Photos by Nate Lawrence
A caramel ass, coat-hangered by a white g-string, eclipses the big screen replay of Taj’s first big scoring ride. I’m sitting on the beach at Snapper and the Brazilian cheeks block my view just as Taj comes off the bottom to obliterate a descending lip. The girl’s timing is poor but understandable. With the score yet to be read out, her boy Adriano is in a commanding position holding a 9.27 and yet to register a backup wave.
The judges take an age to dial the numbers. Taj’s trainer, Johnny Gannon, stands facing the lineup with his muscular arms folded. Adriano has no Johnny Gannon. He warmed up alone next to a camera tower before the heat, stopping only to slap down a bunch of micro-groms on his way to the keyhole.
He does have Luiz Campos, however, the man some call the godfather of Brazilian surfing. Among the child prodigies he’s discovered, Luiz counts Adriano, Jadson Andre and Brazilian national junior champ Caio Ibelli — all of whom are sharing the same apartment in Coolangatta now. As the judges deliberate, Luiz makes the sign of the cross twice on his face, kissing his fingers between each one. Taj gets a 9.63.
Adriano strikes next. He threads a barrel and emerges. Luiz shoos him down the line before holding his palms out to the ground in a sign of easy-does-it as Adriano snaps and cuts back. It’s a 9.67, giving the Brazilian a combined total 18.94.
If Taj is to win, he must set a new record for the highest total amount of points ever scored in an ASP heat. Clutch performances are not something the West Australian is renowned for. But this is no ordinary opponent. Adriano and Taj have history, especially when it comes to the Quik Pro, Gold Coast.
“For sure [there’s a rivalry]. He got me once at Kirra [in 2008]. That pissed me off. So I really wanted to beat him. He’s a competitive little prick…like me,” Taj would say after the heat.
With less than ten minutes remaining Taj jags a bomb and smashes it. Squeals pierce the beach with each of his turns. Again there is a delay before the scores are read and Luiz has his hands gripped shoulder-width apart on the steel pole at the edge of the competitor’s area. When it’s announced as a 9.43, putting Taj in the lead, he pushes back off the pole with his palms turned to the lord (or the judges’ tower). Jadson walks towards him mimicking the gesture. They both look at the replay on the monitor, pointing and asking questions of the box.
In desperation, Adriano tries a lofted, wide-stanced air reverse in the dying stages but comes off as he’s spinning out of it. Kelly, who is sitting on the headrest of a couch in the competitor’s area, turns to Jadson with a smile on his face and says something while mimicking the grab. Jadson, who is also smiling, shakes his head in disagreement between chews on a paper cup.
“It felt unbelievable. When you dig that deep and it pays off it’s pretty fucken’ rewarding,” says Taj following the win.
It wasn’t all bad for Brazil. The man who confined Taj to Round 5 (aka the second loser’s round) and booked himself direct passage to the quarterfinals was 20-year-old tour rookie Alejo Muniz. The young Brazilian bettered both Taj and Cooly Kid Joel Parkinson in Round 4, making it the second time in as many match-ups he’s beaten the two — the last coming in dramatic circumstances at the O’Neill World Cup of Surfing at Sunset in December to earn himself a spot on the 2011 World Tour.
“I couldn’t even sleep last night. I was all the night thinking about this heat. They are the best guys out here so I think it was pretty much luck,” said Alejo following the win. “I tried to bring the energy from Sunset.”
It meant Joel Parkinson was forced into a Round 5 showdown with world No. 2 Jordy Smith — a heat that would fray more nerves on the beach. After being smashed face-first into the shallow bank at the start of the heat, causing him to spit blood, Jordy caught a mid-size runner on the buzzer needing an unlikely 7.5.
He plied a series of prog-moves on the smaller nugget, finishing the wave in front of a friend on the beach.
“He was like, ‘Ah, I think you did it! But I’m not a judge.’ I was like, ‘Thanks, but I don’t know what that means,’” recalls Jordy.
“I was walking in and I saw my best friend running down with the biggest smile on his face and he gave me a hug. I knew then.”
Jordy will meet the Brazilian rookie, Alejo, in the quarterfinals. Dusty Payne, who progressed straight from Round 4, will confront Kelly. Brett Simpson, who racked up the best result of his World Tour career — courtesy of his patented forehand finner — will meet Taj, and Matt Wilkinson will take on Tiago Pires. —Jed Smith