Where John John was today is one question… the more burning one is where he’s going to be next year? John’s world title party last year was held private, in his backyard. Gabriel’s, currently underway out the front, is sambaing down the road in blue, green and yellow, hijacking acai trucks and driving them down the Kam Highway.