Wasn't competitive surfing more fun when Andy Irons wanted to rip off Kelly Slater's head?
We Want A Rivalry!
Give us Gabs vs John, or Gabs vs Jules, or Gabs vs Gabs.
“World title to be decided in Hawaii” is an alluring headline and all, but the Pipe Masters is almost two months away. Getting psyched for that is like eating knock-off Viagra and the labor of your next five hours. Eventually, the novelty wears off.
What seems to have been brushed aside in the news of John John’s hiccup and Gabby’s triumph in Portugal is the fact that poor Julian Wilson was there too. Actually, it was the second final between Jules and Gabby this year. If you recall, Jules stung Gabs at the end of the road in Tahiti. Previous to this season, the two tangled in the final of the 2014 Pipe Masters. And remember when Jules made Gabby cry in Portugal in 2012? Awesome.
So, my dear good brothas and sistas, can we get a fucking rivalry? Why isn’t the WSL leveraging Jules vs Gabby to the hilt? Why aren't Pottz and co on the mic fawning over this? Platitudes on the podium are cute and all, but the two clearly don’t like each other. It’s a wonderful thing. As has been said in UFC circles, “It’s not about the fight, it’s about the fighter.” Plain and simple, the WSL wants to get some energy out of their fan base, invent a few rivalries and figure out how to inflame passions, biases and nationalistic tendency.
The Jules/Gabby rivalry is made for prime time. One is a pretty-boy, bubble gum Aussie, the other an aloof, hard-to-like Brazilian. Julian’s from the bucolic Sunny Coast. Before he got his start in surfing, young Gabby had to accompany his mom while she cleaned homes in their favela. Julian was expected to win a title—and given all the resources to do so. Gabs came out of nowhere to be Brazil’s first world champ—then chipped in a million dollars of his own money to help build a high-performance training center there.
Without question, pro surfing was the most interesting when Andy Irons wanted to slaughter Kelly Slater. You were either for Andy or for Kelly - Black Knight v White Knight. It was a generational thing. It was a regional thing. It was a financial thing. It was personal. Andy did everything he could to make the battle as personal as he could, and to his credit, he’s the only one to ever truly dominate Kelly at the height of his powers. Perhaps not so coincidentally, the surf industry also enjoyed unparalleled growth while they threw haymakers at one another.
Maybe Julian vs Gabs isn’t sexy enough. But John John vs. Gabs certainly is. Unfortunately, John’s too soft-spoken to ever offend anyone enough to the point of creating a fierce rivalry. And Gabs appears to have too much respect for John to let things get salty. That’s okay. It’s the job of the WSL to make us believe they hate each other. And we want to believe! If they’re going to hype up the world title race moving to Hawaii, they better set the stage for a classic head-to-head grudge match. Hawaii vs Brazil! I want to see near riots on the beach at Pipe! Does anyone else remember when Sunny Garcia chased Neco Padaratz out of the water and up the beach? I want more of that and less, “I’m stoked whatever happens.”
It’s not like rivalries haven’t been invented in the past. Curren vs Occy was way more of a media thing than it ever was a personal thing between the two. Both are way too socially awkward to spit venom in one another’s faces. Instead, the media took Curren, the quintessential stylist with a pedigree, and created the rivalry against Occy, the young, brash Aussie goofy-foot with a penchant for power carves. Turns out, fake news isn’t all bad.
The fact of the business is, talking about points and title races is boring. Really boring. And it’s only going to keep the audience engaged for so long. The WSL needs to create some rivalries in the worst kind of way. Jules vs. Gabs is a great place to start.