Hot, dusty and firing. The heat was on in landlocked Lemoore, California for the final day of the inaugural WSL Founders’ Cup and it was Team World making everyone sweat.
“It’s incredible. This collection of talent from around the world is really inspiring,” said team captain Jordy Smith after his squad celebrated a much-deserved win. “This has been a really amazing event. Everyone’s been ripping so hard and pushing each other to the limit, and to come away with the win for the team, it’s really special.”
At the start of the final day of the first official contest held at the Kelly Slater Surf Ranch, all five of the WSL’s national teams were in contention. But it was the consortium of international characters, consisting of Tahiti’s Michel Bourez, New Zealand's Paige Harib, Japan's Kanoa Igarashi and South Africa’s Bianca Buitendag and Smith, that wanted it the most.
When the preliminary rounds were finished Team World found themselves knotted in a tie with the talent-rich Aussies. Forcing a first-ever surf-off to break the tie. And in a huge, come-from-behind upset, the World crew dug deep and were able to best Team Australia, earning themselves the third (and final) spot in the finals.
“We battled. The surf-off was nuts,” reveled Smith.
The final set was set. Team World Team would face off against Brazil and the U.S., who were both looking like the strong contenders to battle it out for first.
The action kicked into overdrive straight away. Throwing down the gauntlet immediately, Brazilian world champ Gabriel Medina opened up by locking in two nine-point rides. And Bourez lacked an answer.
American, and two-time world champ, John John Florence seemed completely out of sorts, falling on both of his scoring rides.
“I’m just using this as practice,” said Florence, shrugging off the wipeouts.
Igarashi notched the first big score for Team World. Edging out Brazilian world champ Adriano De Souza and California golden boy Kolohe Andino, the Japanese surfer got his team rolling. Smith promptly carried them to the promised land.
In the final heat of the day, Smith went ham on a right-hander that he rode the length of the 700-yard pool; laying down potent combinations, deep tubes and a legit alley-oop to seal the deal. All week Smith was one of the most inform surfers, and with the pressure on, he delivered a near-perfect 9.27 ride.
In the last wave of the day, Kelly Slater had a chance to give the Americans a shot at the title.
Needing to better Smith’s score, he teed off on a series of classic “Kelly turns” before locking into a couple of long barrels. Coming out of the second barrel he attempted an alley-oop, but blew the landing. The judges gave him a 9.0 for the effort … just short of the score he needed.
It’s been a remarkable couple of days California’s Central Valley. History was made as this new man-made wave technology was introduced to the public for the first time.
There’s been no shortage of video footage to come from the pool since it was first revealed a few years ago, but this was the first time fans got a chance to experience the facility first-hand.
Where we go from here is anybody’s guess, but one thing that’s certain: Whether you’re going left or right, this wave is ridiculously good.
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