Last time I wrote one of these – before Trestles – I was the wrongest of a very wrong bunch of pontificating pencil pushers.
I backed John John Florence, which looked like a solid bet until the swell called it quits after round one. Opining that an eventual 33rd place finisher would walk away with the event either makes me a shameless hack or it means that surfing is nearly impossible to predict. Either way, there is no ignominy quite like that of the armchair pundit whose claims to privileged insight are irrefutably contradicted by the evidence.
After licking my wounds for one competition, I’m back to offer more unsolicited, half-informed opinion, despite my growing suspicion that predicting the winner of a surf comp before it starts is like trying to judge a roulette wheel before it spins. At this point, it would take a braver person than me to bet against either Mick Fanning or Kelly Slater in the final. They’ve both won here in the last four years, and they are both within sniffing distance of a world title. Between the two, Slater looks better to me to win this event. Like Tiger Woods in his prime, he is more dangerous when he’s trailing into the back nine and I would expect Fanning to be that much tighter because of it. Some might argue that he has “momentum” from his win in France, but if I had to choose between the forward drive of winning momentum and the jitter inducing drag of world title nerves, I would put my (already depleted) money on the latter.
But a bet on Slater is a boring one, even if his surfing remains one of the least boring things on tour. To the dark horses: You can’t ignore that both of last year’s finalists in Peniche, Julian Wilson and Gabriel Medina, had strong runs in France. Both of these surfers have the arsenal of tube riding and above the lip tricks to win in any conditions that Portugal can provide. In fact, given their wider stances and progressive styles, they are looking more and more like each others’ doppelgängers every season. An added bonus is that neither has the pressure of a world title looming over them. I’ll give the edge to Medina given what I assume, by now, is a burning desire for revenge after nearly a calendar year of questionable calls that have mostly gone against him, with one notable exception in Brazil. But as we saw last year, if it comes down to a Wilson/Medina showdown, even the surfing could be a sideshow to what goes on in the inscrutable minds of the judges.