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6 Takeaways From the MEO Rip Curl Portugal Pro

The pack animal is on a heater again. Photo:  Thiago Diz//WSL


The Inertia

I was fortunate enough to be on the ground during the MEO Rip Curl Pro Portugal this weekend as the contest finished up in grand fashion. Of course Griffin Colapinto and Johanne Defay conquered in a contest complete with just about every atmospheric condition imaginable during the waiting period (aside from snow, thankfully). In this, the third event of the year, things started to take shape in the title run. Following, of course (unless you somehow missed the title) are six things I took away from Peniche.

Griffin Colapinto: Pack Animal
Griff Colapinto spent another week with his pack, of which he is the leading spirit animal. Wearing a matching Quiksilver tracksuit combo, part ’90s aerobics instructor, part Morzine ski instructor, he was eternally relaxed with his bros, both real and imagined. Each day, the pack would sprawl over the athlete zone sofas like a pride of lions stretching in the long morning heat of the Serengeti. Their collective languid ease, the sense of living their best lives, would only be pierced by the sound of the lunch bell and a sudden attack on the bain maries, or a heat. The transition from Griff was remarkable. He would switch into heat mode, signaled by a remarkable elasticated ankled warm-up, start his breathing and enter his zone. His Finals Day draw; deVault, Medina, Ewing couldn’t have been tougher. Yet his victories were never in doubt. He’d kept a rhythm, and a smile, through the tides, the shifting banks, the days off, the holds, the calls, the distractions and emerged with the Yellow Jersey.

Ewing and Medina: Lone Wolfs
While Griff and the San Clemente crew moved on mass (how the fuck they get dinner reservations I’ll never know), his rivals stalked quietly around the periphery. Ewing would set up camp with his Dad and coach Jake Paterson, tucked away from cameras and spend hours scoping the conditions. It became the norm for him to identify a just-appeared rip bowl right just as it came into being. Then he would suddenly shape-shift into the lineup hundreds of meters from his opponent.

The waves would be chosen to maximize his styled slice-and-dice surfing, and until the Final, it was a strategy that no one could blunt. He’s serious about the sport and about surfing. A world title is his whole world. Meanwhile, Gabriel Medina would come on site late, all snake hips, shark eyes and alligator teeth. All his warmup work had been done at the hotel and he’d trust his coach Andy King to have sussed all the conditions. Then after a freesurf, he’d get in, get out and get the job done. His surfing was explosive, coated with efficiency and I couldn’t see him losing, until he did. His first-round losses in Pipe and Hawaii mean now every heat counts. And that’s when he surfs best.

6 Takeaways From the MEO Rip Curl Portugal Pro Including Kelly's Future

Reunion Island’s favorite surfer. Defay has never finished outside the top 10 in her career. Photo: Damien Poullenot//World Surf League

Johanne Defay: Hiding in Plain Sight
In her 10th consecutive year on tour, apart from an injury-ravaged 2023, Johanne Defay has never finished outside the World’s Top 10. In 2021 and 2022 she made it to the WSL Finals and ended up just a few heats away from a world title. She has CT victories at Huntington Beach, Fiji, Uluwatu, Surf Ranch, G-Land and now Portugal. She has become one of the best all-round surfers the world has seen and one of its most criminally underrated. Add that throughout her career she has resided in Reunion Island, where surfing was banned (imagine an Olympic swimmer without a pool, or a skier without a slope), and a lack of financial and brand support early in her career, and her achievements only gather more polish. Moore and Gilmore’s absence and the rise of Simmers and Picklum have hoovered the headlines, but Defay remains a World Title contender. Maybe then the surf world will properly celebrate what has been a star hiding in plain sight.

Peniche I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down
“New York I Love You, But You’re Bringing Me Down,” sang LCD Sound System. You could swap the Big Apple, for the fish-ponged peninsula of Peniche, as a dire forecast blighted what is an important stop on tour. The incessant northerlies that usually blast here in March, (offshore in Supertubos) veered violently south, or southwest, or west. The ten days before the event pumped (and it’s cooking now), leaving contest organizers polishing a turd. And to be fair, they did an incredible job. The actual days of surfing were pretty high-octane and high-opportunity. Yet with a format that takes half the comp to remove an eighth of the field (it currently takes 22 heats to cull just six surfers across both the mens and womens divisions), combined with blocks of lay days meant nothing really caught fire. And yet pro surfing needs to back this location. It featured huge, knowledgeable, even fun crowds. It has promotors that can make the sport viable, and square, thick, unpredictable barrels. Or as LCD also sang, “New York, you’re perfect, please don’t change a thing.”

No windy beachbreak for Mr. Slater? Not when there are waves like this.

Do We Need To Talk About Kelly?
It didn’t help that as all the surfers, and fans waited it out, footage appeared of Kelly Slater surfing perfect Kirra, having pulled out of the Portugal event due to injury. “That’s where he deserves to be,” said Strider Waselewski on Insta. “Not grinding it out for a 6.5 in contestable surf. Personally I don’t want to watch him strain himself for a good score, rather see him surf timelessly in perfection like this.” A fair point, though it neglects to mention that Kelly was given a wildcard spot for 2024 at the expense of other surfers who would give their left testicles to be on the CT. I overheard one current CT competitor say that a heat against Kelly is now the easiest of the draw. Is Kelly doing more reputational harm by competing, or, in this case, not even bothering to compete?

Sometimes All You Need Is Palatal Expander
In 2023 Tyler Wright surfed, and won, more heats since 2017; the year she claimed her second world title. That was put down to her finally overcoming a post-viral syndrome that left her with “brain fog” and chronic fatigue. However, after overcoming that setback, she discovered she was semi-suffocating due to her small airways. Now, after having seven screws to fit a maxillary palatal expander – a device to widen the upper jaw and increase airflow, she’s back and fully fit. A final in Portugal removed the threat of the cut, and now healthy, married and settled, she is in her best place to win a third world title. “Since 2017 a lot has happened, with injury and trauma, and I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what I do and how I want to do it,” Wright said. “I sat down with my wife and my team, and to choose what I value the most and decided to invest in those areas. I’ve worked really, really hard to have a choice in what I do. I’ve chosen to work to a standard that I’ve set myself that’s not influenced by outcomes or other’s standards. I’m happy wherever that takes me.”

 
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