I went down to the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach over the Easter weekend. Having not been to the event for about 10 years, it was great to be there. The most striking thing was the realisation that I hadn't seen surfers of this level in the flesh for a long time and what I'd been watching on the TV or internet had desensitized my amazement of what they do on a wave.
The first round 4 heat I saw had 2 time world champion Mick Fanning in it and what a treat that was. I got down to the beach at sea level to be as close as possible to the action and Mick took off on a wave, the section building in front of him in "the bowl". The fastest surfer on tour - "white lightening" they call him - hit the lip with such speed, precision and commitment, it was stunning. A lifelong surfer and observer of the pros, my appreciation of all of them was re-instated at that moment. Mick was on fire and continued to be the form surfer of the event. Speed, power, commitment all in the critical spots of the waves.
Next was the young South African Jordy Smith. A big kid with a big repertoire, he struggled to get the waves he needed in his semi-final against Mick. Eventually he got a solid sized one and milked it for what it offered him. The bit that won me over though, was when he ran that wave into the Bells shorey. The wave built to a 5-6 foot close out, and Jordy, badly trailing Mick on the scoreboard, did what many other on the day didn't and attacked it. A huge lip hit with a 6 foot free fall to land it, was massive. I looked at my brother and it was hard to believe what we'd just seen. Skill and courage within the context of needing to take that risk to win the heat. The relationship between skill and courage has always interested me.
Kelly Slater surfed in the expression session between the semis and the final. He was out there with other legends like Martin Potter, Simon Anderson, Damian Hardman, Layne Beachley and the master, Tom Curren. Slater took off on a well overhead sized wave that Layne was already riding, ran horizontally fast through the bowl and launched. We've all seen what he can do and does. He's been a major innovator in changing the historical course of surfing performance. My brother Mitchell said before the heat, "Slater will do something outrageous here." He launched a massive frontside 360 alley-oop air, at least 4 foot above the wave, landing with the lip and flying out of it continuing the rest of the wave. Layne was riding a few metres away and more importantly Mick and Joel Parkinson, waiting in the water for the start of their final, also witnessed it at close proximity, the mind games between world title contenders in action for all to see.
Joel got the first good wave in the final, maintaining his mometum from the semi where he was in sync with the waves he needed to score well. While his surfing was really good, he didn't seem to be at the level that Mick had been through the event. To be fair, with the rapid rising tide, some of the waves he had didn't allow much more than smooth cutbacks and top turns. Nevertheless, Joel got the bigger, better ones in the final and had Mick on the ropes. Mick just couldn't get the waves he needed to show his white-hot form. With 10 seconds to go Joel took off on a good one. Pulling into a barrel through the bowl as the siren sounded, forcing his way out of the shutdown, ending the ride with some big hacks and a big closeout reo in the shorey was rewarded with a perfect 10 and it was all over. It was easy to see Joel relax on the last wave, take bigger risks and generally surf to higher level, in the knowledge he had the heat won. Perceived pressure, in relation whether our performance matters, is an amazing thing.
So what is the point of this post?
Well, If you like or love something, go and see it live. Be it sport, art or music or whatever. Get out there! Or even better, go and do it for yourself for real. Live it! Use the combination of first hand experience and inspiration from watching others, to provide momentum, and keep you loving it. The reading about it and watching it on a screen are pale comparisions.