Jack Freestone Wins Red Bull Airborne At Keramas
And Eli Hanneman has no bones!
Kalani David showed up late to his Red Bull Airborne Round 2 heat. Turns out his moped broke on the way there.
The Hawaiian looked disgruntled upon arrival but not very stressed. It probably helped that he was already second on the Airborne leaderboard, of which the top 6 would advance to today’s final.
When asked about Kalani’s tardiness, Airborne Commish Josh Kerr found no fault.
“I was pretty happy getting five out of six surfers in the water at 6:35 am,” Kerr laughed. “It goes completely against the rules of aerial surfing.”
The waves were small and tidy this morning, similar to the conditions we saw yesterday for the women. Immaculately clean and without many sections. Not great for airs, to my understanding.
Surface conditions aside, the hardest thing about morning heats at Keramas is the sun. As you pump down the line in the wee hours of the day, that bright bulb from which all life was created spears you straight in the retina, making it impossible to see any would-be ramp. Luckily for the cats in Heat one, some low-hanging cumulonimbus blocked out the harshest rays. Perhaps that’s why they had the most productive heat of the morning.
Jack Freestone started the flow with a lofty oop. He looked primed to grease the landing but somehow lost his balance when connecting with the lip, forcing him into a layback that only a man made from rubber could withstand. Having been born with elastic ligaments, Jack he popped up with ease and gained the top of the leaderboard.
Mason Ho, who at this point had a big fat goose egg in his scoreline, drove hard off the bottom into a vertical air approach, grabbing the toeside rail with his back arm while his front foot crept toward the nose, turning his head at the last moment to kick the tail into a reverse.
“That was my favorite air so far, for sure,” said Julian Wilson, who had taken up residence in the booth.
The judges deemed it a 5.93 – not quite the best score of the opening rounds, but enough to get Mase back in the game.
Meanwhile Ian Crane, who had also completed zero airs in the first round, came out swinging in Round 2 with stalefish reverse after stalefish reverse, coming up short of completion on each attempt. After probably 15 swings and misses, Crane-o finally kept the board underfoot and landed in the transition, sliding momentarily on his back before riding away with control.
Despite the sloppy landing, judges rewarded Ian’s technicality with a 7.23 – the highest score of the event.
After finally sticking the stale – which has become a favorite maneuver for the San Clementine since mastering it in Waco – Crane banked a backside straighty then a Gorkin flip, pushing himself from last to first on the leaderboard. The guy must have tried 20 airs in the 45-minute heat and it paid off.
Speaking of a payoff, Mase Ho, who had yet to back up his shoot-for-the-moon air rev, landed a smaller version of the same silky punt with 30 seconds on the clock. This mini-spin pushed him into the final qualifying spot behind Ian Crane, Eli Hanneman, Jack Freestone, Eric Geiselman, and Kalani David.
Safe, for now.
Eli Hanneman started Heat 2 with a clean, if slightly under-spun (unlike the one above), alleyoop, which he later replaced with a seamless full-rote reverse. Just as I was beginning to think his surfing was actually flawless, Eli launched off the lip of a steep inside wedge, forcing himself down to the flats with a compromising foot placement.
The Hawaiian landed hard in the still-water, causing his back foot to slide off the tail and his left knee to compress, beneath his full body weight, against the deck. This is the same type of collapse that saw Mick Fanning rip the muscle off his ass in 2009 and John John Florence to miss the back two-thirds of the 2018 season.
By some miracle of youth, Eli popped back up on his board and rode away… unharmed. And, by the look on his face, unhappy.
“If I stuck that I’d be jumping for joy,” said Vaughan Blakey, who was manning the Red Bull booth this morning. But after watching the slow-motion replay, Blakey changed his tune.
“Oh, that’s why he didn’t smile – he broke both his legs.”
As someone who experienced a similar collapse two years back, causing a partial MCL/ACL tear that, despite my best therapy efforts, never fully healed, I can’t help but question this miracle of physiology. How could Eli not have done any lasting damage to his left leg-hinge?
Perhaps it’s an age thing.
“Did that hurt?” Red Bull correspondent Chris Binns (who opted out of catching a Shipsterns wave earlier this week because it was ‘too small’) asked the 16-year old Hanneman.
“Yeah, really bad,” Eli replied. “I did the splits.”
“But you’re all good?” Binnsy pushed back.
“Yup, luckily nothing happened.”
By the end of Heat 2, Eli had retaken the lead and the rest of top 6 remained intact.
It also became clear that today was made for the flyweights.
Husky fellas like Noa Deane, Jay Davies, and Finn McGill were struggling to free their fins while slimmer competitors soared.
Heat 3 came around and, with Chippa + Lee Wilson, Yago Dora, Matt Meola, Eithan Osborne and Bronson Meydi in the water, we expected magic.
Local boy Bronson opened the heat with a crispy, tail-high alleyoop that the commentators just gobbled up. “That was one of the best airs we’ve seen, no doubt,” said Vaughan.
The judges disagreed. 4.47.
A little unfair, I thought, considering its seamless execution, but Bronson will be alright. He’s fourteen and already landing airs on par with the world’s best.
Lee Wilson did a psuedo-benihana, Matt Meola stomped a knee-high rodeo, and Chippa pulled some shuvs, but none were strong enough to usurp the current leaders, so Mase Ho held his ground and the final was decided.
Unlike in the other Airborne events, there was only one CTer in this final six.
With the tide beginning to drop, the Kerrmissioner gave the boys one hour to land their best air.
“I really don’t think someone could win this final with an air reverse,” Vaughan said before the start of the final. “We want to see something new.”
He was wrong.
After Kalani David stomped a few basic oops, Jack Freestone fought back with his patented frontside-grab off-the-lip spin, which he pulled down with ease.
Crane-o nearly brought the house down with a massive backside staley, Mason did the same with a nose-bone indy, and EG busted his stick in pursuit of a flip, but with none of those moves sticking, Jack was named victor by default.
This is the third time in as many Airborne events that a CTer has won.
What does that tell us?
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