Kelly Slater Wins Pipeline, Becomes World #1 Not A Week Before His 50th Birthday - Stab Mag

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Kelly Slater Wins Pipeline, Becomes World #1 Not A Week Before His 50th Birthday

“This is the best win of my career.” – Kelly Slater

news // Feb 6, 2022
Words by Ethan Davis
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Kelly Slater is your 2022 Pipe Pro Champion and WSL #1, and he turns 50 in six days.

I am out of breath. The final three minutes of this Pipe event was the most exciting CT surfing I have ever seen. Back to back 9.77 and 9.43’s with Seth and Kelly. Kelly’s post-heat interview will make you weep. You can watch it here.

Highlights: Seeing two very deserving Pipe specialists in thumping Pipe conditions, the Moniz Ohana, the swell conditions this event window, Makua Rothman’s fact-over-froth, Pipeline as the best spectator venue, the Nanny McPhee effect of Kelly Slater (“When you need me, but do not want me, then I must stay. When you want me, but no longer need me, then I have to go.”)

Lowlights: The Pupo bros losing heats on priority errors, not running the event yesterday, second-reefers spoiling the goods, NE-winds.

A grain of Pipeline-sand was an expensive commodity today. Photo by Tony Heff/World Surf League


Kelly vs Kanoa

With a history dating back to Quiksilver’s ‘mini-guns’ trips in 2007 (KS as mentor), Kanoa and Kelly have a much closer relationship than you might assume from two men with a 25-year-age gap. Kanoa was 3-0 on Kelly in CT match-ups, but tricky double-overhead Pipe conditions favoured veteran’s experience. 

Kelly’s first wave, a 5.83 for an elevator drop into an enormous spitting cylinder, wasn’t super deep but he propped it up immediately with an even-larger cone into an iconic cutback to reverse carving 360 for a 7.67. Kelly further reinforced his lead with 6.50 for pilfering a frothy backdoor cavern, and Kanoa’s two mid-sized scores two fell short. The GOAT moves forth.

Lucca vs Miguel

The heat of the highest single scoring wave. Neither could back it up. In the end it was Miguel’s more consequential 6.5 for his Pipe wave that saw him get the jump.

Not many touted Miggy to make the semi’s today. A huge kudos to Miggy and the Pupo clan. Photo by Brent Bielmann/World Surf League

JJF vs Seth Moniz

QF Heat 3 was a battle of the lions. Waikiki’s Seth Moniz versus the 2x WC and North Shore treasure, JJF.

JJF has surfed 51 heats at Pipe, he’s won 38 of them. Seth kicked off the heat with a bomb, a 9.60 for an incredibly critical under the lip takeoff on a huge Backdoor wave. Looked like a write off, but Seth somehow engaged his toe-side rail, and got blown into the channel with his hands behind his back. Wow. 

John answered back with a 7.67 for a deep two-sectioned Backdoor runner, backing it up quickly with a 9 at Pipe. The ’21 Pipe Champ looked poised to collect his second Pipe trophy, until Seth forced him to go on a Backdoor wave he wouldn’t have otherwise looked at, snapping his board in the process and leaving Seth to shark an empty lineup uncontested. Needing a score of a 7.07 with three minutes remaining, Seth pulled into a Pipe cathedral and got blown into the channel for an 8.33.

Eyes well up as Seth rode to shore in front of the Moniz clan + a beach roaring in hysterics post-horn. “I’m pretty speechless. That was the heat of my life. I knew I just had to swing and go otherwise John would. It’s tricky out there, the wind’s picked up, quite a bit of chatter,” said a wired Seth on the beach.

Samuel vs Caio 

Far from your average quarterfinal cast, Caio didn’t even get the call up until Gabriel Medina took a last-minute leave of absence. Today the wildcard collected his best Pipe result ever. Caio opted for style points on his first wave, picking off a smaller left, letting go of the rail, and standing tall before trying to drag on his way out. Fetched a 5.00, probably should’ve just stalled though. Looked great, no less.

What Caio lacks in x-factor he makes up in scrappy grit. 

Sammy paddled for a choppy burger, Caio raised his hand, won priority, and took off late on the next Backdoor wave — a smaller-scale version of Seth’s clutch 9.60 free-fall into a standup cone. Caio raised his back hand and tickled the lip as he got blown into the channel. Caio through.

Caio wanted a wallhanger today. Here it is. Photo by Brent Bielmann/World Surf League


Kelly vs Miguel 

KS is going for his 56th CT in this event . He’s made quarterfinals or better at Pipeline 13 times in the past 15 years. Throughout his career, he’s surf 116 heats at Pipe, had 81 heat wins, 56 excellent wave scores, 7 event wins, 5 perfect 10’s. Nobody else comes close.

At this point the waves were a little better groomed, with the wind swinging east and a couple of second reef sets feathering out the back. 

First wave of the heat, Kelly and Miguel take off into one another. Kelly goes right and gets to his feet first — Miguel goes left, almost knocking rails with the GOAT before altering course.

