How Wade Carmichael Finished 2nd In Brazil (The Perpetuity Of The Aussie Battler)
The eternal sunshine of Australian power surfers.
They say that the only sureties in this life are death and taxes… and the inevitability of a stoic Australian power surfer finding themselves in the final of a contest that (on paper) really should be rewarding progression.
Wade Carmichael’s rail-bound sure-footedness bested John Florence and then Gabriel Medina on his way to the last heat in Saquarema, with consecutive 11.4s that had shades of a Bradbury*-esque path to the podium. Rather than being attributable to cosmic intervention, however, Carmichael’s success came from being on the best waves, as he reiterated in successive post heat interviews, and his leaden feet remaining planted where Gabriel and John’s faltered.
This wasn’t good luck, but merely the latest iteration in a long and frequent line of Australian journeymen surprising everybody but themselves with beautifully stoic surfing.
Australia has long produced this breed of surfer. From the mongrel mobs of the 80s and 90s through to Mick and Joel’s ubiquitous presence on the podium, Aussie surfers have long been at the forefront of impeccable wave selection, strong lines and sure feet. This is the style of surfing you’re most likely to see on Australian beaches and one that Aussie grommets are still encouraged to aspire to. You’d be hard pressed to find a Brazilian, or even Californian, junior contest that isn’t absolutely inundated with air reverses, but still a solid contingent of young Australian surfers keep the airs for when the photographers are in the water – because solid rail surfing is a proven path for Australians to find success on the Championship Tour.
In an age where hefty Maui men can add an extra pirouette to their ocean oops after but a few hours in a Texan pool, the highest echelon of the sport has stubbornly stayed true to its wet-rail roots. Surfing is a sport that pays relentless heed to its past and it’s us, the sport’s diehards, who benefit. For every heritage heat, we’re forced to endure we’re rewarded by the sport resisting the swarm of progress by continuing to reward a style of surfing that’s been at the vanguard since the hack and slash 80s.
Sure, the sport encourages committed progress by awarding near-perfect scores to mind-boggling one-offs, but it also allows surfers the avenue to firmly surf their way to the final. If progress was the only thing awarded the sport would be squandered with more “Hail Marys” than a Brazilian post-heat interview. A balance has to be maintained, and that the judges are a panel of spray-merchants and they’re more than willing to throw scores at surfing that has shades of their own performances in Suffolk Park club rounds and regional Victorian quarterfinals.
What perplexes, though, is the events where this balance is bolstered. You would expect Bells and J-Bay to be the places where the Australian rail slingers would flourish, but yet we see Wade and Ace Buchan finalling in back-to-back Brazils, again Ace in the final four at Trestles. These events are more than suited to showcase progress, the lack of awe-inspiring oceanics insist on it, but yet we see Australian surfers finding great success with wave selection, tube sense and heavy feet. To almost everybody but themselves the victories are unexpected, despite the regularity with which they occur.
While there are solid rail surfers from all over the world, the Australians are unique in their successes while being considered underdogs. When Michel and Connor win off the back of their rail work it’s considered more deserved by the same commentariat who are aghast when it’s Adrian and Wade. But this kind of surfing is an Australian institution, and there’s an entire government-funded apparatus to ensure that the Great Southern Land constantly churns out thick men who are adept at displacing water with precision. With Bede Durbo at the helm of Surfing Australia’s High Performance program you know that the next generation of Australian surfers are busy deadlifting reliability and grunt, reinforcing and solidifying the surfing they can already do – and the lack of prodigal success amongst Australia’s WQS fodder is a testament to this focus.
Mikey Wright aside, whose attacking rail approach ticks the boxes, but doesn’t really fit the archetype due to his balls-out full-throttle approach, the WQS rankings reinforce this trend of reliable, strong surfing bettering progression when it comes out of Australia. Right now Davey Cathels and Stu Kennedy are in the top-20, while Jack Robinson languishes at 142.
So hardy are surfers of this mould that going off current form we’ll see Australian rail surfers outlasting civilisation itself. I can’t see any reason why when Pyongyang’s plutonium settles and roaches scurry across our post-apocalyptic landscape there won’t still be an Adam Melling incarnate top turning their way to finals that they have, on paper, no business being in. The only thing more reliable than the completion rate of this vein of Australian surfing is its perpetuity. Hate all you want, but the hard slashing Aussie workhorse isn’t going anywhere soon.
For me, it’s perfect this way. If solid surfing ceases to be rewarded we’ll lose an important aspect of the sport, selling out our solid foundations for cheap throw-away thrills. While aerials might wow the CBS crowd that the WSL so covets, the blue-collar regional Australia base that religiously tunes in amid grumbles of surfing not even being a sport is what keeps this pro surfing train chugging along. With the threat of firing up all other fan bases, I would say that these Australian supporters – and surfers – are, as a bloc the sport’s most important. The WSL might shift the sport’s headquarters to Santa Monica, but its soul remains wrapped in a flannelette jacket in a south-east Australian carpark, getting ready to inflict some blunt-rail trauma on an unsuspecting lump of Tasman Sea.
But that’s only my opinion. Do you like seeing the sport’s Australian lumberjacks swing and chop their way to victory, or does dependable, strong surfing deserve to be pulped?
*Stephen Bradbury, Australia’s first ever Winter Olympic gold medalist, won after his speed skating competitors all fell first in the semis and then the final. It could be argued that Wade was gifted the same good fortune by the stumbling John and Gabriel, but staying solid and being on the best waves was the strategy all along – and it worked!
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