Drug Aware Margaret River Pro

Going Small to Go Big

The Drug Aware Margaret River Pro is on this week over in West Australia, the second stop on the WSL world tour. And to be honest, the main venue at Margaret River Main Break is not the most exciting wave in the world to surf or watch. The backup venues of North Point and The Box are exciting—North Point is the ultimate barrel to boost setup, and The Box is one of the original slabs—but we usually don’t get more than a day of competition at the backups, which is why this event is rumored to be canceled after this season. Main Break is simply not that good of a wave—it’s slopey and fat, basically a big series of cutbacks with an air section at the end of the right if you are lucky (and crazy enough to huck one into the bricks). And unfortunately, it’s where we end up running 90% of our heats at the Margaret River Pro. No wonder guys like Kelly Slater complain about the event every year.

But once in awhile, Main Break brings the drama. And this past weekend was one of those rare instances. Main Break can handle really big swell—Margaret River is sort of the North Shore of Australia—and although it wasn’t XXL this past weekend, it was solid 10 to 12 foot (Hawaiian scale) on the sets, which is nothing to turn your nose up at. For most people (well, most people who are even interested in waves that big), conditions like that would call for rhino chasers in the 9'0" to 10'0" range, especially at a deep-water spot like Main Break. But this weekend, when the world’s best paddled out, they did so on boards in the 6'3" to 6'6" range—and those were big boards for them!

A decade ago, standard shortboards were ridden at around 6'0", step-ups were 6'3" to 6'6", and anything bigger than that was either a minigun or a gun (or longboard or funboard, but that’s a different story for a different set of conditions). But today’s pros are riding shortboards that are around 5'8" on average. Boards in the 6'0" to 6'2" range are now considered step-ups, and the boards that were being ridden at Margaret River the other day were miniguns. This transition to smaller boards has been driven both by an ever-increasing talent level, plus the fact that we have learned to hide more volume in our shortboards, thus making it possible to paddle efficiently on smaller, more maneuverable boards. But the how is only half of the equation. What’s equally important is the why. Why choose to ride a 6'6" in waves with faces that are 20 to 25 feet high? For the answer to that question, you need look no farther than John John Florence’s performance in rounds three and four of this year’s event.

As we mentioned earlier, Margaret River is usually a pretty boring wave to surf and watch. Even when it’s big, it’s still pretty hard to find a section worth hitting—especially if you are on a big, unwieldy board. Most of the pros surfing Main Break this weekend looked like they were moving in slow motion, milking bottom turns between uninspired cutbacks and the occasional layback jam. It was safety surfing in big, boring waves—the last thing any of us want to see in a world tour event. But John John was surfing on another level. These were waves that would see most people straight-lining it to the channel, but he was throwing grab-rail power hooks.