“There’s rules and we’ve got to abide by them, but it’s unfortunate,” said former WSL head judge Richie Porta. Miguel gave a sarcastic clap when the ruling was announced over the loudspeaker — a foreboding sense this heat was over before it started. 

On his next wave, Kelly found a deep Backdoor nug and drew a very aggressive line, coming out way after the spit — 8.33. Feeling the momentum of the priority call, a flippant Miggy, and tricky conditions, Kelly sharked the inside for a back-up score. A seven would have negated any mathematical chance of Miguel winning.

The GOAT track. Photo by Brent Bielmann/World Surf League)

​​The boys found another split peak, this time without crossing paths. Kelly came unstuck on the exit, and Miggy’s wave went fat but let him squeak out the end. The Brazilian backed it up with a very dramatic drop at Pipe, but he wasn’t quite deep enough. No less, a 6.33 put him back in the mix with three minutes left, only needing a 6.60 to advance. 

With one minute to go, Kel made an uncharacteristic priority error. Pulling into a frothy closeout, he left Miguel out the back alone for the remaining 40 seconds. Miggy scrapped into a lackluster insider and came out with seconds left. It wasn’t going near the score requirement, a 3.17. 

Though Kelly advanced, had the interference not been called, Miggy would have been in his first CT final — would’ve, should’ve, could’ve.

Kelly through to his first Pipe CT final in 9 years.

Seth vs Caio

Big Moniz clan energy today. Seth tapped into a mid-sized Pipe drainer in the first five minutes for an equally mid-sized score of a 5.67. The beach erupted. Caio quickly answered back with what would’ve been a huge score had he not dived for a rare Hawaiian rock-lobster in one of the Backdoor crevases. 

Seth’s only previous CT semi was Tahiti in 2019 where he went down to Medina. Seth’s SF appearance here is one better than Dad Tony, who made the quarterfinals in 1989 at the Marui Pipe Masters, losing to Liam McNamara. 

Seth looked in a total flow state on his second wave, wrangling a deep, bucking Pipe foamball, somehow navigating to a highline spitting exit — 7.83. Caio exited combo-land by finding the exit on a so-so insider, but his wave-selection from then on had heads scratching.

“I’m gonna go ahead and say that was stupid,” said Makua Rothman re: Caio’s decision to give up priority with three minutes to go. 

Seth to the final.

One of two people’s champs today. The kid from Waikiki crushed it all event. Photo by Tony Heff/World Surf League

Final – Kelly vs Seth 

“I got flexed out there, I’m tired. I was so buzzed all of last night, I struggled to sleep,” said an emotional Seth on the beach pre-final.

Sleep-deprivation, as you may know, increases one’s proclivity for risk and the likelihood of mistakes. Toward the end of his semi, Seth took three consecutive bad beatings. Between the adrenaline of the moment, wearing second-reefers on the head, three heats at 15-foot Pipe, and drawing the GOAT in your first CT, Seth appeared to be struggling to shake the significance of the moment, falling on his first four waves.

Time for a deep breath.

While Seth regrouped, Kelly locked into a deep, peeling Backdoor drainer, zipping through a funnel that concealed him behind multiple chandeliers for several seconds before releasing him in the channel. Mid-sized, but super technical, Kelly seized a 9 for his efforts.

Time for Seth to scrap.

Kelly stuck to his deep aggressive lines at Backdoor, locking into a smaller but similar wave to his first and finding the exit for an 8.17. The goat track unlocked, Seth now combed (Kelly’s 16.17 to Seth’s 2.56 with 15 minutes to go).

With 10-minutes remaining, Seth got his first “completion”, miraculously pulling through a closeout Pipe end section in prone before quickly popping to his feet. “That should put him back in the heat,” said a typically vigilant Ross Williams.

Seth’s Houdini act fooled everyone but the judges, who penalised him for not riding out on his toes. They gave him a 3.10 for the effort — still well in comboland.

But forget all that, the final three minutes changed the entire tone of the final.

Holding priority, Kelly was forced to take the first wave from a hungry-looking Seth. The man turning 50 in six days fell from the sky, adjusted his line, narrowly missed a lip-decapitation, and got blown into the channel with his hands on his face. Full chicken skin. 9.77.

Seth was on the next wave, doing similar things on a bigger wave with a shorter barrel. 9.43.

Kelly and Seth only got so far as the Pipe channel before the announcer started counting down — five, four, three, two…

Seth and Kelly hugged in the channel for a full 30 seconds before catching a wave in together.

“This is spiritual for me, it’s hard to describe,” said Kelly, eyes welling. “This is the best win of my career.”

Larger than life, today at least. Photo by Tony Heff/World Surf League

The men’s event is a wrap. I seriously suggest you go and watch Kelly’s acceptance speech where he reflects on the significance of this moment in time, and pays respect to the people who have got him to this point.

“I have dedicated my entire life to this,” says a teary Kelly, the weight of those words squeeze drops from tear ducts.

Know you are not alone.


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