Sean Doherty: Slater Hangs on to Olympic Dream and Medina Makes Tough Conditions Look Simple at Peniche

19 Oct 2019 10 Share

Sean Doherty

Senior Writer

Photo: WSL/Poullenot

Photo: WSL/Poullenot


The Gold and the Grease – 2019 MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal Day 2

Alana Blanchard is back, and wants to really be back next year. She’s in Portugal as a wildcard, but has put it out there that she wants to requalify next year and get back on tour full-time. After Portugal, I’m not sure how she’s going to feel about that. She went out in straight sets this morning, in a confused – yet vastly improved – Supertubes lineup. Her surfing, like the surfing of anyone removed from the tour for a couple of years, had been overcome by flow and steeze and enjoyment and as a result lacking somewhat in heat-winning savagery. I’ve always rated Alana’s surfing and was willing to look past the typecasting and the Insta business and the millions of followers, but I can’t imagine why she’d want to come back. She’s set up, she’s got her little boy Banks, she’s got her big boy Jack, she’s got Kauai. I don’t know what the tour’s got to offer her that can trump any of that.

They rolled through the losers rounds and then overlapped the men’s round of 32. The North Atlantic goes to sleep after tomorrow. This thing needs to hustle, and the early heats were sent out in low tide bank-slammers. Single figure heat scores across the board. There are no defined rips at Supertubes… the water comes in and the water goes out wherever it wants. It got ugly, but Jordy and Kolohe both managed to stay in the game for the title. Both have also now qualified for the Olympics, a big deal for both. Kolohe is dreaming of standing on the podium with Sweet Home Alabama playing… Jordy, being awarded the gold medal, crying as they play South Africa’s national anthem, Die Antwoord’s Enter The Ninja.

“We’ve all been watching the clip of Kelly Slater miked up at the Surf Ranch,” chirped Joe Turpel enthusiastically. “That was incredible. You can tell he’s trying to quieten that noise and enjoy what could be one of his last laps on tour.” Yeah, not so sure about how much noise was being quietened by having an energy healer follow you to the edge of the Surf Ranch pool in the minutes before your heat, yabbering psycho-babble platitudes with a camera in your face recording it all. That could really fuck with your auras. Maybe the best part of the now-famous clip is the energy guy asking Kelly, “So we’ve got five minutes until your heat?” Kelly tersely replies, “Three,” before lying down, pulling his cap down over his face, and shutting out the whole scene.

This columnist pondered yesterday why the greatest strategic mind the sport has ever seen would need anyone to help clear his mind for a heat. We can safely assume the energy healer isn’t in Portugal – just his old mate Stephen Bell – so Kelly is back to his own devices and praise the lord for that. The Supertubes car park is almost a mile away from the contest site, and Kelly needs to run the gauntlet of the enthusiastic Portuguese crowd, hoodie on, head down, leaving it till the last minute before his heat to get up there… his trademark for 30 years.

And guess what? He paddled out and blazed. On his opening wave he lit up a clean left. “There hasn’t been a clean-water wave for three heats,” observed Ryan Callinan in commentary, “and he just found one straight away.” The old magic was there and suddenly there were four Kellys out in the lineup, reading the broken water better than anyone and making everything. Kelly caught a break earlier in the day when Seth Moniz – two places ahead of him in the ratings and a rival for the second US Olympic spot – had bombed out in the second round. Suddenly he appeared to be out there surfing on instinct again. He found two sevens without priority, mopped the floor with Seabass, and the whole thing had an old, familiar groove.

Do you feel there’s been a gag order in place in the commentary booth, where nobody has been allowed to mention Kelly’s Olympic situation? His Olympic dream has crumbled over the past two months and nobody’s mentioned it, but today, safe in the fact at least Kelly had just won his heat, Kaipo fronted him, asking straight up about the elephant in the room, and a little straight talking might have been better for Kelly’s head noise than any quack. Kelly laid it out cold. He’s been disappointing. John’s still well ahead of him. He’s got to bag results here and at Pipe. Kelly’s going to need to get on an unholy roll here but on today’s evidence he’s a chance.

If Kelly made a final here in Portugal, I reckon John’s knee would suddenly feel good enough to surf at Pipe.

Gabby meanwhile didn’t break third gear. A straight forehand air, and backhand rotor. He had it won within 10 minutes. The ice cold roll Gabby got on through J-Bay, Tahiti and Lemoore is over, so he’s got to win a little more calculated now. He didn’t catch a wave in the second half of his heat today. He didn’t need to. With throwaways he’s not as far ahead as you think… certainly not as far ahead as it’s felt and he’s got to keep some daylight between himself and the pack. A win for either Phil, Jordy, Italo or Kolohe in Portugal would make Pipe interesting. The danger for Gabby here is that Supertubes is a crapshoot… it’s a lucky wave or big air nine, so the waves will keep everyone in with a sniff. Phil Toledo did enough today to stay in the game despite the bad back, but maybe it’s Italo who looms as the biggest threat tomorrow. His two late backhand flat spins were a sign. He “greased” the landings as every landing today was greased.

While the low tide ruined the morning, the onshore southerly ruined the afternoon and the swell was fading. It had been a long day. Ratso, the priority judge missed a paddle call in the late Jack Freestone heat, possibly daydreaming about washing down a plate of octopus tentacles with a bottle of Sagres at the judge’s favourite beach bar down the road, maybe daydreaming about his New Zealand All Blacks winning the Rugby World Cup. There’s been no time for sightseeing this week. Moving the contest to the cabbage fields of north of Baleal looks unlikely so this thing will roll on at Supertubes until the blaring Euro-doof beach music stops. Whether there’s enough hours in the day to finish tomorrow we’ll have to see.

The circus will move on and the town of Peniche will close up for the winter. A story. A few years ago Joe Turpel found himself as the last gringo in town. This was before his acoustic guitar god status and the contest wouldn’t change his flight. On the first day after the contest the hotel stopped serving breakfast. On the second day the wifi was cut. The third day, the hot water. By day four Joe got the message, packed up his guitar, and hitched to Lisbon.

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