Tyler Wright’s Title Pursuit Is Equal Parts Socially Conscious And Sociopathic - Stab Mag
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Tyler Wright’s Title Pursuit Is Equal Parts Socially Conscious And Sociopathic

“She’s surfing for something bigger than herself, which is pretty scary.” – Steph Gilmore.

news // Dec 8, 2020
Words by Michael Ciaramella
Reading Time: 5 minutes

You only had to watch one heat at Honolua today. 

It didn’t matter which.I don’t know if it’s because the wave is so mechanical, if the surfers spent too much time “training” in the off-season, or if the 12-month break from competitive surfing has stripped me of my nuance when it comes to analyzing style and technique—but today, at 4-6 foot Honolua Bay, I couldn’t help but think that all of the women* looked like carbon copies of one another.

I’ve heard this criticism lobbed many times before—both toward CT men and women—that the rigid structure of competition has turned the world’s best surfers into a bunch of faceless clones and thus stripped surfing of its essence. 

I never bought into it. 

In my eyes, the surfers all had a unique style and cadence that set them apart from their peers. Today, I just couldn’t see it. All the women employed the same stance, took the same lines, performed the same turns. So I’m wondering if I’ve lost all my sense, or if I’ve actually just gained it. 

Is this incompetence or clarity?

Existential quandaries aside, the women surfed quite well today. One might condemn a lack of truly explosive manoeuvres, but anyone who’s surfed Honolua at this size knows what’s up. When the bay’s small, you can whack the hell out of the Keiki bowl. When it’s big, you’re setting up for a mondo tube. On “medium” days, like today, the wave is too quick to perform complete turns without sacrificing the next section, and the barrel is something of an apparition—there one second, gone the next. Thus, half-turns and tube avoidance are necessary evils if you want to clock consistent sixes and sevens.

Despite my inability to separate the surfers’ individual styles today, I did pick up on a few points worth discussing. Let’s dig in.

Caroline Marks looks leaner than she has in years past. Not sure if that’s the result of a sudden growth spurt (remember, she’s still only 18) or a change in her diet and training, but there’s a marked difference in the Floridian’s on-wave appearance. She’s more upright, less Occy.

Surfing-wise, I think a fuller outline suited Caroline, as it offset the leverage advantage that taller surfers (Steph, Carissa, etc.) had over her. It seems that whatever Caroline’s gained in lean-muscle mobility, she’s sacrificed in power and that magnetic connection to the wave. An unfavorable trade, in my view.

Whether that was my perception or reality, lean Caroline lost to an ever-affable Sage Erickson in round three.

Also with a poor result, but perhaps the most improved surfer on this year’s Tour, Johanne Defay impressed me today. Frenchie won both of the European specialty events over the break, but that didn’t mean much on account of the threadbare field. Turns out, Johanne’s surfing has improved considerably since we last saw her, with much more polish and flow applied to what was an already industrious rail game. She lost today but will be a silent killer throughout the season. 

Covid has hit a lot of people hard, but none harder than Kaipo Guerrero’s barber, who’s apparently been forced out of work for the last nine months. In a shocking turn of events, the man who once boasted the WSL’s most meticulous do now dons a Mowgli-style mop. Initially I hated it, but as the day went on that fertile pelt grew on me. Like a goddamn Chia pet. 

Carissa looked majestic as ever at the bay. So strong, so refined. Seeing her surf against the 15-year-old wildcard, Bettylou Johnson, was both exciting and nostalgic, as it brought back memories from a young Carissa being pinned against women twice her age and grinding them to a pulp. 

Carissa didn’t lose to Bettylou today, but it was on the table. Bettylou actually had the best single wave in their opening heat and only needed a decent backup to win their head-to-head Round 3 bout. A completion on BSJ’s final wave could have sealed the deal. Alas.

While our projected upset didn’t quite pan out, I can now say with total confidence that Bettylou has all the firepower required to compete on the Women’s Tour. It won’t be long before this prediction becomes a reality (and watch out when it does, Riss).

On the topic of newcomers, rookie Isabella Nichols posted one of today’s highest scores. As she mentioned in her post-heat interview, that number was more a result of the wave itself rather than anything she did on it. I appreciate the self-awareness.

Now here’s an outsider’s unwarranted opinion: Isabella is gifted but severely overcoached. If she wants to have success at this level, the 23-year-old must break free from the restrictive shackles of her former life (QS) and truly lose herself on the wave. Just go blind and start smashing shit like Mikey Wright. Throw some lasagna at the wall and see what sticks! On the bright side, after one Third Round loss, Issy’s already locked up Rookie of the Year. This will look great on her Wikipedia page.

So did anyone stand out today? Barring Sally Fitz’s mini-air attempts and some spicy hooks from Tati, Steph Gilmore was the only surfer who expressed a sense of originality. I don’t know what it is exactly, but the way her body works is just different. She’s so elastic and strong. Her turns feel natural, not forced or contrived. There’s a real spring in her step. I guess the main difference is, it doesn’t look like Steph has someone in her ear telling her how to surf. Unfortunately, that proved fatal today. 

Tyler Wright is now running a “progressive pride” flag on her Jersey to show her support for both the LGTBQ+ and BIPOC communities. Such social issues are genuine driving forces for Tyler, and we’d like to praise her for continuing to champion these beliefs despite the scrutiny she’s received. 

Two-and-a-half years removed from the African flu that nearly took her life, Tyler has returned with a keen sense of purpose. “She’s surfing for something bigger than herself now,” said Steph Gilmore. “It’s pretty scary.” 

If we’re being frank, Tyler’s looking downright sociopathic in her pursuit of Title number three (ex: “It’s all a game to me,” [wry smile]). We fucking love it. 

In a rematch of last year’s final, Steph and Tyler met in today’s first quarter. Tyler got her revenge and then some, putting up a 10 + 8 and comboing the 5x Honolua Champ. 

If this form holds, it’s more likely Tyler will be wearing a yellow jersey come Sunset rather than today’s white. 

We got through roughly 90% of the event today. Kinda sucks they couldn’t just finish the whole thing, to be honest. Really makes you wonder if those non-elim heats are necessary. 

Possible finish tomorrow, surf smaller, who ya got? Can you even tell them apart?

Quarterfinal 4: Tatiana Weston Webb vs. Sage Erickson

Semi 1: Tyler Wright vs. Sally Fitz

Semi 2: Carissa Moore vs. TBD

*Except for Steph.

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