I mistook Adrian Buchan, currently ranked number seven in the world, for an accountant in the hotel this morning. He was with his wife and two- and-a-half year old. He and his wife are, well petite, and rather unassuming, sweet even. When I watched him interact with his daughter, he seemed like a slightly disheveled Mr. Rogers. I was trying to guess if he did something with the tour when the women who runs the hotel said to his wife, “You’re up early.” It was approaching 8 am but still dawn outside. His wife said “Well, my husband has to be. He’s waiting to see if he’ll compete today.”
In the water Adrian turns into Ace, a killer. His competitors in the heat are going for flashy aerials in front of the judges, further up the beach. Ace’s surfing is quick, vertical, but devoid of flash. While the announcer is saying “almost” about his competitor’s circus trick gone wrong, Ace takes four strokes, sets his rail through a slightly inverted drop into a deep green Atlantic barrel, several feet overhead. He disappears. He comes out cleanly onto the face, grabs his rail to turn into a quick roundhouse figure-eight cutback, rebounds off the lip back onto the face, and cuts out. The crowd in front of the French cafe on the dune “Oooohs.” Fifteen minutes later, he does it again, killing the hope of his competitors to take the heat. Because his surfing lacks flash, he’s almost never in the top three in the world. But he’s always hovering around the top five. And for a pro surfer of his consistency, he gets almost no attention. When a John John Florence or Gabriel Medina get out of the water, they’re mobbed. When Ace gets out, after just winning the heat, no one says a word to him. I’m waxing my board, look at him, and ask if he’d mind taking a look at my taxes. He looks at me as if he just stepped in a mound of Great Pyrenees poop. “What Mate?” “Nice heat,” I say.
On Saturday, I stop by Hotel 202 again for a computer charger. Adrian Buchan is having a serious meeting with a dignified grey-haired man in the corner. The pool, shimmering outside. Ethereal evening light. Adrian is speaking louder than I’ve heard him all week. He’s using his hands. He lost today. They’re talking global managers and percentages. It sounds entrepreneurial and like he knows how to negotiate and stick up for himself and get paid in a way I always become too uncomfortable to do for myself. He’s a professional business man now, not just a surfer. Ace is in full-on Adrian mode.
That night I see him stumbling through the beer fest next to the house I rented. He’s wasted with Wilco. They both lost today and are blowing off steam. He’s speaking drunken bro. He’s back to being Ace again. And if it were me, at his age, I’d be too far gone to stand.