Hey All,

On Friday night, just before 10:00 PM, with a half-finger of warm bourbon still in the tumbler, I finished the photo revamp on the EOS “Zinc Oxide” page—the last image to drop in place was the freckled Surf’s Up gremmie you see in the grid above—and people, that was it, the longest, hardest, most satisfying stretch of work of my life done at last, the images for the entire A–Z area of EOS refurbished and enlarged and de-scratched and color-corrected.

A huge step forward. EOS 2.0 is not quite ready but it is crowning.

I treated myself by spending seven hours yesterday embedded in the BeachGrit WSL Finals Day livestream comments section, where I am more or less handled gently, given my age and station—Aussie great Snow McAlister worked the same angle, see below—by the gathered BG surf-hooligans who pass as fans.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

I’m very much pro when it comes to pro surfing, as most of you know—and I state this upfront as it does in some fashion connect to what we do here with EOS and the Sunday Joint—not so much because I care about who is winning or losing, and certainly not because I give a shit about surfing being elevated somehow by dint of it being recognized as a “sport” (an Olympic sport, in fact), but for the simple reason that it gives us something to talk about. If we talk about Fred Hemmings’ world title win in 1968, for example, we’re that much closer to talking about Wayne Lynch not winning in 1968, even though he was a mile ahead of everybody else in the contest. That kind of thing. Surf contests are occasionally worthy in and of themselves, as discrete events, but mostly they just get us to another, juicier topic, and I’m all for keeping the conversation rolling.

Anyway, a couple of thoughts on what happened and did not happen at Lower Trestles.

There were some red-hot moments yesterday, but we most certainly did not get a full seven hours’ worth of exciting premium-grade surfing. We never will, as long as the Finals Day venue is Trestles. But hold that thought and let’s pause for a moment to consider the Finals Day concept itself, because I’ve very much gone back and forth on this. The Finals Day format, as most of you already know, is basically the idea of playoffs, which we didn’t used to have. A one-day event, five surfers on the men’s side, five on the women’s side; the top-ranked surfers from what I guess we now have to call the “regular season.” On Finals Day, the #5 seed goes against #4, the winner takes on #3, and so on up the ladder until the #1 seed meets whoever comes out on top from the previous three heats. That’s the new format. Or not “new,” exactly, it’s been in place for three years. Easy to understand. Every heat (except the final pairing, which is best two out of three) is very much do-or-die, and it makes for great viewing.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Encyclopedia of Surfing

In the old format, the familiar format, it having been in place for 40-plus years—but let’s not forget the IPS (now the WSL) more or less superseded the one-event championship format from the ’60s and early ’70s, which was pretty close to the current Finals Day format; damn, it is confusing—the champion was the surfer who collected the most points throughout the year, like Formula One racing

There is a downside to the new Finals Day system. A big downside, some might argue. Carissa Moore would have two more world title trophies on the mantle if we were still using the old format, and it is hard to disagree with the idea that surfing your way to a massive points lead over the course of the year and then having the title decided (and lost) in a two-out-of-three match held in low-wattage C-plus waves is bullshit. On the other hand, we’re talking professional sports here, where the whole idea is to entertain fans, and while our entertainment depends at least partly on fairness, the fact is the better athlete or the better team often loses. All the time, in fact. It happens in the Olympics, the Super Bowl, at Wimbledon, on and on. Under the old format, the pro surfing game—and the more you think of it, and yes discount it, as a game, the better; as opposed to regular before-work after-school day-in-the-life surfing, that is—favored the better rounded, most consistent competitors. It still does, to some degree, as you have to work through the season to get a final five slot in order to have a shot at the title. But now, in addition, you have to monster-up and crush whoever comes at you on Finals Day, with no safety net of already-earned points below you, just 35 minutes to beat the other person in the lineup. The amount of pressure involved here is no doubt excruciating. Some thrive on it. Others do not, Carissa first and foremost—she’s been in the final heat on Finals Day three years in a row, and even the year she won (2021) she was not on her game.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Encyclopedia of Surfing

