Now just hold on a second. What the hell just happened? Did the fantastic Matt Wilkinson really just win a CT?
Come on, you wouldn’t have seen that coming.
Almost nobody did.
Before this event got going, it was all, “Mick!” or “Filipe!” or (more quietly maybe) “Adriano!”, or less quietly, “JJF!”
There weren’t many “Kolohe!”s. There were even less “Wilko!”s. So few in fact that the WSL didn’t bother to print up a Wilkinson jersey for their amazingly successful merch store. You could get all the others above for a mere sixty-five bucks, and plenty did.
Today was pretty simple: in a broken lineup, these two surfers held their ground better than anyone.
Here’s a weird, possibly irrelevant, but funny coincidence: both had front foot issues. Kolohe has the left foot toe injury that’s kept him out of the water a lot recently, and takes 35 minutes to strap up each day. Wilko has a disgusting boil on his right foot, a thing he calls his “lucky infection”.
“I got it in Newcastle,” he told us, “and I’ve been feeding it ever since. Nurturing it.”
Yet neither seemed remotely bugged by these little handicaps. Kolohe surfed like he’s threatened to do in many CTs; in this field, he suddenly looks like a main player, no longer the tour supergrommet in training. I pitched this up to him; he thought for a split second then fixed me with the gaze of a man bearing Revelation. “You know — Adriano winning a world title was really good for surfing,” he said, meaning it well. “Because now everyone knows it’s possible — that they can win one too. I know that. We all know it. Why not??”
Wilko, well, he has all that incredible ability, especially that backside bottom-to-top combo that feels as if it’s born out of the reverberating depths of Australian power style, a modern Wayne Lynch, or as Cheyne Horan suggested to me, Narrabeen’s Col Smith.
Yet he has also had a tendency to set his sights a bit lower than he should. “I’d got to a point where I’d get to the quarters and think, ‘Yesss! Result!’,” he said. “But here, I got to the quarters and it wasn’t like that. I felt I had a way to go.”
That quarter with Adriano, for instance, could so easily have slipped the other way. “I had priority and I had to pass up a lot of waves that might not have given me the score. In the past I haven’t been too good at that, I guess.”
Tyler Wright might have been accused of a similar guard-down approach at times in the past. But nothing of it was evident in her clear and convincing Roxy Pro win. Tyler kept the performance in hand, and instead clamped down on the tactics, making no errors in either of her heats today. She had no idea that big brother Owen was on site.
Big O was her focus for months after his accident at Pipe, and they don’t make a big tear-jerky thing out of their bond, but it’s pretty moving all the same. The ups and downs of this surfing family will make a great story one day. For now at least, they get to celebrate success.
As can Stu Kennedy, the people’s champ, who was cheered off site by half the occupants of the surrounding apartment towers. As can the tough yet happy Courtney Conlogue, whose Mom got her wish after she’d told us: “To be honest, we’re hoping Court and Tyler get in the same heat.”
Indeed, everyone who surfed today will be happy at some level. They have keeper results from an event that made some big name surfers suffer. Exactly where they go with those results, and what they’re converted into, we’ll see in a week or two at Bells.
For those especially curious, here is NC’s play-by-play of the day as it unfolded:
MEN’S FINAL: WILKO BEATS KOLOHE
12:32PM: Anna is back and hugging everyone.
12:29PM: Blizzard. Brother needed a 7.38. Wilko’s wave was ok but not decisive. But the panel are not moved. They give Kolohe another jack and Matt Wilkinson is Ace high.
12:28PM: Two minutes left. Anna, Wilko’s girl, has fled the scene. The lineup empties of swell. One minute.
12:22PM: Another little one for K. Again nothing shifts. And then finally something does. Wilko gets a small but significant wave and bangs out a real mid range score. He has to now be in the lead but the panel hold it up for ages before throwing him a high five. Can that, today, be the winning wave?
12:19PM: Come on Snapper. Feed these guys. This event’s costing a fortune!
12:14PM: While they’re lining up, Kolohe makes a move. It’s gonna move things a tiny bit. 4.5. Not decisive but it woke his legs back up. It’s nearly level – Wilko holds the ace, K two jacks.
12:11PM: Wilko chucks priority away with a seedy little ride. So does Kolohe. The heat remains static. All around me people are lining up for the catered lunch. BBQ chicken is getting their attention more than the surfing.
