I was walking down the main street here at home on Thursday night when a chalkboard in front of the pub stopped me.
“Tonight: Sepultura. Tickets left.”
Any ’90s surf rats will remember exactly who Sepultura were. The Brazilian metalheads were huge amongst surfers here in Australia. They were on surf movies. They were in surf mags. Australian surfers walked around with long hair, nose rings, flipped-out narrow 6’4″s and sleeveless Sepultura shirts listening to “Roots! Bloody roots!” before they paddled out. At the time Sepultura were the sum extent of our knowledge of Brazil. Sepultura, Fabio, Flavio, hot chicks and, yeah… “Roooooooooots!!!”
And here they were at the modest Great Northern Hotel in Byron playing on a quiet Thursday night. It was a layday in the Brazilian contest, so instead of watching Saquarema I crammed into a sweaty backroom to watch Sepultura.
It seemed like all those surfers who’d paraded around in Sepultura tee-shirts in the ’90s were all there, with the possible exception of Matt Branson, who I think sat out the gig in protest over the fact that the Cavalera brothers who founded the band were no longer in it. Branno was mates with them back in the ’90s, and he’s staunch with stuff like that.
Anyway, I got talking to the guy next to me. He introduced himself as Dogman and told me he lived down the coast and worked in the mines. He also told me he played drums in a Sepultura cover band. Like Branno he was a Cavalera guy, but said, “Mate, the drummer is a weapon. You wait.” Dogman disappeared into the crowd. He was on a burner. I soon saw him getting passed around the crowd. He was going to Cactus the following morning for a three-week surf trip.
The band played all the Cavalera stuff, but also played stuff off their new album, Machine Messiah. I couldn’t tell what the subtext was with the name, but I gathered it was some kind of social commentary aimed at the mechanized age. Sepultura play dark, tribal and Amazonian. As my cortex was being sawed in half and Dogman was being thrown around the room I flashed on Machine Messiah making a good name for a wavepool piece.
The Brazilian event held in the ocean at Barrinha just made the world’s first mechanical surf event, held the week before, look silly. This Brazilian event was set up to fail, but instead it threw a wrench in the gears of the machine. But while it was thoroughly watchable, with great waves and the kind of surfing we’d been told to expect in the pool, it won’t however derail the wavepool juggernaut. While the report card from the wavepool event was a C- from core surf fans, the broadcast ratings from the event are in and they’re encouraging for the WSL. They fell somewhere between bowling and bull riding.
Phil Toledo, as we saw today at Barrinha, is Sepultura for a new generation. He’s the guy taking Brazil to the world. Sparky Phil, with his acrobatics, his genuine manner, his tattoos and even today his tears, well, he’s the Brazilian guy the rest of the world will cheer for every day of the week.
I cheered when he landed his outrageous backhand air earlier in the event for a perfect 10, and I cheered when he came flying out of the tube in the final today. They gave the tube a 9.93 – it could have gone 10 – and he was never going to lose from that point. The crowd on the beach lost their marbles, the vibe on the beach in stark contrast to the energy poolside in Lemoore.
The energy on the beach seemed to get to rookie Australian, Wade Carmichael in the final. A few thousand rabid Brazilian surf fans screaming for your opponent could make you feel pretty alone… if you weren’t already completely alone. In this age of tour entourages hitting double figures, with coaches, life coaches, managers, team managers, board caddies, filmers, breathing specialists and superfluous friends and family members, it’s enlightening to see a guy like Wade Carmichael just turn up on his own and rip the shit out of it without a living soul in his corner. No one.
Australian surfing is wrestling with the fact that after 50 years, surfing success is no longer a birthright and their reaction has been to simply throw money and coaches and programs at the problem. Carmichael’s solo success in making the final in Brazil is fitting. The Brazilian guys have been travelling the world doing the same thing for two decades without the entourage, on the bones of their ass, surfing for soup. And if you want to see what a couple of decades of that will lead to just look at the ratings now. Phil Toledo, Italo Ferreira and Gabby all sit behind ratings leader Julian Wilson, all of them slipstreaming for a title.
And so we now depart the Brazilian So Stokey Pro and head to Bali Kuta Traffic Classic. With the Bukit Peninsula having been annexed to become part of Western Australia and the cancelled Margaret River Pro to be finished at Uluwatu, the Balinese leg is suddenly the tipping point for the season.