Interview by Derek Rielly (and Damien Fahrenfort)
When Kelly Slater opened class at the Pipeline on Saturday, December 14, in that eight-to-12-feet north-north-west swell, it became apparent, very quickly, that he wasn’t on his usual mini-sleds.
And so the first question you ask his long-time pal and advisor Stephen “Belly” Bell is, why the length, why the thickness?
“’Cause it was fucking massive,” he says.
Don’t you just love a slice of Australian ginger! Kelly is just as succinct.
“When there’s big barrels and all you gotta do is go straight to get big scores you might as well be able to catch ‘em,” he says.
The surfboard is a two-year-old 6’6” Semi-Pro that Kelly had in the shed. Two weeks previously the 6’3” he’d ridden at Sunset and another two boards, including a potential 6’8” for Pipe, were stolen from the side of his house.
And so on the final day of the Pipe Masters, in his house on the beachfront there, prepping boards for his quarter-final, watching Mick ride into his third world title, Kelly chose the 6’6” to ride with a couple of 6’7”s as backups.
And if you were watching the event, you would’ve seen Kelly make a drop on a squared-up 10-foot ledge that, perhaps, would’ve been impossible if he’d been on one of his shorter, more experimental boards.
“He’ll disagree but for a few years his boards were too short,” says Belly. “He went bigger, went back to length and it showed. That late drop in the final. Anything shorter and he wouldn’t have made it.”
And so the first question you ask his long-time pal and advisor Stephen “Belly” Bell is, why the length, why the thickness? “’Cause it was fucking massive,” he says. Don’t you just love a slice of Australian ginger! Kelly is just as succinct. “When there’s big barrels and all you gotta do is go straight to get big scores you might as well be able to catch ‘em,” he says.
Kelly ain’t one to disagree on that. “In that first heat I fell off on two lefts and I was riding a 5’11”. I got breathed off on those couple and if I’d had an extra couple of inches I would’ve made those waves.”
And Kelly says having four fins helped in the completion of the wave. “The quad helped a lot. The fins engaged a lot quicker than they would’ve on a thruster and transitioned more quickly at the bottom.”
What you really wanna ask about that final day, and those last few heats, was how Kelly would’ve performed, magic board or not, if the world title was still a chance. Would his performance have been as murderously thorough? As complete?
“I like to think I would’ve tried to keep the same head space but things would’ve been different,” says Kelly. “There would’ve been someone else in that semi-final against John John. John John, likely, would’ve won that heat as well but everything would’ve been different, the emotion, the focus. When I got into that final John John was real patient while I was more taking chances, trying to make things happen. It had gotten real slow and I figured the best bet was to get moving and catch a bunch of waves. But if the title was on the line I probably would’ve been looking at it different, maybe catching a little bit better waves to start the heat off. I like to think it would’ve gone the same but, who knows?”
And let’s reflect a little on the day. “When you’re that close to something in life and you don’t get it, it can be a tough pill to swallow.”
But, still, you gave cake. “Yeah,” says Kelly. “I didn’t leave anything on the table.”