12:05AM: Heat rhythm. It doesn’t change just because this is a final. The only thing that changes is the time in which it plays out. K is in the lead right now but the rhythm of this final is entirely with W. If K is gonna turn it he needs a 9.
12:02PM: Here we go. The final test of the Hogan Theory. Wilko goes into this final’s meat and potatoes period with an 8.6. 93-point-something percentage chance of a win.
11:58AM: Darren Handley, Simon Anderson, Julian Wilson and his girl and mom, Rabbit, Gunther Rohn, Seabass, Rabbit, Sage Erickson, Cheyne Horan, MR, Claw Warbrick, Baeu Emerton, TWW. Don’t these people have jobs to go to? Kolohe opens and gets a cheer from all concerned. It’s a nothing ride.
WOMEN’S FINAL: WRIGHT BEATS COURTNEY
11:56AM: Owen Wright is here. “She was his primary carer,” says Claw, meaning Tyler. “24 hours a day for two months.” Give that girl the cup now.
11:50AM: So who’s here in this viewing outlook as the Roxy Pro finishes and the men’s final braces? I look around. Matt Biolos.
11:45AM: This is the most one sided final of the year. Hang on it’s the only final of the year — so far. The crowd’s vibe and intensity is beginning to rise now. Rain’s stopped, sun’s out. New Tyler uses her priority with 50secs left and it’s a done deal.
11:26AM: New Tyler is more composed, but is surfing just a few percent below her level. It wins more heats – that’s the theory, that’s what coaches tend to encourage in surfers who make too many mistakes. It’s working here, she’s got Courtney in a crushing corner. But a great surfer knows when to go to Defcon 4. I guess Snappers not showing us too much either, so it’s probably gonna win T a lot of money in about 17 minutes.
11:15AM: Women’s final. This day is ripping past. Court gets the first wave. She is a fan of that move — a confidence player. New Tyler Wright is behind her. Nobody gains an advantage.
MEN’S SF2: KOLOHE BEATS KENNEDY
11:08AM: Stu breaks the deadlock. Fuck, it’s barely a wave. Then it finds the new sand on the inside. I think the panel scored the wave almost as much as they scored Stu. They score Kolohes follow up on the quality and control of his last turn. Close but fair.
11:04AM:Filipe is still in with Chris Prosser the event chiropractor/sports med expert. In the water, Stu and Brother hurl sixes and sevens at each other.
10:48AM: So that world title rattling incident now being behind us …Stuey first wave on Kolohe but it’s not much. Doesn’t make the Hogan Theory cut that’s for sure. I feel like he’s running on fumes now. So many scalps!
MEN’S SF1: WILKO BEATS TOLEDO
10:40AM: The inevitable occurs; Wilko gets something resembling a wave and tears his way into a winning score. From Filipe’s POV maybe it’s just as well. He wasn’t gonna be surfing the final in any case.
10:37AM: Look at Filipe. Fighting that injury. Does the flip down the inside but doesn’t trust himself to ride out of it. This is a bit hard to watch.
10:31AM: Took the lead with it though. He’s got some courage, staying in it with that injury.
10:27AM: Filipe is hurt. He slid funny on a scoring ride at the end. I think he did something on his second ride, a reverse in which the lip bounce came back at him. The way it looked, groin muscle strain or maybe knee. He was hurting before he stood up on that wave though.
10:15AM: More rain sweeps across. Ricardo is back at his post. This is gonna be a hell of a heat. Wilko one of the few surfers here in enough form to rattle the flying superboy.
WOMEN’S SF2: COURTNEY BEATS DEFAY
9:57AM: OK that’s a bit more like it. Courtney locks it down. Her Mom, chatting to Tyler’s Mom Fiona, looks visibly relieved. Outside C jumps off the ski, gets a wave near the Rock and kicks out right next to J who receives an accidental face spray. People go on about soccer parents in surfing but it must suck at times watching your kid compete. But when I ask them, they just shrug. “To be honest, we’re hoping Court and Tyler get in the same heat,” says Mrs C. “It’s such a beautiful sport, so healthy,” says Fiona. Man! They’re sanguine.
9:49AM: This heat’s falling a bit flat. Court tried one big move, Johanne got a grubber, and a lot of waves are going under their guards. There’s no pattern here.
WOMEN’S SF1: WRIGHT BEATS CARISSA
9:44AM: No world champs left in the women’s now either. Door’s wide open.