So you could argue that is unfair. I certainly have. But I’ve come around. Finals Day is designed for the spectator, the fan, not the pros themselves. It creates a guaranteed entertaining day of viewing. In 40-plus years under the old system, going back to 1976, how many down-to-the-wire nailbiting world title showdowns did we have? Ten or 15, I’m guessing, men and women combined, which leaves a lot of years—most years; a big majority of years—when the last contest of the season was by and large just a matter of reshuffling the numbers a bit to get the finals ratings sorted out. Not boring, but not dependably exciting. The new Finals Day format is always exciting, and let’s give credit where it is due—thank you WSL, and thank you Erik Logan, you did us a solid there. Finals Day is the way to go.

In theory, anyway. Not in practice. Because the WSL never, ever does not step on its own dick, and holding Finals Day at Lower Trestles three years running is so aggressively and spectacularly wrong-headed that I would at this point vote to go back to the old format, with Pipeline as the last event of the year and the champ picked by aggregate points over the season.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Trestles for the first year? Okay, why not, make it easy on everybody I guess. Trestles three years in a row? That’s basically an insult, a fuck-you to the pros, to the fans, to the game. Finals Day belongs in Indonesia or the South Pacific or maybe Hawaii if you really need to baby out and stay close to home. It does not belong anywhere near Lower Trestles, and keeping it there year after year turns this thing into a low-stakes hostage situation. As fans, we’ve been frog-marched to Lowers. The pros, I’m guessing—apart from Toledo who lives in nearby San Clemente, is scared of big tropical reef waves, and knows Lowers better than you know the opening lines of your favorite Taylor Swift song—hate Lowers Finals Day even more than we do.

Lots of other minor complaints about what happened yesterday, but seeing as we’re running out of space let’s instead throw huzzahs to Toledo and Ethan Ewing’s opening heat, which was a masterful pas de deux of high-performance surfing, and also to Caroline Marks who opened the day by putting much daylight between herself and Tyler Wright and kept her distance and pace during two heats against Carissa, and the goofyfooted pride of Melbourne Beach, FL, will wear the crown well.

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Encyclopedia of Surfing

Read JP Currie’s excellent Finals Day wrap-up here, and in fact I will steal his beautiful denouement, which has to do with the ongoing and very lively debate on the merits and demerits of the performances turned in by Toledo and an emphatically healed Ethan Ewing.

Some of you will be quietly seething tonight. All you style puritans who believe, truly believe, that you remember one or two turns which felt like Ethan Ewing’s look. All of you would prefer him as your world champion. Not because he is clearly and objectively better than Filipe Toledo, but because he’s more like you. Toledo’s surfing, on the other hand, is so far beyond the pale that we can’t possibly know what it’s like to venture there.

And more of you still will have deep, aching reservations about a double world champion with a mortal fear of heavy waves, especially left-handed tropical reefs. I love that I can say that to you without the need to explain it. Because you’ve all witnessed it with me. And I could try and explain it to someone outside surfing and they wouldn’t really get it. They wouldn’t really understand what it means to have a world champ who bears the weight of an asterisk from all those who know and admire him.

So I say we should celebrate this little anomaly. It’s just another weird little quirk of this game to enjoy. An in-joke in a fringe sport, but one that you understand.

Because it’s your sport. Your odd little hobby that mainstream audiences will never appreciate.

Laugh at it. Rage at it. Love it.

And thanks for laughing, raging and loving along with me.

And thank YOU, JP, for not suing me for plagiarism.


[Photo grid, clockwise from top left: Wayne Lynch, 1968 world championships, Puerto Rico; 2023 world champ Filipe Toledo, photo by Pat Nolan; 2023 world champ Caroline Marks. photo by Caity Myers; Ethan Ewing; Finals Day crowd; Surf’s Up handbill, 1961. Snow McAlister. Screengrabs from WSL 2023 Finals Day highlight reel: Caity Simmers, beach crowd, Griffin Colapinto fans, Filipe Toledo, Trestles lineup, Toledo, Marks]