THE REAL STORY BEHIND XGAMES 11 How did the East manage a 3-peat without Slater? Read on…
The East Coast team celebrates their victory
“Yeah, Cory (Lopez) had him back-pedaling”–that’s what Pete “the Ox” Mendia has to say, of the conversation Lopez, himself and a handful of East teammates had with NSL commissioner Brad Gerlach yesterday. Here’s the scenario: Friday, current world number one surfer Kelly Slater pulls out of the GAME, via e-mail request due to falling sick with a sinus infection (or in Bali, filming with Taylor Steele). But Gerlach is unwilling to allow a substitution surfer to take his place (while, the West already have Nor Cal charger Peter Mel subbed in for Timmy Curran, out sick two weeks prior to the event). The East are forced to battle with only nine dudes to the West Coast’s ten (meaning they’ve got one less backup on the bench).
“I’m open to everyone’s opinions,” Gerlach commented, “This is a house we’re all building together. If we’re going to have ESPN putting a half a million dollars into this, we’ve got to set a precedent–we’ve got to show our surfers are going to show up, and are passionate about this. Kelly will stay my friend, but, literally, we received his e-mail this Friday, that stated no legitimate excuse for missing this GAME. That was the difference between the rulings we made with Timmy and Kelly.” The new deadline rule for roster changes will be one month before a GAME.
Still, under the tropical sun (85 degrees at 8am) these East Coast tube shooters, such as Mendia, fresh in from a 9-point left side drain, aren’t looking too hampered by any apparent disadvantages.
“We brought up the sub issue once, then dropped it,” says Mendia. “Because it’s not even an issue–we’re gonna smoke these guys!”
And, considering what the East’s wildcard, Hawaiian Pipe Master, Jamie O’ Brien, did in the same quarter; both poi-fed thick and human fruit roll-up flying though a golden almond backhand piggy, well behind the foamball to exit out the doggie-door, you begin to wonder: Is the Westside about to feel that funny losing feeling. Again?
The coin toss is another problem. For the past two years, not only has the East punished the West in the V. category, but they’ve won the traditional coin toss that decides who surfs first. This time the West wins the toss, and it proves to be their downfall. Or, one of them.
Great surfing from the likes of Taylor Knox kept the West Coast team within striking range throughout the event.
After this, the usually reserved Rob Machado, wave-starved on the “Far Bar” lefts, is forced to power fist claim a solid backhand pit service worth 7, that eventually puts his team back in the mix. Veterans Pat O’ Connell and Shane Beschen dance through a couple of swirling tunnels, but their team doggs–Dane Reynolds, Chris Ward and Kalani Robb–are mostly deprived of any precious post-pipe daylight.
The East feel an opportunity and click the focus more in synch. “Visualize. Visualize!” admonishes head coach Matt Kechele to his third quarter squad of Knowlton, Morcom, D. Hobgood and S. Lopez on, like troops to do battle against some very lippy, malicious even, surfboard eating olas. Fort Lauderdale’s Baron Knowlton is especially keen, grabbing 7-points for a serious slot machine followed by a power broker front side carve. It’s pretty sick: he’s pocketing 5 Gs, plus a lot of people in the crowd are tripping out, like, “Who is this guy–where’d the East find him?” as if coach Kechele had scouted him from some backwood swamp, had his mullet shaved to monk-bald devotion, and sent him out for first blood. But, let it be known, the Baron is an east coast legend: simply put, he’s surfed Puerto at 20’. Backs!
No matter, going into the third quarter in no small peril of a beat down, lagging behind by a deficit of thirty points, the West comes back with the venom. Machado kicks off with a long leftie soul patrol for 7-points. Then, Chris Ward, like a master trucker hyped on jerkey and Kodiak slicks the gears on a major right to stomp the brakes into sweetness. Pat O’ Connell stands tall in a jolly gem cut corner, flying way out with the biggest smile. Soft spoken Kieran Horn of Santa Cruz handles a late drop to double sucking sizzler to monster truck floater–AND SUDDENLY THE WEST IS DOWN BY ONLY TWO.
“We knew we needed a lot, so we went out with the simplest strategy,” says O’ Connell– “Look at these waves, then look at your teammate and say, ’Man, let’s go have some fun!’”
East Coast charger Todd Morcom
The West need a 30-point 4th to come back for the prize. Taylor Knox finds the “cleanest” wave of the day, clocking in for a true four seconds and the days first 9.5. The crowd goes nutty. The East bench gets mad, claiming the wave was good, but too easy for such a HUGE score. Before they can spew more, Shane Beschen is down the beach speeding through a big right. 7.25! Man, this beach is already hot enough. This leads the East to abusive heckling of the judges. Any lame closeout Dane Reynolds or Kalani Robb move for is immediately met by the cheers of: “Oh, oh, that’s definitely an 8!” Dane, sitting on a 2.5 from his previous quarter is looking for anything that moves; with the mid-day wind coming on, this is just about time for one of his patented mind-bending aerials. At two minutes remaining a stack of set waves approach. Kalani finds a nugget for a nice tube and 6.25; this means Dane only needs a 5.75 to bring home the bacon. But, wait–up the beach–sub, Che Stang is in position for a sickly left, and he starts to paddle. Coach Parsons must make the call. Sub him in, or wait on Reynolds to bring the house down? Stang drops in and is gone. 1, 2, 3–and, he’s out! It could’ve been the score, but it won’t be. Parsons goes back to nail biting. Come on Dane, you little hero! One minute remaining. Thirty seconds. Ten. Done. No. Yes! It’s the beauty of the GAME.
West Coaster Rob Machado
The East boys are going crazy, splashing champaign on the crazed crowd all begging for t-shirts. Jamie O’ Brien wins the MVP.
“No Slater, nine guys, we get ripped on scores and we still win!” hoots Damien Hobgood.
Gangster rap is cranking over the loudspeakers as the Eastsiders show off the gold. “Hey, what can we say–the east coast is better than the west.”
Once again the East is best.
The West boys walk off a little sour. They did try valiantly, but as Andre 3000 once said, it’s also true of surfing: “Yeah, boy, you’re only funky as your last cut.”
ESPN X GAMES 11 SURFING THE GAME TM
Final Results from Puerto Escondido, Mexico, August 2, 2005
West: 96.50ROSTERS:TEAM EAST COAST:
Quarters 1 and 3
Baron Knowlton, Todd Morcom, Damien Hobgood, Shea Lopez
Quarters 2 and 4
CJ Hobgood, Cory Lopez, Jamie O’Brien, Pete MendiaTEAM WEST COAST:
Quarters 1 and 3
Rob Machado, Chris Ward, Pat O’Connell, Kieran Horn
Quarters 2 and 4
Dane Reynolds, Taylor Knox, Kalani Robb, Shane Beschen
East Coaster for a day: Wildcard Jamie O’Brien