9:41AM: You’ll see surfers working down into the inside far more successfully today – the sand has come around and packed in down there.
9:38AM: Rain sweeps in from the south east. Carissa comfortably leading. Tyler with priority moving back in on the bank, but lets C under her guard. Carissa’s ride is unconvincing but Tyler’s is. Lead switch!
QF4: STU BEATS JOHN JOHN
9:33AM: The event zone still buzzing after that heat. Johnny posing with some mini gidget fans on the way out of here. He slipped up on that last exchange – gave Stu the opening – but it’s not Johnnys nature to deny people waves on a technicality. That’s learned behavior. He might just have learned it.
9:09AM:Bam! One slip defending priority and Stuey finds his gap. If they threw him a 6.9 last time, can they not throw him a winning score here? Judges are watching replays as they should. Winning score. The crowd goes nuts. Dan Thomson and Marc Price bro-shake. Daniel looks a bit she’ll-shocked. “I’m trying to separate myself from it,” he says. “But look at my hand.” It’s shaking.
9:04AM: Whoa. 6.9. Stu’s got a sniff. He’s where Wilko was two heats back.
9:00AM: Both surfers now a bit lost for position. Stu finds a wave and shows some flash but it’s such a 6. JJF now has priority and can use it to defend his lead.
8:47AM: This is a battle of Spiky vs Smooth. Smooth looks more in command of the situation. Spiky hasn’t played his hand yet. He’s got priority but is that a poisoned chalice today?
8:52AM: See what I mean about the poisoned chalice? Stu wandering outside while Johnny builds his lead on inside nuggets. Still room, still space to hit back, but less space every passing minute.
8:39AM: How is Stuey here? He fell into round two, then got hold of Kelly and manhandled him. KS may not be his 2006 version, but it’s still a kick in the pants when you beat him. “Like a magic pill,” says Johnny Pyzel, standing next to me. “Then Medina. Another magic pill.” He watches Stu get the first real ride, on which Stu does a funny slightly panicked little tail slip as a first turn. “Oh don’t do that,” Johnny breathes. “Well maybe do that.”
QF3: KOLOHE BEATS ACE
8:31AM: Well I reckon this heat can go to evidence of the accuracy of Hogan’s theory. Ace isn’t budging. JJF and Stu are in the keyhole. The heat the crowd has come to see.
8:19AM: Brother gets first blood, a 7.33. Jimmy Hogan’s been at me all event with a theory of his: “If you get the first ride and it’s 7 or 8 or bigger, 93% of the time you win the heat!” Hoges is frothing on this stat. I dunno where he got it but this heat can be a test.
QF2: WILKO BEATS ADRIANO
8:12AM: There’s no world champs left in the men’s now. Only potential world champs. People who bet on this ridiculous sport must have been ruing the day they put money on the old favorites here. I heard somebody put $100 on Stu Kennedy from the get go. Let’s see if that pays out.
8:07AM: Wilko snatches one on the bell. It’s a line call wave. Wilko’s girl Anna is freaking out; his Dad less so. When the judges throw the winning score, he just starts laughing, a big belly laugh.
7:55AM: Holy shit, it worked. ADS under priority. Wilko gets the back wave and doesn’t follow it through. The wave spins magically down the inside. Adriano duck dives it knowing Wilko didn’t follow it. He’ll be gaining confidence along with the lead.
7:51AM: Adriano stalking Wilko, trying to nudge him into a wave choice error. Wilko not buying it, turning away and ignoring him. Tell me you don’t do that in a lineup sometimes! Heats are closer to real life than we like to think.
QF1: FILIPE BEATS PARKO
7:38AM: You’re gonna see some scrappy heats today. This is because the pushing swell has a lot of wind and bump in it; it’ll fracture up and down the bank and open up some surprise shots. You’re also gonna see guys using priority the way Filipe just did — as a defensive weapon to hold an opponent off a potential winning ride. Cool finish to that heat. Both surfers hitting one each. But yeah, form triumphs there.
7:15AM: Just in from dawn patrol. Snapper is alive this morning. Bumpy 4′ wedges and walls. Adriano, Wilko, JJF, Tyler Wright. Parko having a chat with head judge Richie Porta up at the surfers hangout area, debriefing after yesterday, when his and Caio’s round five heat had a weird re-start double up. Both seem happy: “Just as long as I know I wasn’t a bad boy,” Parko tells him.