Oh my, it was a big day in Mexico, complete with twists, tunnels, and bittersweet moments, but at the end of the event, it was the Australian flag planted in the sands of Barra de la Cruz. A rare thing in a modern era of pro surfing where those from Down Under can no longer lay claim to unequivocal world dominance.
The men’s final between Jack Robinson and Devid Silva ultimately came down to a stark contrast in styles and challenged the judges to think long and hard about the criteria to which they are accountable.
All-day Devid Silva was performing a single backside snap with meticulous precision and power. Silva is a straight-out lip slugger and was using his coiled frame with devastating effect. According to Strider, Slater had called it the best backside jab on tour at dinner the night before. For mine, Silva lacks just a hint of upper body rotation and the boots can look a little too fixed, but there is no doubting his ability to demoralize opposition with a single turn.
Leo Fioravanti was an early victim of Silva’s spring-loaded assault. Poor Leo would catch a wave and then Devid would get a better one behind him every time and blitz the opening section – on the long roping walls the judges needed a way to distinguish surfers and often it came down to how committed you were on the opening section.
While Silva attacked with his wide-stance whips, Jack Robbo was exploring the full range of the criteria. In his semi with Mateus Herdy, the highlight was a cloud-tickler alley-oop. It was tail high, fully rotated and forced him to land on a section where most mortals would be pulling in. It was only bequeathed a low seven by the judges but commentator Mitch Salazar was happy to compare it to the all-time in-contest alley-oops by John John and Julian Wilson.
Later in the semi, Jack Robbo made Barra’ look like a behind-the-rock section at Snapper when he air-dropped into a sand-churner pit that was almost as long as El Chapo’s famous prison break tunnel. The 8.67 sealed the deal and set up one of the most unlikely finals the WSL has seen.
Herdy deserves a big wrap for his courageous and charismatic attack all event. If anyone can take the credit for lifting the level of performance it’s Mateus, who blew the field away in his quarterfinal win over Italo Ferreira.
Before the final we waved goodbye to Adriano who was treated to a well-deserved victory lap in a lonely lineup to celebrate his career. The mini-doc on Adriano’s journey from Favela kid to world tour conqueror was genuinely moving and his passion will be missed. He is rightly credited with ushering in the era of Brazilian dominance and in a career that included a world title he was both a humble and ferocious competitor. Adriano never took a step back and was never intimidated by another competitor – ask Kelly.
In the final, Robbo’s first wave set the tone for his attack. Taj Burrow once suggested a young Jack didn’t yet have the turns for top-tier surfing but he has certainly become a much more complete surfer since then. He can arguably win in the barrel, on a rail, or in the air – but in this event, he was combining all three.
His opener featured a trademark barrel, a series of splendid turns, and an aerial finish, however, it only received a mid-range score. Meanwhile, Silva’s backside fin blasts in critical outside pockets were still hotter than a mouthful of jalapeños and earned him a 7.27 for his initial ride.
It seemed like the rhythm of the heat was with Silva and the judges were going to reward his critical but more one-dimensional approach. Robbo’s next wave also featured a combination of moves and a dreamy funnel but again he was bested by Silva swinging for the clouds with his scything backside.
However, Robbo stuck to a strategy, which celebrated variation. This time he snuffed out a heavier, more demanding wave, dropping into a dredging barrel then going straight to a critical air reverse, before winding through a combination of turns. The brilliant display of versatility was rewarded with an 8.33 and gave Jack a lead by a mere 0.02. It was ultimately enough and proved that the judges were ultimately happy to wager that tiny little bit more on a variety of maneuvers if they were all critical and fully committed.
Winning a CT is a huge moment for Jack and one hopes it gives him the confidence to see himself as a genuine contender in every event he enters. The extra litre in volume he’s added to his boards also seems to have given him the freedom to push his turns harder without the fear of catching a rail or losing flow. Critically, Australia now has at least a one-man an air-force who is willing to take on the squadron of Brazilian fliers.
In the women’s you had to feel for Malia Manuel who was a standout all event, combining deft wave selection with sublimely-timed snaps and carves. Her semi against Sally Fitzgibbon was one of the best heats of the year. Malia was surfing for her survival on tour, she was surfing for Andy (this felt genuine) and she was surfing in the name of style. At two am in the morning it was hard not to cheer when she got the buzzer beater against Sally Fitz’ who was safely on her way to the Rip Curl finals series.
Steph accounted for archrival Carissa in the battle of the superpowers in semi two, which will give her a psychological boost going into the final series where Carissa is ranked number one.
In the final Manuel was again on point, cuddling the pocket like an old friend and performing her moves with precision and good form. However, Steph wrangled the better waves and carved to victory on the board she refers to affectionately as the ‘Cash Cow’. Both surfers were on DHD’s so it was a win-win for Darren Handley, claiming one back against the Sharp Eye converts.
Manuel had to win the final to stay on the CT and given how well she surfed all event it somehow seemed like a slight miscarriage of justice to see her bumped from surfing’s upper echelon. Gilmore deserved the win, but you feel like, after that performance, Manuel still belongs on tour.
Results aside, Mexico most certainly delivered as a surfing spectacle. After a year of side-stepping COVID curve balls you kinda felt like the fans, the surfers and the WSL all deserved a little luck. Anyone who watched will be dreaming of rock-framed right point breaks for a couple of weeks. How many times did you see an empty one roll through and scream, “Just give me that little one!” While surfers who can travel will rush to Barra de la Cruz, the WSL heads to Trestles for the Rip Curl Finals Series. The WSL is playing in unchartered waters here. It’s hard not to be excited about the showdown, but as I’ve suggested a world title win by a number five ranked surfer could be the best and worst thing for surfing. If the tour finished today Carissa Moore and Gabriel Medina would be world champions.
Then again I guess it comes down to who you are cheering for. For Australians, it’s Morgan Cibilic and Steph Gilmore who sneak in as the backmarkers at number five and four respectively. I’m sure the Australian fans will take a world title win any way they can get it.