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Day 2 of the Fiji Pro, and the Virtue of Selfishness

Surfing has the power to turn a man into an egotistical, inconsiderate monster, and fantasy surfing — a phenomenon I considered pointless, pathetic even, until my recent initiation — can enact a similar transformation, turning him into an egotistical, inconsiderate monster by proxy, as it were.

It’s disconcerting to witness the process at work in oneself. Matt Wilkinson wasn’t in my team, but I didn’t want him to lose in Round 2 for the second time in a row, and especially not against Alex Ribeiro, for such a defeat seemed likely to trigger the kind of nervous breakdown he might never recover from. When Wilko fell on his first turn of the heat after waiting with priority for 10 minutes, and then Ribeiro scored his second 5, I had the unpleasant feeling we were about to see the most humiliating dispossession of a yellow jersey since the Lance Armstrong doping scandal. By all means let Ribeiro win a heat at some point, God, but not now, not like this.

And yet as soon as I remembered that my closest rivals in our league had picked Wilko for their teams — fools! — I began positively to savour his demise, and to look forward to his televised interview with Oprah. Then he began his comeback, and I turned irritable and sour, and by the time it became clear that Wilko would be spared the existential despair of losing the heat, I was in a murderously bad mood.

So Ribeiro remains winless, but for the first time this year a heat win seemed to be an actual possibility rather than just a theoretical one, and this will have been heartening. No doubt he can surf much better than he has so far surfed on the world tour; and in his post-heat interview with Rosy he sounded like such a likeable, genuinely nice guy… One takes no delight in the thought that he might not win a heat all year. And yet, at the same time, I feel sure the experience will be character-building. Just look at Ricky Basnett.

There’s some sort of competition going on, by the way, in celebration of the WSL’s new partnership with Airbnb. Between them they’re offering a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” — a stay for two on a luxury private island just next to Tavarua, where the winners will have at their disposal two gourmet chefs and a boat captain and presumably also a boat although I’m not sure the boat part was made explicit. There is a catch, however, besides the possible lack of boat. Two catches, in fact. The first is that it will cost you $10 per night, which seems a little close-fisted. The second, slightly larger catch is that you can only have the place for one night — June 10th. Not to worry though, transfers from the airport on the Fijian mainland are included in the price. In other news, NASA is giving away a free lunch of cucumber sandwiches for a family of 16 aboard the International Space Station, though regrets that transport there and back will not be provided, nor overnight accommodation, nor dessert.

Surf Europe recently gave away a Lunar full-deck grip pad, a far more reasonable prize than the two described above. For starters, we didn’t make the winner travel to our headquarters in the British Virgin Islands to pick it up, but sent it to him by post. But I will say this for the night’s stay in Fiji: it has the advantage of allowing the winning couple the chance to catch a glimpse — a vision — of Mick “Keg-on-Legs” Lowe in the flesh. Now a sports agent who counts Ryan Callinan among his roster of athletes, he was watching the contest yesterday from the channel. He’s still a fucking specimen.

I said that surfing can turn a man into an egotistical, inconsiderate monster. (Obviously surfing’s not unique in this regard. “That’s what we love about surfing,” Pottz says at least once every fifteen minutes, but he often says it about things that are equally applicable to badminton.) But herein lies much of the fun. One of the most intriguing things to happen yesterday was Medina dropping-in on Jordy Smith in the morning free-surf.

Fair-mindedness and maturity and grace and so forth are of course all very edifying, but must occasionally be seasoned with a little ill-will and villainy, else we are left with a bland dish. Take a deliberate, unprovoked drop-in, for instance. It is the ultimate slight, the pinnacle of “fuck you”. “I deserve this wave more than you,” it implies. “My inherent worth is simply that much greater than yours.” That’s not necessarily the conscious thought, but on some instinctual level it’s still the driving force behind the act. It cannot be interpreted as other than a challenge. Even an unintentional drop-in, in the almost wilful obliviousness of another surfer’s presence, can reveal a remarkable hubris.

We are long overdue a proper scrap, at any rate, and yesterday’s events will hopefully sow the seeds of one. A tussle in the showers à la Mick Campbell and Andy Irons in France, or an angry pursuit up the beach in the Sunny Garcia tradition, or an interview rudely interrupted, as occurred some ten years ago following a heat at the Highland Open involving Shea Lopez and Mike Todd. Even a simmering, ongoing animosity, never consummated, would add a little spice.

Words were apparently had between Gabriel and Jordy, but what words? I am dying to know. Were you in the Cloudbreak line-up this morning, or watching within earshot from the channel? Do you know someone who was? Anyone who provides us with a verbatim or even approximate transcript of these words will soon find themselves in receipt of a wonderful prize — a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, naturally — possibly consisting of a Lunar full-deck grip pad.

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