When you think of the Brazilian storm, nobody mentions Miguel Pupo.
The eternal problem with good vibes is that they have to die.
Casual surfers may mourn the end of one set of swells but look forward to the next. It’s part of the jerky rhythm of life.
For competitors, there is no next time. Each day you paddle to a different arena. Often in surfing competitions, we face finals that have little to do with everything that preceded them.
Finals day in Teahupoo built momentum toward a decisive ending and a dignified finale, but the start felt a bit flat.
The canvas of the heroic artists of yesterday had disappeared. Good waves were still appearing, but they were of a different nature. Today was a matter of positioning, not courage.
And so the heroes fell in the quarters.
Matt McGilivray was convincingly defeated by Kauli Vaast.
Nathan Hedge looked to have kept up the pace from yesterday when he opened with an 8.83 but then couldn’t find a 2.17 to beat Ibelli, despite thirty minutes to do so.
“Those few millimeters and moments went my way yesterday,” Hedge said in his post-round interview, referring to a few waves he never rode that would have undoubtedly sealed the win.
Yesterday was not about millimeters or moments for Hedge, it was about willpower and experience.
Where does it go from here, I wondered? Seems like a weird question to ask a forty-three-year-old man, and I certainly don’t expect him to compete in more CT competitions, but I wonder how you got there.
Slater had the chance to defeat Yago Dora. Needing a seven-something in the final minutes, he found a wave that looked solid, but commentators were buzzing and wondering if it was enough. He came in well above the requirement at 8.10, and the event sponsor moved on.
Miguel Pupo beat Kanoa convincingly, but not yet with the panache that would ultimately lead him to overall victory.
As the swell continued to calm down and recede, a few women’s heats were contested.
When we returned, it was for the unlikely sight of local wildcard twenty-year-old Kauli Vaast decimating Kelly Slater in a way that might never have been done before.
It’s been talked about a lot in the comment sections, claiming that Slater choked, etc. This was absolutely not the case. What happened was Vaast racked up quick shot scores to string tubes on the inside ledge, while Slater waited for bigger outside waves that just weren’t there.
You could chalk it up to a tactical error, misreading the conditions, but in reality Slater was probably resigned to the fact that the swell was dying and with it his chances of winning. I’m sure he sat outside hoping for the waves that could allow him to work his magic.
In the end, he only caught one wave for a 1.17, just not to finish the round at zero, which he later admitted he considered.
Vaast, on the other hand, had five solid scores on the way to a 17.33 total.
Of note is his stance change barrel, a skill we saw him foreshadow yesterday. The judges didn’t really buy it or award the supreme difficulty, causing much consternation among experts and fans.
“I believe the future uses both directions,” Pete Mel later said.
In the comments section, Matt Warshaw took a more artistic view. “It’s the most Slater thing I’ve ever seen,” he noted.
In the second half, Miguel Pupo caught fire.
You’d never know by looking at his final total of 13.50, but in reality he weaved tube after tube inside, negotiating foam balls and drop sections here, planting his arms in his face to control his speed there. It was pure magic, and as good as anyone could have surfed the waves on offer.
For some reason, the judges seemed to be expecting something more. In my opinion, Miguel’s six highs were more like eights. His mastery of the conditions was absolutely on par with Vaast in the previous round.
Vaast and Pupo’s flow continued in a very entertaining final match with solid waves.
Both men were unquestionably the best surfers on the day, as evidenced by their exchange of barrel technique in the final.
There was loud channel support for both men. The local boy enjoyed a partisan crowd, of course, but Miggy Pupo seems to be an enduringly popular figure among his fellow pros, as does his brother, Sammy, who was delighted to attend his big brother’s first final in ten. years at the height of his own highly successful rookie season.
In the end, it was Pupo’s day. He had tapped into a rare rhythm that you might recognize from your own good sessions, in your own lean context, of course. It’s also something you can spot if you watch enough pro surfing.
It all finally came together for Miguel Pupo, and avid fans of pro surfing should rejoice.
He’s been on and off the Tour since 2011. Not only had he not won a competition until today, but his only previous semi-final appearances were Snapper in 2015 and Pipe this year. This is not an encouragement to continue to embark on a career as a professional surfer. Especially against more announced compatriots.
When we think of the Brazilian storm, nobody mentions Miguel Pupo.
He is of another mould, of course. He is less likely to explode above the lip with flailing arms and more likely to keep his rails set and his arms low. It’s an aesthetic that purists can admire, a blend of fundamentals and style.
He operated in a state of flux today, catching endless waves and seeming to do whatever he wanted, even stalking them first. It was a masterclass in tuberiding, fitness and flow. A relentless flurry that sent Ibelli catatonic and pushed Vaast harder than anyone.
And while the majority of today were slightly overhead, not perhaps the Teahupoo we revere, he can tackle the heaviest as well as anyone. He did it yesterday. He did it in Pipe to kick off the year.
Pupo, if you will believe him, is only thirty years old. On evidence from Hedge and Slater, he could be vying for comps in hollow waves for a decade or more to come.
How stubborn are you?
It is a quality that can only be admired. The ability to stick with a task or a goal until you achieve success, to keep picking yourself up, to keep fighting against any adversity.
I consider this to be one of my short-term strengths but my long-term flaws.
I am prone to daydreaming. Always have been. I like things intensely then I let them go. My life is filled with faded ghosts of things I once loved. Like a collection of eggs. Some I should have liked more, others much less.
Amid these flabby envelopes, I wander, searching for the next thing to love fiercely.
It’s an autism-like tendency that almost certainly would have been diagnosed if I had been born a decade or two later. I have my coping strategies, as destructive as they are, and I’m getting by.
In many ways, I don’t want to change. I feel waves of ecstasy in times you might never imagine, in situations I least expect. Paradise lost then found.
What would I be if I hadn’t chased away these feelings?
But I’m still looking for a higher high. My mind never rests. I tend to end things with a melodramatic flourish.
The ability to focus on what you perceive as your only true goal is to be revered. I reserve deep admiration for those who can find contentment, and eventual success, simply by snacking.
As you progress through life, you might begin to realize that stability is what brings the reward.
We could all do a lot worse than be a little more like Miguel Pupo or Nathan Hedge.