You're kidding Soli. All photos: WSL
WSL Holds Its First-Ever Event At Straddie, Kind Of Scores
Tops off for the boys!
Today we saw live professional surfing for the first time ever at South Stradbroke Island. It went much, much better than anticipated.
First, the webcast was pretty clean for it being streamed from an uninhabited island. Second, my boy Stace G got a run on the commentary team—the Stab CUSP goes corpo! Third, the surf was kind of pumping. Or, as Mick Fanning would call it, a “3-to-5 out of 10”.
But seriously, if you were to ask anyone from the Goldy what the odds were of getting a substantial easterly swell with semi-favorable winds in October, they’d laugh you straight out of the Zoom meeting. But despite all the jokes made in their direction, the WSL got the last laugh. It was everything of six-foot (Australian) and properly hollow today. Just ask Jack Robinson, Liam O’Brien, Isabella Nichols, and Jack Robinson.
The conditions were tricky this morning and the women found little luck in their opening round heats. In a true shocker, 2x World Champ, Cabarita winner, and generally adept beach break surfer Tyler Wright lost her round one heat to Macy Callaghan and Sophie McCullouch. Stephanie Gilmore made her round one heat, but only thanks to a meager 4-point total. Later on, she’d lose a head-to-head match with less than two points on the board.
According to an eye witness, Steph duckdove an “easy roll-in” that could have helped her through the heat. This hearkens back to an old CUSP episode in which Steph’s former coach, Jake ‘Snake’ Paterson, lamented having sent Steph out to a rip-bowl right in a past competition. “Kanoa is the best chip-shot surfer in the world,” Snake said. “But Steph just got stuck paddling the whole heat.”
The most impressive ride from the women came from 2021 Tour rookie Isabella Nichols, who expertly read and negotiated a right-hand wedge for a mid-seven. It takes a keen eye and a lot of courage to find a cubby on a day like today, and with this wave, Isabella proved herself ready for the elite tour.
The men, however, seemed to revel in the grunt.
Future CTer Liam O’Brien flexed his local juju over Jack Robinson in the opening heat, nabbing the best wave that slipped through the shoals and casually standing there for a 9-something. Jack, who as a younger, less mature competitor would have been bothered by this to the point of obstinately sitting out the back and waiting for a superior teepee, instead got busy and nabbed a pair of sevens for the heat win. This showed incredible growth from the 21-year-old tube savant, as he’s now able to put his ego aside for a heat win.
Heat two saw absolute dominance from the Goldcoast’s Chris Bennets, who comboed both CT veteran and heavy wave adherent Owen Wright plus the Lennox pocket-jockey Stu Kennedy. How Chris got into this event, I’m honestly not sure, as he hasn’t competed in a QS event since 2013. This proved entirely irrelevant as he threaded two glorious funnels over home sand. Meanwhile, Stu shied away from a closeout section that was downright terrifying but if lip-lined correctly, could have pushed him through the heat. Fair enough though, it’s not as if Stu stood to make a dime for risking his very existence.
That certainly didn’t stop Soli Bailey, who attempted to stomp every bit of a 10-foot straight air. Reeling with confidence from his performance at Lance’s Right last year, Soli sent this thing to the clouds, boned it out, and wholeheartedly attempted to bring it down. This would have been the best air ever done in competition, or perhaps all of surfing, had he stuck it, so I feel obliged to congratulate the effort. Unfortunately for Soli, Wade Carmichael and Mikey Wright found a couple sneaker cells and ousted him in the process.
In the final heat of the first round, Connor O’Leary belted a few walls with a dominatrix’ precision (that guy really needs to be back on Tour), Ethan Ewing pierced a couple of corners, and Mitch Crews got blown up so badly by an oversized wedge that he lost his jacket and rashie. I wondered, had Mitch just become too accustomed to step-offs through the winter? According to his tow partner Stace G, it was more of an equipment issue. “He needed a step-up,” Stace said. “It’s way bigger than it looks out there, and a lot of the surfers are underprepared.”
The women’s quarters came and went without much fanfare (read: no tubes). Isabella Nichols had the highest heat total of the round (again) and appears the surfer to beat tomorrow.
Jack Robinson vs. Owen Wright sounds like a final, but in fact it was a one-sided affair. Carrying a bit of pent-up frustration from not getting the bomb in his first heat, Robbo went turbo in this quarterfinal match, backdooring a bulbous corner from ridiculously deep (9.67) and backing it up with a chip-shot that even using his Phelpish wingspan, Owen couldn’t windmill his way into. Jack’s 18.6 was by far the highest heat total of the day, but in truth he could have won this heat with his throwaways. The kid looks similarly untouchable as did Ethan Ewing in Cabarita.
They ended up calling it off after semifinal two, in which Liam O’Brien put a whomping on his Gold Coast cohabitant Chris Bennets (but not before also losing his jacket and jersey to an oversized wedge). The waves should be similarly fun if slightly more manageable for finals day tomorrow.
The WSL nailed this one, bravo.