Billed as the Battle of the Wilderpeople, the first semi in Bali today was more mild than wild. The first half of the Bourez/Wright heat saw the pair becalmed out there in the doldrums. Mikey circled while Bourez sat there motionless, staring out to sea like a Rapa Nui moai. Bourez has led all his heats from the start, while Mikey has led his heats for the last minute.
It’s an intriguing semi. On a wave billed as the summit of performance surfing on tour here were two backfoot heavy guys, who’ve barely launched all event. I don’t think Bourez has at all. Today would have been the day for it. We didn’t see a barrel for over an hour. Toledo – who lost to a Jordy barrel yesterday – would have been grinding his molars. He would have been deadly out there today.
Mikey never got a chance to go feral. As he sat there waiting for a wave I flashed back to a G-Land trip when Mikey was maybe 13. He was there with a bunch of older crew, who got behind the bar one night and started uncapping tequila bottles. They went wild and soon grabbed hold of the grommets with a pair of hair clippers to inflict rude haircuts on them. Mikey got a patchy Mohawk and promptly broke into tears. Who’d believe almost a decade later that the haircut has almost become him. If he sported a slick hipster cut would his surfing change? Something to ponder. Talking yesterday to Brad Gerlach, who’s living here at Bells, told me the first piece of advice he’d give Parko would be to grow his hair long and ride black boards and watch everything change around him.
The Rapa Nui moai finally sprung to life and fell straight into the same groove he’s been in all week. The waves might have been smaller, but his delicate poise, a subtle breath before his bottom turn, was followed by a savage dispatching. Don’t be fooled into thinking there’s been nothing sophisticated in what Bourez has been doing this week. You just don’t see it. His positioning has been everything. He’s been all over this lineup, and pocket sevens were more than enough for The Spartan to make the final.
Italo was dancing around the surfer’s area, the Super Mario Kart theme tune playing in his headphones, all intensity until he blows a booger out of his nose over the side of the railing and realizes immediately there’s someone walking directly below. He waves and bows and kinda laughs, asking forgiveness. The intensity doesn’t suit him anyway. His surfing is too free spirited to be intense. Italo is the best 12-year-old surfer in the world with a mustache.
Italo gave an insight into his thinking at Keramas in an interview the other day. “Everyone can barrel,” he said in broken English, but nothing truer has been spoken all week. Both Jordy and Mikey Wright kept their powder dry above the lip, and it got them both to the semis, but Italo was always going to the air today… although I don’t think anyone quite saw it coming the way it did.
The heat started on Jordy’s terms. Jammed in the pocket. Low hips and all drive. But Italo was, in one wave, about to take Keramas back for the prog-rockers.
I’m still not quite sure how he does it. I know his board is hard sprung, and his legs are hard sprung and he’s all fast twitch fibre and he is as Lew Samuels described him “a hairy sparkplug”, but he had no right to get as high as he did, nor land as easily. Italo popped the air, corked it, and landed mid-face like nothing happened. Everyone can barrel, but only Italo could do that. The replay reveals some magicians tricks. His feet never move. He never shuffles a foot forward, which means that, just like today, he’s able to surf straight out of his turn. He landed straight into a bottom turn, and with the crowd still sporting cartoon eyeballs he was already straight back at the lip, beyond vertical, lancing it. Then he did it again, and these weren’t windscreen wipers. These turns stung. All his turns do. He surfs weightless, but somehow with weight. A comic book salute was followed by a big spin, which was followed by him flashing 10 fingers at the judges, who probably already had that number in the computer.
To his credit Jordy hung in there, got tubed and got back in range, from which point he finally broke the lip. He had no choice. Maybe he needed that from the start, because the heat was always on Italo’s terms. From what we saw at Keramas it seems our dysfunctional, on-off love affair with Jordy is officially on again. He surfed great, but he showed he’s the unfiltered character pro surfing is crying out for. He needs to own that space. While it’s a sugary world of affirmation and platitudes and no one ever says anything, I love Jordy’s diss tracks. They might not always make perfect sense, but at least Jordy has something to say.
Lakey had hustle early in the women’s final. She’s surfed tight in the pocket all event, and has been in a huge groove with the wave this week. She also looked the most likely all week to throw herself at the sky… but that might come next year, second-year in. But Lakey also did her best to lose it, falling on the best wave of the final then handing Tyler a wave in the last minute. But in the end it was Lakey being carried up the beach, the important logo hat poking out comically from underneath a traditional Balinese headdress. It’s been a great event for the women, and the title is now wide open. With the quality of surf here you’d have expect Steph to walk away with this, instead she gets overtaken by Lakey. For Steph, J-Bay can’t come around quick enough.
In the final Michel just sat there again. Italo meanwhile doesn’t sit well. He must have been a hyperactive handful as a kid. I’m sure his oldies bless the day he found surfing and five surfs a day to take the edge off it. Italo had pocket sevens and was going for backhand rotors before Bourez even moved. Bourez then caught a closeout, turned around and saw Italo on the biggest wave of the final. The rhythm that had been with him all event was now with his opponent. The ocean was betraying him. Meanwhile we were getting dizzy watching Italo. It was like there were three of him out there. Joe has taken to calling turns “decisions” during this event, but for Italo there’s no decision. He doesn’t think, he just surfs. He surfed all final without stopping and will probably surf again this afternoon. Maybe twice.
I got to this point of my report and scrolled back through it and realized I hadn’t used the world “Brazilian” once. Watching a guy like Italo surf transcends rank nationalism. You don’t think about it. In fact, Italo’s surfing is so relentless and so buoyant and there’s so little dead air with it that there’s no time to think about anything really. Just surf. He won and came in and was hoisted on the bamboo throne and crossed his legs and played it right up. The party boy then did a shuffle-step dance during his interview.
I watched on thinking maybe there’s hope for pro surfing after all.
Italo’s win sets the season up royally. Italo leads Phil T in the ratings, but there’s Tahiti and Pipe between Phil and a world title, whereas both those waves hold no demons for Italo. If either of them win this year it will be a very different world title, maybe even a bigger paradigm shifter than Gabby’s win. A Phil or Italo win would be a huge sign of the times.
We’ve had Rizal all event in the ad breaks telling us about how karma is thick in the air here in Bali, how if you do good things then good things will happen for you. The Keramas event was indeed a very good thing for the WSL. I’m not exactly sure what they’ve done to get it – certainly not the Facebook deal or the almost total absence of any Balinese or Indonesian faces or voices or stories in the broadcast – but Keramas was a vital restoration of faith in the Tour. It’s been an epic and long overdue return to Bali. They’ll be hoping the Island of the Gods will shine on them again next week at Uluwatu.