Mikey Wright’s Back Looks Sore And Reef Heazlewood Is The New Matty Wilko
Learnings from day 2 of the Rip Curl Pro Bells.
As I rubbed my sleepy eyes back to life, the day’s opening horn sounded over the cliffs of Winkipop, where Michel Bourez was frantically scratching toward the shoulder of a clean, overhead wall.
He never made it, but my first impression of the morning was positive. Perhaps the Rip Curl Pro was coming to life…
Over the next two heats, the six surfers involved caught less than 20 combined waves over the hour and 10 minutes they spent in the water. That’s just over three waves apiece, and only one person (John Florence) scored over a seven.
Slow going indeed, but the few highlights included:
- Reef Heazlewood’s six-pointer, which probably should have been a seven for the sheer brutality of his turns, but was crueled for a slight lack of flow.
- John Florence’s surfing in general, which looks fucking deadly at the moment.
- Mikey Wright, whose surfing – according to the commentators – looked stiff and narrow-stanced, which they tried to frame as a compliment but very clearly wasn’t (more on that later.)
- Jesse Mendes, whose last-minute 3.03 was two-tenths of a point short of defeating Willian Cardoso (also more on this later).
The women’s “Seeding Round” hit the water next, which, for those who missed today’s action, “Seeding Round” is the new name the WSL has bestowed upon Round 1. Joe Turpel must have said it 100 times today – Seeding Round, Seeding Round, Seeding Round – as if to subconsciously insert this arbitrary terminology into surfing’s common parlance.
And it is arbitrary. The “Seeding Round” does absolutely nothing to affect your seed – it simply determines which Round 2 (which is now called “Elimination Round”) heat you’ll surf in.
But whatever – the WSL changed their competition format this year, so I guess it makes sense that they’d change the round names to reflect that. Round 2, for instance, has become the Elimination Round, followed by the Round of 32, Round of 16, then quarters, semis, and finals.
If that hasn’t percolated in your brain just yet, don’t worry – the WSL is offering a special tape that fans can listen to while they sleep, with Joe Turpel whispering the new round names, in order, on a loop for 12 straight hours. Apparently Pottz makes an appearance around the seven-hour mark, and at some point there’s a two-hour holding period while they wait for the tide to go out.
So, the women.
As the tide increased, so did the consistency of surf, but the extra water diminished the power of the lip, forcing most of our female competitors into connect-the-dots style surfing until they reached the Winki end-bowl, which provided ample punch.
Steph Gilmore dropped her whole damn handbag on one particular section, securing a 7.67 for two committed turns (although WSL President of Content, Erik Logan, later called the wave a 6.5 on Steph’s Instagram…?).
Johanne Defay, Sage Erickson, and Sally Fitzgibbons had the most engaging heat of the women’s “Seeding Round,” with the three natural-foots putting every ounce of their energy into finishing layback maneuvers. At the end of 30 minutes, it was the extra bit of spray off Johanne’s rails that saw the Frenchie waltz past Sally (second) and Sage (third).
As we’re beginning to see on both sides of the Tour, power is at a premium with the current gaggle of judges. So get on them squats boys and girls!
Speaking of strong legs, current golden-rashie-wearer, Caroline Marks, finished second in her Seeding Round heat behind Costa Rican wildcard Brisa Hennessy, whose 8.33 was the highest scoring wave of the morning. They’ll both surf tomorrow, along with Carissa Moore, Lakey Peterson, Tati WW, and a list of other top femmes.
THE ELIMINATION ROUND
Dirty-turds are back in style, yet nobody seems to want one. From a psychological standpoint, it really would suck to be one of the four people who earned last place in an event of 36 people. Alas, someone has to do it.
The first heat started with a non-shark shark incident that you can read about here. The rest of Owen Wright, Jack Freestone, and Harry Mann’s match proceeded to be even more boring than Seaweed Gate, with the wildcard eventually being eliminated.
Heat 2 was much more entertaining, with 16-year-old surf and footy stud, Xavier Huxtable, nearly knocking out 2018’s Rookie of the Year, Wade Carmichael, with clean, radical surfing. It was quite the display from Torquay’s young star, who, if he can keep his on-field injuries to a minimum (up the Tigers!), might have a real future in surfing. Oh, and Soli Bailey surfed better than I could have ever expected in two-foot waves. Dude was glued to his board.
Mikey Wright, Jesse Mendes, and Reef Heazlewood were next up, but before we talk numbers, can we chat about different surfing styles?
Jesse Mendes surfs how I imagine Adolf Hitler would have wanted people to surf – balanced, precise, Aryan. There are no flaws in Jesse’s approach from a technical standpoint, but there’s also very little excitement. He’s a plain pound cake. A master of the mid-ranger.
Mikey Wright surfs upright and off his tail, with an equal likelihood of driving his board through a wave’s steepest section or hucking himself from its peak. His surfing is fast, raw, and unpredictable. If Mikey gets a good wave and stays on his feet, it’s always gonna be an eight. But he doesn’t always get a good wave, and he doesn’t always stay on his feet, so.
Reef Heazlewood has a wide stance and slight hunch, making himself incredibly stable and capable of sticking a wide range of maneuvers – particularly on his backside. Two constants we’ve seen across the Snapper and Bells events are Reef’s precarious floaters and fuck-you tailwhips, the likes of which propelled Matt Wilkinson to back-to-back wins in 2016. It’s just a different style of surfing to anyone currently in the field (especially Jesse), and the judges seem to love it. Reef’s getting solid scores for two-turn waves, which should give the wildcard a wealth of confidence.
In their Elimination heat, Mikey took the early lead with a seven that Seth Moniz claimed: “he surfed at 50%.” Seth went on to wonder if Mikey’s back might be acting up again, as his surfing seems a little toned-down at the moment. This comes after the morning heat where commentators made remarks on Mikey’s apparent rigidity. (We’ll see if we can get any info on that tomorrow.)
Reef stole the lead with a 6.7 for a controlled fin-drift and a foam climb, which was easily the most dynamic wave of the heat. Jesse put himself back in contention with a mid-five that no one will ever remember.
With 20-seconds remaining, needing another mid-five, Jesse took off on a right and tagged it three times with confidence and precision. It was borderline, score-wise, so Jesse threw a cheeky claim at the judges.
Then came Mikey, who with six-seconds left and potentially in need of a score, performed three mediocre snaps on a weak, milky wall.
The hooter sounded.
The judges deliberated.
Jesse got the score.
…And so did Mikey.
Edging out Jesse with his final wave by four one-hundredths of a point, the younger Wright bro, who may or may not be suffering from a chronic back issue, advanced to the Round of 32. He’ll surf against fellow-rookie Seth Moniz while Jesse is left cheering for his similarly-surfing significant other on the cliff.
The waves went to shit after that, and Keely Andrew/Paige Hareb got last place for the second time in two events.
Waves look smaller tomorrow but they might just run. Catch ya then!
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