The Portuguese Landscape
Julian Wilson throws an oop for the ages, and Mick Fanning is a heat closer to the 2013 World Title
THE WINDMILLS OF PENICHE
Bede had an idea. He shared it with me at dinner last night.
We were discussing the imminent arrival of the devil winds here at Supertubes, onshore winds from the south that would turn the break into a discombobulated mess.
“Why not?” Bede asked, rubbing his chin. “Just put two giant fans on the beach and point them out to sea and make your own offshore.”
The idea was brilliant in its simplicity. Like, we already make night into day, why not simply turn an onshore into an offshore? Just plant a couple of those big-ass wind turbines that dot the Portuguese landscape as you drive along the A8 behind the dunes at Supers and bring the breath of God?
This morning Damien Hardman put it this way. “All Supers needs is one knot of offshore and it’d be perfect. Right now it looks like South Narrabeen.” For those not au fait with the waves of Sydney’s Northern Beaches, the southern cousin of the peninsula’s most famed wave carries a reputation as the straightest of all straighthanders. This morning, Supertubes at low tide with an onshore breeze looked somewhat less than bountiful. It looked pretty ordinary, but with the contest painted into a corner by some squally weather over the horizon, it was onwards, shipmates, into a stiff headwind.
But in an era when we are set to create aquatic Death Stars that can replicate perfect waves at the push of a button we were reminded today of what makes actual surfing great—the fact that none of us know what the ocean will throw at us. If Bede had managed to raise some venture capital here in Portugal overnight and get his twin offshore turbines humming, we would not have witnessed one of the pinnacle moments of the pro tour this year. Flying along, straight into the teeth of the prevailing Diablo wind, Julian Wilson aimed his board at the sun and launched into an alley oop so high he admitted later to suffering vertigo. The devil wind got in his sails and he seemed to be up there forever. Josh Kerr offered later: “He came down with a mustache.” Julian landed it as clean as you like and you could see the whites of his eyes from the beach when he did. John Florence had just walked into the surfer’s area for his heat and was walking down the stairs when Julian caught the wave. The Hawaiian stopped dead on the second stair from the bottom and watched, transfixed, almost sensing the turn was coming. When Julian landed it he let out a silent, ‘Whoa,’ nodded his head in righteous agreement, and kept on walking. Julian’s oop today was up there with John John’s Balinese edition back in June, those two maneuvers combined hinting at a Tour future beyond Mick, Kelly, and Joel world titles.
Speaking of, the seemingly inevitable Mick Fanning title moved one heat closer today. He was drawn against 16-year-old trials winner Jacob Willcox, the stick-thin West Australian who already moved past Kelly in the opening round. Just last year the snowy-haired grommet was part of a Mick Fanning training camp for rising talents, road tripping the east coast of Australia riding shotgun with his idol and nervously squeaking conversation from across the center console. Today, just over a year later, he was surfing against him in a world championship heat. Maybe the world championship heat. The pair prepared for it side by side in the surfer’s area.
“Grom,” barked Mick. “What ya riding?”
“Can’t tell ya,” replied The Grom. The board was a Mick Fanning model DHD emblazoned with Mick’s initials.
“What are you riding?” The Grom enquires, brazenly.
And so on the banter goes as they prepare to paddle out. There’s a moral battle going on inside The Grom that his teenage psyche is struggling to deal with. What if he happened to get barreled like he did against Kelly and knocked Mick out of the world title? The Grom has been wrestling with this heat for days, but possesses the same cold bloodedness in heats that a young Fanning possessed 15 years ago. There’s been enough weird shit to go down in the first couple of days here that Mick wasn’t going to take any chances with the kid and so he put him away early, draining two scores and keeping the kid swinging at arms length. For a 16-year-old however Jake looked like he’d surfed five years of these things already—his wave choice, bottom turn, the expressiveness out of the lip—they were all there today and the kid surfed hard. He wasn’t going to roll belly up for the champ, and after the heat even came in asking his team manager, Ryan Fletcher, aka the Ultimate Bro Brah, why he’d been handed fours when he thought he deserved sevens. “Twenty kilos,” came the matter-of-fact reply.
Today was moving day in a contest that’s barely got out of first gear. Twenty heats were decided, and for the most part it was the guys who wanted it who got the nod. Bede didn’t need his Penichian offshore turbines as he did just fine this morning in the onshore ruffle. There were not-so-subtle reminders this morning of the Bede Durbidge who took the Tour to the cleaners late in the last decade. Few surfers today were able to look like they were the ones dictating the terms in the powerful, lumpy waves, but Bede surfed at will. However, successive heats tended to look like they were being surfed on adjacent planets as tide, wind, current, and swell wrestled all day long. Stringing two good heats together out here is a rare art, and the high of Bede’s win was soon followed by a confusing loss in the next round to Kai Otton as the goalposts shifted.
There was a real energy in the swell as Fred Patacchia paddled out into the sinking sun this afternoon. His week hasn’t been one of his best. A half-world away back home on Oahu, nature has chomped great bites out of his beachfront home at Kammies, making off with his backyard and cracking his pool in two. Not much he can do about it sitting here in Portugal. And while we might soon be able to create our own offshores in Peniche, nature will always bat last, especially so in Hawaii. Fred lost this afternoon, and was last seen in the surfer’s area, grabbing a pack of chocolate biscuits and two beers and walking off. “Depression eating,” he referred to it as.
As this report gets filed Damien Hardman has just walked past and suggested we change our flights. Something about offshore breezes in the morning and the biggest swell of the waiting period tomorrow afternoon. It will end tomorrow. Two champions might be crowned, and a contest that has been characterized for marginal surf might just have one last surprise left for us.
Catch up to all the action with the Heat Analyzer here.