Today We Saw The Best Small Wave Performances In The History Of Competitive Surfing
Italo Ferreira nailed seven airs in 40 minutes. Gabriel Medina earned pocket nines. Yago Dora stomped three full rotations and a masterful backside finner. Etc.
“I was so mad,” Filipe Toledo told Stab about his early morning match against Soli Bailey. “He fought super hard for the inside position, then he got that first wave. After that, I couldn’t find anything. Anytime I looked over by the wall, there was a sick wave. Then when I paddled over there, nothing. Then John got a six and a seven up the beach and I was like, ‘Ahhh!’”
While Filipe was waiting to open his account, John Florence was in the middle of the beach, pushing water so forcefully that he sent baitfish out of the lip. This was the benefit of the WSL’s new dual heat system, which proved to be a massive success today. More on that later.
Filipe’s first wave came more than halfway through his 40-minute heat. He dropped a four on that first ride, while Soli, who led the heat with a six and five, came to sit on Filipe, who now needed a seven to advance.
Soli blocked Filipe on a right-hand wall but failed to better his score. With five minutes left, Filipe finally found what he was looking for: two massive hacks, with his rail so engaged that all three fins were made visible through the morning glass, followed by an end-section slam and a guttural claim.
This was the first noteworthy moment in a day that, to our memory, provided more high-performance action than any single day in the history of competitive surfing. Yesterday’s Red Bull Airborne event included.
Dbah was peak fun today.
Julian Wilson vs. Reef Heazlewood
Yesterday, we predicted that Sunny Coast wildcard, Reef Heazlewood, might take down last year’s World Number 2 Julian Wilson. The basis for this prediction was Reef’s current form (he placed second at the Red Bull Airborne after winning the Quik Pro trials) in conjunction with the waves on hand (2-3 foot Dbah peaks with a left air wind) and Julian’s penchant for safety surfing in early rounds.
As it were, Julian came out of the gates hot, throwing a lofty backside air rev into a fluffy oncoming section but ultimately falling. No biggie though, with thirty-odd minutes remaining in the heat, Julian had plenty of time to rub dirt in Reef’s eye like a good big brother.
Lil bro had other ideas.
Taking off behind the peak on a bowly right-hander, Reef vanquished the lip with a swift shoulder rotation before rebounding off the bottom and meeting the closeout for a cosmic death float. Somehow busting through the explosion, Reef rode away cleanly to the tune of eight points – an excellent score for not a frontside punt. How’s that for ability affirmation?
Reef backed it up with a lesser lip tag followed by a fin-drifting punch – nearly a seven.
Jules, now in trouble, delivered a snap-to-air combo with no pump in between. Excellent surfing, I thought, but the judges weren’t buying his delayed re-entry. A high-six is all they deemed it was worth, leaving World #2 at risk of losing to the Sunny Coast wildcard for the second time in three heats.
As the clock ticked away, Reef, who was holding priority, launched into his first real air of the match – a sprawling full-rotation to the flats – after which he headed beachward to celebrate his surprisingly easy victory.
It’s becoming more and more clear that Reef Heazlewood could win this event.
Well, that is if the event stays at Dbah. And despite today’s immaculate conditions, that’s a big if.
The reason? Same as always: money.
The Quik Pro Snapper is sponsored by the Queensland government, who helps subsidize the extensive permitting fees at Snapper Rocks. That deal does not extend to Duranbah. Despite being catapult range from the top of the Superbank, Dbah technically resides in Tweed Heads, New South Wales.
Rumors of the daily cost to run at Dbah have circulated the event site. We’ve heard 20, 50, even $100k, which for a financially unstable company like the WSL, is certainly not nothing. Stab has been informed that the new WSL Commissioner, Pat O’Connell, plans to run some portion of the event at Snapper, despite the clearly superior waves around the corner.
Snapper, for those who are curious, is currently providing a brief chest-high tube behind the rocks before sinking into a hole of oblivion. A contest there would consist of surfers waiting all heat for the one decent wave that comes through and trying to squeeze out of the tube.
