"The gloves are off tomorrow." That was Martin Potter's response this evening after coming up short in the twin-fin division of the Four Seasons Maldives Surfing Champions Trophy.
That's a scary thought, considering it would seem the gloves are always off when it comes to Pottz and surfing heats. But here we are, at Sultan's Point in the Maldives, and 20-plus years past their prime and the competitive juices are still flowing like the low tide currenty through the channel.
In the first round of this unique little surf contest in the Indian Ocean Damien Hardman put it on rail and breezed to victory in the twin-fin division. But today, after the morning onshore winds settled down and the lineup cleaned up, round two, surfed on twin-fins, took to the water.
The smart money would have been on Tom Curren, who's made a career out of weird boards, but after busting out a fin on his leg and slicing himself up pretty good, he was relegated to a board he'd never ridden, which was obvious in his semifinal against Hardman. It just seemed like he was trying to figure the board out throughout the 30-minute heat, and by the time he had it dialed Hardman had the lead and priority. Rule number one when surfing against Hardman: never give him priority when you're behind the eight ball.
In the second semifinal Occy squared off against Potter. The heat could have gone either way in the playful, crumbly three-foot surf, but as Pottz pointed out after coming up short, "Surfing's a subjective sport, sometimes you get the score, sometimes you don't." He didn't, and thus, the gloves are off heading into the final day tomorrow.
The ever-calculating Hardman has won both the single-fin and the twin-fin divisions, which virtually assures him a spot in the grand final tomorrow. There's still the thruster round that will take place in the morning, which could very easily be won by anybody. Pottz and Occy, who swept every division last year, are tied for second, and Curren is trailing them by less than 100 points, so really it's anybody's game tomorrow.
The forecast looks promising with rising swell on tap the final day could be something to remember, but then the forecast looked promising today, and it wasn't all that great. Three to four-foot surf with some funk wind was the order of the day. But surf contests are surf contests, and nobody competing has any illusions that they should hold off until it's eight-foot and throbbing.
As for Occy, who's young son Jay who's accompanied him on the trip, he noted, "This is the happiest I've been in a long time." And one gets the feeling that for all of these guys, to have the opportunity to pull on a jersey and paddle out against former rivals means a lot. They're all fast friends now, "but the competitive juices start flowing again," noted Pottz.
Whatever happens, to watch Curren, Occy, Pottz and Hardman, who were all arch rivals at one point, paddle out and go head-to-head is something special.
"It's just a real treat to get to surf against and with these guys," said Curren. "We've all gotten older and have other responsibilities now, but yeah, when we're in the water competing against each other, it's been a lot of fun."
Tomorrow the contest will end with the thruster division and the grand final. And while Hardman is a lock for one spot in the final, the other spot should be hotly contested. Last year the president of the Maldives came out to watch it all go down, but coup attempts being what they are, he won't make it out this year, but the Defense Minister is expect to be on the Four Seasons luxury catamaran "Explorer" come finals time. So if you think surfing doesn't have political implications and that "the man" isn't watching, think again. He is.
Stay tuned, ESPN Surfing will be out on the water all day watching, talking and interviewing the various humans involved, and it should be nothing short of interesting. The Four Seasons has taken incredible care of the surfers, "makes us feel like rock stars again," noted Pottz. And with one more day to go, who knows what's going to unfold when an overall winner is crowned ... my guess is the drinks will be flowing and the rock and roll lifestyle of old will enjoy a brief resurrection ... even if hang overs hurt that much more when you're over 40.