Stab Magazine | Breaking down Kelly Slater's 540, with Dane Reynolds and more
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Breaking down Kelly Slater’s 540, with Dane Reynolds and more

If you surf, if you enjoy even a modicum of performance, then you probably couldn’t believe it when two days ago, Kelly Slater – ever the hypebeast – pushed surfing forward yet again with the world’s first frontside 540. The internet has been in appropriate meltdown since, and understandably; Surfing’s most inconvenient truth is that […]

news // Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

If you surf, if you enjoy even a modicum of performance, then you probably couldn’t believe it when two days ago, Kelly Slater – ever the hypebeast – pushed surfing forward yet again with the world’s first frontside 540. The internet has been in appropriate meltdown since, and understandably; Surfing’s most inconvenient truth is that Kelly Slater is 42 years old and still doing things that not even the freshest-knee’d tour sophomores or professional freesurfers whose lives are dedicated to being the first to land things like this can do.

We’re always horny for the first stomp of a chased manoeuvre, especially when it’s one we’ve been so anxious to see and been tracking so closely.

So, let’s back up a little. In 2013, Stab produced a series called Fly Me to the Moon and one particular episode was around the Race for the 540. We focused on the Alley Oop double spin that Albee Layer pioneered in Maui two years ago (October 2012). But we then discussed the possibility of doing a frontside full rotation air and continuing through another 180 before landing into the revert: A frontside 540.

Chippa Wilson, probably the world’s most technical aerialist, said: “I feel like the frontside 540 will change the game and that’s gonna happen pretty soon.” Chip and Craig Anderson were pinned as two of the gents most likely to make the trick, and their filmed attempts made a good case. Ando closed with his suggestions of who would make it: “Someone will do one really soon. I’ll put…yeah… I’ll put money on it. Chippa or even someone like Eric Geiselman.”

Skip yourself to around 2:05 in:

We called Craig following Kelly’s 540 for some updated thoughts. “I don’t think I was anywhere near it,” he says. “I was surfing the other day and the wind was howling into the lefts and I tried a really big air reverse. I over rotated and landed in the top of the wave and without landing on the flats I was never really that close. Two days later, Kelly stomped his one.

“I thought Chippa for sure would be the first. I’ve seen him land four or five where he lands backwards and just crumples. I did not think for a second it would be Kelly. But it makes sense. He can do anything. He’s done everything. He’s at the forefront of everything. He’s beaten everyone at everything. I don’t even know how he does it. Who double grabs the same rail! He threw shit at a wall and somehow rode out of it. It’s just yet another accomplishment. Add that to the list, thank you very much.”

“I did not think for a second it would be Kelly. But it makes sense. He can do anything.” – Craig Anderson

While Dane Reynolds wasn’t on the list of those most likely to debut the frontside five, his opinion will, for a long time, be one worth listening to when it comes to the very tip of progressive surfing. So, Stab asked him what he thought about the spin: “I wouldn’t think that Kelly has even tried that before, which is crazy. It pretty much looks like when he’s hitting the lip, he doesn’t know exactly what he’s going for. And, just gets crazy pop off the lip and he’s like a cat and always lands on his feet. Him and John John have that cat-like ability of just landing on their feet.”

Really, nobody saw Kelly Slater breaking this kinda ground at this stage. Which in hindsight is completely stupid since he exists to shake up the paradigm at every corner. But Kelly hasn’t looked as relaxed in the air as younger surfers recently. At the Hurley Pro, Lowers, event winner Jordy Smith said Kelly had been doing ‘Dad airs’, referring to a style that wasn’t as limber above the lip as the younger guns. When we asked Dane Reynolds about Jordy’s call, he said “Ha, Kelly does do dad airs, but then he does psycho airs, too.”

“I wouldn’t think that Kelly has even tried that before, which is crazy. It pretty much looks like when he’s hitting the lip, he doesn’t know exactly what he’s going for.” – Dane Reynolds

But this is most certainly not the first time Kelly’s done game-changing airs. His innovation is relentless, and more often than not, it’s been in competition. The Bells flat spin in the final. The NYC helicopter. Even the rodeo attempt in the 99 Pipe Masters. But every now and then, Kelly lights up while freesurfing. And the two most memorable instances have now been during world tour events, but just outside of the sirens: There was that alley oop in Rio in 2011, and now this. Says Dane: “When you look back to the rodeo, that pretty much sparked a frenzy. When I saw that and the Gorkin, made the Gorkin one, I tried it every day for like a year pretty on much every wave. When you think of it like that, Kelly’s definitely always been… like even more recently, say that air at Bells or in New York, when the pressure’s on he can do the strangest shit ever. I would have been way less surprised if he did that in a heat rather than freesurfing. He seems to be able to need a score and do the most random gnarly shit and just land on his feet based on pure will.”