Basically the opposite of today.
Kolohe Andino vs. Peterson Crisanto
Not much to say here, other than Kolohe Andino completed two of the most improbable punts of the day, mainly because they were on big sections and rights. On the first he had to consciously stomp his way through the shocky that was coming off the flats to greet him. The second looked like he fell out of a two-story building and somehow landed on his feet.
Gabriel Medina vs. Mateus Herdy
Medina made his intentions known with two almost frontside full rotes in the opening minutes. After down-shifting for a couple of easy sixes, Medina went back to the air, this time an alleyoop, which he completed for a high-7.
In the meantime, World Junior Champ Mateus Herdy stomped the full rote that our World Champ couldn’t. That was a bad move. Medina, presumably irked, found a perfectly-sped right and tagged it six times, each turn displaying more power and precision than the last. This was the epitome of excellent surfing, and the judges deemed it as such: 9.2.
But Medina wasn’t done. With a few minutes left, he stroked into a long lefthander with every intention of putting this heat to sleep. Gaining speed across an extended runway, Gabby eyed his section and approached it with a mid-face bottom turn, launching off the lip with an equally upward and down-the-line trajectory, opting for the frontside grab, no-rotation.
After greasing the re-entry, Medina one-pumped like a Catholic schoolboy and headed straight for round 2 – a positively hucked air rev to the flats, which he coupled with another fin blow to finish.
Cue the Instagram dance claim. Nearly a perfect score!
I nearly forgot to mention that while Gabby was going full Rambo, Yago Dora was also out in the water, putting together a hype reel of his own.
Three full rotations, one silky combo, and the best backside fin-waft I’ve seen in the past year (which was majorly low-balled at a 6-something).
This was all made possible by today’s incredible surf and the WSL’s new(ish) overlapping heat structure, which on top of saving three hours of runtime in Men’s Round 3, also provided the most consistent entertainment that professional surfing has ever seen.
The overlapping strategy has compounding benefits:
It incentivizes competitors to catch an abundance of waves when they’re not in “priority”, giving them ample opportunity to perform, and giving spectators more surfing to watch.
While eliminating a large chunk of competition time, the overlapping system also provides more time for each individual heat, granting surfers the confidence to attempt riskier maneuvers as the consequences of falling are not quite as dire.
All of which led to the highlight of the day.
Italo Ferreira vs. Poor Ricardo Christie:
Poor Ricardo Christie.
He did nothing to deserve the cruel hand that was not only dealt to him, but that after being dealt to him decided to slap him in the face, pull his luscious hair, and slam his big beautiful nose into a table.
He just didn’t deserve it.
But frankly, if Italo Ferreira’s performance today required a certain Kiwian sacrifice, then so be it. Ricardo’s impermanent pain is well worth the historical feat we witnessed on April 5, 2019.
The damage: Seven ender-clip airs in 40 minutes, vicious judo kick snaps, and no falls (barring an out-the-back air). The term “highlight reel” doesn’t do it justice. Italo compiled a very legitimate video part in a heat. It reached the point where beachgoers were simply laughing, or scratching their heads, or in the case of Italo’s competitors, sticking their heads in the sand.
Somehow, Italo never scratched into the nines – four 8s, two 7s, and a few 4s and 5s – but as far as I’m concerned, this was the best small wave performance heat ever surfed. It’s the chest-high equivalent of John’s entire 2017 Margaret’s event wrapped into one neat 40-minute package.
While watching this heat from the beach, a certain nothingness washed over me. I didn’t know if I’d become numb to Italo’s brilliance or if I was simply in shock.
We caught up with Italo after the heat to ask: “How do you do it?”
“That was a good heat,” Italo laughed. “I landed every single one of my airs, so I’m happy.”
And with that, I left the beach to go surf. There was nothing else to see today. Neither M-Rod nor Willian, nor Wade or Sebastien, nor Michel, Deivid or any of the women could come close to what Italo achieved in 40 minutes at Duranbah on April 5, 2019.
Poor Ricardo Christie.
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