You don’t finish runner-up at J-Bay twice by mistake. Unless you’re Damien Hobgood, that is. Shades of Peter Sellars in Being There, as Damo somehow won heat after heat, despite being seemingly only dimly aware of his surroundings, what year it was, and perhaps even what his name is. A touch of Zen, too, as Hobgood planted himself firmly in the moment: each section another section, each heat simply another heat. Against Taylor Knox, Damo squared off and committed to every blast, blissfully unconcerned with making the wave. J-Bay rewarded his hubris – where others raced only to get left behind, Damo slowed it down, confident in the moment, and somehow made the wave. It was just enough to beat the stronger regularfoot. And that is a good summation for Damo’s J-Bay effort: he took down Chris Davidson, Bede Durbidge, Taylor Knox, and Dane Reynolds consecutively – all by less than a point. I dare you to find another instance of a surfer making an ASP final without ever definitely winning one heat. All the same, this result represents redemption for a former title contender who looked set to drop off tour towards the end of 2008.
Are the judges intimidated by Bobby Martinez? Or are they simply fans? It's hard to tell sometimes. Bobby Martinez surfs rights with the confidence of someone who's been told many a time that they surf backside better than everyone else. The hulking grace, the precision, the style… the marketed ghetto roots and street tattoos… Bobby is a surfer that commands almost fearful respect from the ASP machine. Judges respect his backside carve like they respect no other goofies' since Occy. For most backsiders, turns must be vertical to garner any serious points. An open-faced backside carve is now considered a set-up turn. But when Bobby does his version, he's consistently rewarded for it. Despite this, he's never been able to make a final backside - while he's won four events in lefts. Something doesn't add up here. Martinez gets an 8.5 off a few set-up turns and one doggie-door pit to down Dunn, but gets smoked by Parko. Actually that probably explains it all; Parko's frontside power swoops are even more well-respected than Bobby's backside grunters - call it a marketing bout of signature turns.
I’d like to believe that I’ve deservedly had zero-effect on how the general surf media covers the tour. Sometimes, however, I fear that’s not the case. Influence through imitation: it’s occasionally a terrifying thing. Reading ASP write-ups from the majors, I’m sometimes reminded of a trailer-trash heifer in a g-string: she thinks the look suits her, but it does not. Where once there was tepid marketing prose, I now see a grimy reflection of my own dubious work: controversy for the sake of controversy, wild claims, absolutism, indignation, nationalism and lame attempts at ironic humor.
Don't believe me? Recently SurfingMag referred to Taj as a surfer who has been "prematurely aged" by the tour, but who might prove to be "the Benjamin Button of the bunch." Sounds familiar...although that moniker is reserved for Drew Courtney on PostSurf. What does this have to do with Taj Burrow? Well, I’ve put Mr. Burrow in the discount bin labeled “Tapioca Fuckwit” many a time in the last few years. Simply put, he’s an easy and deserving target. In addition, fate has not exactly dealt the dolt a cruel hand – so what’s the harm in teeing off on him? A few years ago, when I started in on him, Burrow was the media’s darling. Now, he’s referred to as “The Cheyne Horan of the 2000s” in nearly every write-up. I almost feel sorry for the guy. He’s out of style - and I feel partly responsible for that. What doomsday proclamations should be made about Taj’s future after his loss to Sean Holmes in R2? Let’s leave it as this: Sean Holmes is a fucking pimp.
Speaking of bathwater gone cold: Bede has quietly screeched his freefall to a halt with his nails dug deep into the concrete on the side of the building. After two consecutive first heat losses, Bede punched the clock at high noon for a 5th in Brazil and 9th in South Africa. Durbidge racked up some high-scoring heats (17.50 at J-Bay, 16.90 Brazil) off the usual emoticon turns – meaning his surfing is lethal but lacks subtlety. It’s reminiscent of Jaws’ approach in the mid-70s Bond films. But just as Roger Moore will never be a favored Bond, Bede is unlikely to ever be a favored contender. At the best of times he attacks the wave like a Parko-Tribute Act on Angel Dust - but he’s never lost the wide-eyed stare of an Okie straight off the bus. Against Damo Hobgood, Bede fell decimals short – the difference was an end-section boost over the bricks that Bede couldn’t stick. Like Slater, Bede is finding that lucky wins are so 2008.
I feel for Dane. It’s professional courtesy - one false messiah tipping his hat to another. It’s a tough business, leading from on high, tacked on that cross. Yes, it’s a stretch to compare our predicaments, and it’s also a stretch to compare Dane’s predicament to that other guy’s. But my point is this: each time Dane rises to his feet, fans expect a miracle. Every turn must be a revelation, every air must revolutionize the sport. Dane is expected to lead a dying and battered breed to redemption, even though it's a forum he barely cares about and a job he’s not sure he wants any part of. Normal Americans can do what they want with their measly lives. But Dane Reynolds is the awkward voice of a generation, and therefore he must do what the fans want him to do. If he doesn’t do it, those fans have an idling bus ready to throw him under. Their entertainment is far more important than Dane’s personal well-being. At J-Bay, Dane dutifully stopped fidgeting and returned to the job of surfing savior. He delivered what the masses wanted – miracle barrels, miracle airs. Dane may not believe in himself, but the machine sure as hell believes in him – after all, there’s profit in it. That’s where we differ.