Apparently, this is what disruption looks like.
We're now midway through event number two of the WSL season, and already the ratings upheaval on the CT is real and dramatic, thanks largely to a fresh crop of rookies and equally talented replacements who are not only stunning the top seeds, but opening the door for those lying in wait.
Monday was a short one at the Rip Curl Pro. Only six heats were run, but four of them were upsets.
It was business as usual early, with Mick Fanning behaving very much like a four-time bell-ringer with eyes on number five. He bagged a pair of 8's during his match with Dusty Payne, and cruised into Round Four with his foot firmly on the accelerator. The heat looked like any other from the last few years.
Jordy Smith was up next, and while he's also just getting warm, this is bigger news since his body was in the shop for the bulk of last year. His confidence is likely to grow with each opportunity to turn. In his heat against Kai Otton, Jordy nabbed a medium sized wave with a wall midway through the heat and unloaded three back-to-back power hooks in the pocket. The display earned him an 8.73, the single highest score of the day, and a trip to the next round.
The next match is when the earth started to rattle, as three-time bell-ringer Joel Parkinson was in a highly anticipated match with rookie Conner Coffin. Coffin, like much of this year's rookie crop, appears more battle hardened than those of previous years. With the current talent level on the QS, and the commitment involved to thread the qualification needle, by the time these guys graduate they're not easily intimidated.
This pairing was viewed as a clash of of the hard carvers. And while conditions weren't conducive to extended rail holds, Parko was his usual elegant self, linking moves with ease. Conner, meanwhile, pressed hard aggressively every time the opportunity presented itself. But the revealing moment in this heat was the end, when Conner sat patiently with priority, still needing a solid score. Parko sat right on him, trying to lure him into a bad decision, but Coffin didn't budge. With 1:50 to go, needing a 6.46, he stroked into a medium size set and went to work. The damage he did earned him an 8.17, and a trip to Round Four. This was the first big shock of the day.
Next up was Kelly Slater and Michel Bourez. Slater stayed busier this time around, hunting for anything with a wall, but once again, he only found two scores. A fall on the end of his first scoring wave capped it at a 5.33, and that proved the difference. Bourez, one of many in the lying in wait category these days, made Slater pay. Shock two.
John John Florence knew he had a tough draw with Caio Ibelli coming in. Ibelli, last year's QS champion, is from the same hometown as Adriano de Souza, and he too got to where he is with a lot of hard work and a well-rounded approach. Both surfers opened strong, earning identical 7.67's on their first scoring rides. The debate (which is still going) is whether John's opening ride was worthy of more.
Florence's vicious layback hack was one of the best of the event. Yet he only managed a few foam climbs afterward. Caio had a nice layback hack of his own on a bigger wave, and backed it up with two swooping carves. John John was more aggressive. Caio was more productive. The judges called it even. It was the same story on the next exchange, but Caio had a good straight up out the back, and John John's frothy wave didn't allow him to get vertical. Shock three.
By this point Gabriel Medina should have seen the danger. He was dealing with rookie Davey Cathels in the final heat of the day. Cathels is no stranger to Bells. He gathered a ton of experience there during his days as a Pro Junior. He attacked surgically, avoiding the tricky targets, and capitalizing on the clean ones with vertical hits, and nice rail work. He grabbed a lead, and held it while Medina fell repeatedly, even losing his board at one point to a faulty leash. As time wound down Cathels put his chess skills to work, owning the lineup with priority, and using it to his advantage. Shock four.
Cathels and Ibelli will now join Michel Bourez in Round Four. The round will open with Italo Ferriera facing Nat Young and Julian Wilson. Matt Wilkinson, Wiggoly Dantas and Mason Ho will have at it, but the superheat of the round will be Mick Fanning, Jordy Smith and Conner Coffin.