Oh it's been too long! Video: Ryan Mack
Watch: Kelly Slater's Return to Natural Barrels
There's nothing like the real thing.
On September 19, 2017, Kelly Slater rode his first wave since the paw-crunching accident at Jeffrey's Bay. This was the morning of his inaugural wave pool event -- the Future Classic, as they were calling it -- and in typical Kelly style, he had to remind everyone who the real King was. So before the event he threw on a (meaningful?) yellow rashie and surfed a couple waves to perfection.
"I don't care if it takes an extra month to heal," Kelly told the WSL afterward. "It was worth it."
Kelly has since posted another clip of himself surfing Lemoore Reef, rejoicing in the fact that he "got tubed today." However, Kelly has made no mention of getting back into the ocean to surf for realz. This, most likely, is because the pool's perfection-factor decreases Kelly's chance of re-injury. Why risk your foot in sub-standard, uncontrollable ocean waves when you've got the world's funnest rehab center in your backyard?
But today was the day (we think) that Kelly put his hoof to the true test -- overhead, thumping barrels in New Jersey's Atlantic Ocean. And from the looks of the clip above, he passed with flying colors.
Now, on a slightly negative note, we feel the need mention Slater's slight bobble upon exiting the tube -- something so commonplace to the average surfer that it could be nothing, but when we're talking about the best surfer that's ever lived, it's likely that Kelly's injury is still taking its toll. The bobble could be explained as a psychological tick, where Kelly is guarding his foot from re-injury by altering his body's natural movements. I'm going through the same thing with my knee right now.
You might also be wondering what the hell Kelly is wearing, and why he's rocking a Billbong sticker in that clip. Turns out that gear belongs to Sam Hammer, New Jersey's best surfer and longtime friend of Mr. Slater.
While I wasn't able to get in touch with Hammer, I did talk to Matt Rinck, a 25-year-old Ocean City, NJ fire fighter who was comfortable enough in his masculinity to ask Kelly for a photo. Feeling an instant pang of embarrassment, Matt back-tracked slightly, asking Kelly if it was weird when "grown-ass men" bugged him for a photo, to which Slater laughed in a haha yeah, kinda... way, before submitting to Matt's photo request.
Being a fireman, Matt recovered quickly from that burn was able to gather a few interesting points from the GOAT:
Slater was visiting his daughter in New York, when Sam Hammer called him to surf the pumping New Jersey swell.
Kelly told Matt that his foot was feeling alright, and that he hoped to be ready for Pipe.
Matt said Kelly was surfing pretty good.
"He paddled out, and within twenty minutes he scored one of the best waves of the day," Matt explained. "He got a few sick ones after that too. It was pretty cool to watch him do his thing here in New Jersey -- I never thought I'd see that happen."
Turn out more than a few people felt that way, as, after the session, something like 50 humans gathered around Slater as he changed by Sam's car. Despite all the (unwanted) attention, Slater has not been deterred by his New Jersey surfing experience. According to an anonymous dinner companion, Kelly is thinking about surfing again tomorrow.
Chalk one up for the (Atlantic) ocean.