The Love Electric
There ain’t a whole lot left to be said about Kelly Slater. You don’t live a career like Kelly’s without transcending the worth of adjectives and achievement-listing. So in the interest of avoiding facts that play like grazed vinyl, let’s keep it contemp: Yesterday, dear Kelly posted a perfect 20-point total in the Volcom Fiji […]
There ain’t a whole lot left to be said about Kelly Slater. You don’t live a career like Kelly’s without transcending the worth of adjectives and achievement-listing. So in the interest of avoiding facts that play like grazed vinyl, let’s keep it contemp: Yesterday, dear Kelly posted a perfect 20-point total in the Volcom Fiji Pro quarters. He beat John John Florence with 18.17 points. The interview after this heat is worth watching, because Kelly has never looked more at ease and in the zone before a final. Kelly and Mick Fanning then entered the lineup. Instagram erupted like volcano, audiences quivered with thrill and fear.
And Mick locked into a 9.20, first wave. Kelly took the next wave and Cristo Redentored through a steamtrain. If he’d started weaving earlier and grabbed his rail, he would’ve made it. Maybe. But he arched back and was shut down upon: Incomplete, 5.67. But, on finals day, Kelly was in a competitive zone that bordered on mythical. “The moment that sticks out in my mind from yesterday is Kelly coming back in the final,” says Jake ‘Snake’ Paterson, tour surfer turned Quik Pro, Gold Coast director (he’s also one of the most analytical and enthused surf fans you’ll meet). “He probably would’ve got a 10 if he’d come out of that first wave he put his arms up in. Mick started with a 9.2, but then Kelly just got to work. Anyone else would’ve been rattled with a 9.2 (from Mick) to start the final but Kelly just went, “Mwhahaha! Is that all you’ve got?” Then he just stepped up a gear and proceeded to take him apart, limb by limb.”
Snake ain’t wrong. Now, this ain’t taking a thing away from Mick – he surfed exquisitely and didn’t give up. He was just trying to halt an unstoppable force. “Kelly worked hard,” continues Jake. “He turned a so-so wave into an 8.8, then got a 9.8 and then a 10. And Mick was out there in the same conditions the whole time. I thought it was impossible for Kelly to do better than he did the previous day, but then he came out with two 10s in his quarter… and, especially with the bad heats in between. You’d think he’d go, ‘Ok, I gotta play it safe and catch a few waves.'”
Playing it safe, however, doesn’t enter Kelly’s vocab often. “He didn’t look like he played it safe, but he actually rarely does,” says Nathan “Nudes” Webster, an affable savant who surfed against Kelly on tour and has a heightened awareness of performance surfing. “It’s exciting how that keeps him motivated and he can be like that. He has a lot to lose, and surfs like he has nothing to lose. He makes what might seem like a not-so-smart decision, but they somehow end up being genius.”
Look closely and you’ll see two side rudders drying out. “It’s crazy when you think about it, that he’s riding a little epoxy board,” says Jeremy Flores. ASP/Kirstin
But it ain’t all about daring decisions. It’s also about knowing Cloudbreak, and confidence in familiarity. “He knows that he’s that much better,” continues Nudes. “He really looked like he didn’t want anything to get in the way of it yesterday. He claimed three waves in the final. You never see him claim waves. I found that refreshing to see him so fired-up and passionate. He just looked like he was having a ball. Last year he looked the same at that event, but this year just reinforced that he’s peerless when it comes to Cloudbreak. All those top guys, they’re all great and talented surfers, but what stands out at these events is their wave knowledge and how much confidence they have in it. It’s the ability to relax in those situations. You can see that Joel and Mick put in a lot of time and effort to reach a high level of comfortability in those conditions, and it really showed. There’s probably four guys that are a good head and shoulders above the rest, then Kelly’s a little bit further above that again.
“He’s next-level. Still. He’s in his own league when it comes to waves like that. John John’s pretty close, but there’s a read that Kelly has on conditions, and a confidence he has in that ability to read those conditions and the waves he’s standing on. He surfed those waves like most people would surf a three foot left, and on a board that most people’d ride on a three foot left.”
And on the subject of boards, what d’you suppose the rest of Kelly’s opponents find most perplexing about his game out there? “When everyone was riding a bigger board, he was riding a little board with small fins,” enlightens Jeremy Flores, who grew up under Kelly’s wing as a Quik grom and now competes against him. “It’s crazy when you think about it, that he’s riding a little epoxy board. I don’t even know how he does it. It’s the best he’s surfed. The speed and the power he has is amazing. Of course the barrel riding is insane, but the turns he does compared to everyone else? So much speed and power. Doing such big turns on such a small board, that’s the one thing that I still don’t understand how he does it. You need a bigger board out there, especially to do big turns. That’s how I think and that’s how everyone else thinks, too. Everyone else I spoke to was at least riding a step-up. On my short board, there’s some sections and some barrels I don’t think I would’ve come out of.”
Taj Burrow, who’s surfed against Kelly on tour for 15 years and currently shares the top five with him, was also amazed by Kelly’s equipment choice: “On the biggest, most wild days Kelly was riding the same board he was riding on the Gold Coast. A 5’9″! Are you fucking kidding me? In those big ones up the point, he was riding over foamballs and shockies on a board that small. I can’t see him surfing any differently in the next five years. I bet he’ll still be the best out there when he’s 50!”
One thing everyone who watched finals day in Fiji can agree on is Kelly’s supremacy. Jake sums up what’s likely a shared opinion: “He 100 percent deserved every score he got. And more. That wave is so hard to surf and those top guys make it look so easy. In the heat against Parko and Yadin, Yadin made the wave look hard to surf, but Parko made it look easy, and that’s the difference between that upper class, top five guy and the rest of the field. There’s a relaxation and they never panic. There’s confidence in their ability to backdoor the barrel. Kelly was just incredible. The guy is is a fucking freak. Next-level. I gotta try and get my head around it. Is this the best he’s ever surfed? You see performances like this from him every now and again, like at J-Bay in 2003. Kelly put in a performance at that event that I thought was next level. But then last year in Fiji, he performed on that next level like he did yesterday as well. It’s hard to say that today he surfed better than last year in Fiji, but, it was at least on par. You can just see it, he has this aura and gets in this place like, ‘No one can touch me.'”
“Kelly was simply surfing the best every day,” says Jeremy. “He was the best in the competition for the whole event. He was always on the best waves, and riding the best waves as good as he possibly could’ve. It’s as simple as that.” – Elliot Struck
From the 20-point heat. Not hard to imagine why, staring into this thing. ASP/Kirstin
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