Speaking of freesurfing, Kai Neville is currently in France, making what will be the high performance film of the year. Most of the surfers who who appear in Kai’s films live careers that are based on one-off hail mary moves. We doubt anything like this will feature in the film. Says Kai: “Fuck boys, we got some work to do.”

So, what to call this thing. Stab suggests that most manoeuvres that earn clever names do so because their technical explanations are too long. Like, a Kerrupt flip: No one wants to call it an ‘inverted slob and stalefish-grab alley oop’ every time. Kelly’s spin, however, is a frontside 540 – real easy to say. If Stab were to offer a moniker, it’d perhaps be a ‘Buck Fifty’ (like, one and a half!). But here’s what Kelly said about the labelling of his rote in an Instagram post:

@btoddrichards and I spend the night texting and trying to find a good name like the #Ebolair (it spread fast but #TooSoon) or the #ClaimJumper (anyone tired of claims?) or the #Smelly (@skippyslater calls me that and they process sardines here in #Peniche) or Todd said maybe a #HuckNorris (but he tweeted a different name). Call it what you like but I’m calling it a #Huey in honour of my mentor/#godfather who flew Huey choppers in #Vietnam, taught me how to play guitar and sing songs, and who also got off a longboard at age 70 to start short boarding and shredding small waves! So this one’s for you.”

The post has since come down, presumably because of negative feedback around ‘Ebolair.’ Social media trolls are pious folk with zero sense of humour.

“I would have been way less surprised if he did that in a heat rather than freesurfing. He seems to be able to need a score and do the most random gnarly shit and just land on his feet based on pure will.” – Dane Reynolds

Unsurprisingly, this air went well viral, real fast. It’s been clicked over one million times. This was helped by sources like the Huffington Post and TMZ, the latter of whom hit up Kelly for an interview, which he revealed in the rest of the ‘ebolair’ post:

“When I rode out of this I thought, “That felt pretty good”. Little did I know it would be uploaded by @peterkinglajolla within seconds and within minutes I would be getting texts from the best air guys in the world telling me I stole their next move and calling me a mother$&@#%r or getting email definitions about it from @tonyhawk or having my friends sending me messages from all over the globe or that I’d be getting hit up for an interview from @TMZ (seriously) or reading message from people all over the world giving this manoeuvre names and debating what it technically is. I do know that when I was 18 years old @mrpottz told me liked my surfing cause when I saw a lip I hit it and he’s still my elder so I can’t let him down.”

Also worth mentioning is the grab style. Kelly grips a regular frontside grab out of the lip, before getting two-thirds of the way through the spin and attaching his leading hand in the slob position (toeside rail). This is purely instinctual, and just further proof of his freakishness: It’s like everything is slowed-down for him. It’s the same thing he did in New York, except that time without the trailing hand grab to begin.

According to a video that Jeff Doner filmed of Kelly, Mr Slater may have (incorrectly) called the air an 810. That’d be a 720 with another 90-degree spin. By calling it an 810, he’s added in an extra full rotation. Technically, he leaves the wave, spins through a 180, then through 360, then stops at the 540, before reverting. We’d like to think he’s trolling, given that someone of his intelligence can’t possibly have such a poor understanding of rotational degrees. “You start going this way: 360, 720 and you face toward the beach and that’s another 90 degrees. That’s an 810. It’s called a Huey.”

It’s not though, is it?

And that’s the lone smudge on an otherwise fucking incredible thing. We’ll call that Kelly’s first to the fully-rotated double roter, too. Probs at Backdoor in the final of the Pipe Masters. Heard it here first.

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Day after the big air Kelly names it and say’s it’s a 810 degree air, he explains it here! @kellyslater #bigAir #GOAT #kellyslater @asp #ripcurlproportugal @peterkinglajolla

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