contest wire

Stop Me if You’ve Heard This One Before

Kelly Slater puts on a historic performance en route to victory at the Fiji Pro

| posted on June 12, 2013

Who is honestly going to stop this guy? Today at Cloudbreak, the answer is nobody. Photo: Joli

There’s a certain detachment out here on the fringes. Here we are this morning, floating free in the South Pacific, anchored off the northwest corner of Navula Reef with nothing but ocean and coral and the promise of nearby tourist resorts in all directions. Tranquilized by the early morning Pacific sun, you could be forgiven for thinking this could be any reef in any lost corner of this warm blue galaxy. But this is not just any corner of the Pacific. This is the corner. This is Cloudbreak, and occasionally you still have to remind your pampered Western ass of this fact and allow yourself to be awestruck.

The romantic morning haze is burning off quick. Even out here the world is closing in, and today the world is closing in real quick. There’s a surf contest running, a big one, but for the moment this artificial construct is dwarfed by the munificence of the elements. The waves are firing. They’re spinning from one end of the reef to the other, bigger and cleaner and bluer than yesterday. There are yachts moored around the corner—lazy sailers from Auckland, Cairns, Honolulu, and far-flung Pacific ports—and they’ve all dropped anchor to see what the fuss is about. Is Kelly Slater really here? Acoustic guitars drift on the trades. Looking around, Huntington this ain’t, and the panorama makes you think that ever given the chance, even Jimmy Buffett couldn’t run the ASP any better than this. And as if to confirm this assertion, there’s even a bar now floating in the lagoon behind Cloudbreak.

There’s seven heats between now and a trophy, and the first of these heats is John John and Jordy. The tide is high (there’s a song in there) but they’ve started early to beat a predicted low tide lull for the final. The extra water on the reef should work for Jordy—if this heat is decided on turns his chances increase. In his current form, no one in the field will match him. For the first nine-and-a-half minutes of the heat there’s nada, and a restart is only 30 seconds away when Jordy scratches into a nothing insider to activate the heat. As an opening gambit it’s smart. “You don’t want to go wave-for-wave with John John out there,” offers CJ Hobgood, taciturn, pointing at Cloudbreak. Jordy, however, turns around and his worst thoughts are confirmed when John John comes screaming out of the belly of an 8-foot set. John’s been in there so long he comes out with stubble.

They say if you walk in like you own the place, then you’re halfway to where you’re going. Well, Kelly announced his arrival at Cloudbreak this morning by burning some hot laps on his jet ski through the lineup, shooting follow-footage of local surfer Aca Lalabalavu who was heavily piped at the time. Kelly dismounts and paddles straight out for his quarter against Seabass, and that’s when things really start to burn. John John, still dripping wet, catches Kelly’s first perfect 10 and comments, “I don’t know, but from here it kinda looked like a 20.” John John didn’t know how prophetic he was being, because it’s only a matter of minutes later that Kelly draws another wall of Pacific toward him. It’s bigger, foamier and throatier than the first, and tail of his 5’10” quad is doing it’s best to skip out from under him. CJ offers, “Man, that thing was a bull ride!”…and it was another 10. That’s your perfect heat, right there folks, the fifth in pro surfing and Kelly’s second. History made before 10am. The signs for the rest of the day are there early. When Kelly comes in and starts talking about the significance of the feat, he adds the caveat that, “Man, the way the waves are out there today, someone could go real close to getting another one.” And when he says someone, well, you probably know who he means.

Kelly is watching CJ’s heat with Josh Kerr. He watches pretty much every wave ridden today and offers a running commentary as he goes. “You watch, this one is going to barrel on the inside.” It doesn’t barrel. The next wave rolls in. “You watch, this one is going to barrel on the inside.” Again, it crumbles. Third time, “You watch, this one going to barrel on the inside.” The thing turns itself inside out, and Kelly turns around to the assembled with a wry smile. “There, see. I told you.” He’s immediately called out. “Man, that’s all anyone who predicts the future does—they’ll keep repeating their line, tell their story a little differently, sell it a little better, then wait for the law of averages to prove them right.” He then goes on to tell a story about a heat he surfed with Tiago Pires at Uluwatu in 2008. He was holding the lead and priority when a two-wave set rolled in. “I saw it and I knew—I knew—that whatever decision I was going to make was going to be the wrong one. I had a sick feeling in my throat. I was resigned to it. I took the first one and turned around and he got barreled the length of the point.” I ask him if he gets that kind of feeling very often. He replies, “No.”

Far from the Michener novel of early this morning, there’s quite a scene in the channel out here by late morning. There’s a woman from NBC on the bough of our boat practicing her live cross…she gets it nailed and goes live only for the contest PA next to her to drown her out with 110 decibels worth of score updates. And I notice a guy on the marshalling boat who looks vaguely familiar. I know this cat from some previous lifetime. I rack my brain all day, only to later be informed Zack de la Rocha was on the boat. 1991 punches me in the face. He’s minus the dreadlocks and the rage, but the Rage Against The Machine singer tops my list of most unlikely people I’ve met in the middle of Buttf–k, Nowhere. All of a sudden I’m seeing them everywhere…there’s a guy on the boat under a floppy hat who could be Moby, and there’s a guy on the boat across from us with three cameras in his face who could be Sal Masekela, but I’m not sure.

Mick Fanning (pictured) may have started the final with a valiant 9.2, but it was Slater who finished it with a 19.8 total. Photo: Joli

“Shit the bed! Look at the Joe Engel on this Warwick Capper!” [Translation: Warwick Capper is a retired Australian football star famous for wearing impossibly tight shorts, also Aussie slang for a wave capping on an outside reef. Joe Engel is an Aussie surfer who won Bells in 1983, also Aussie rhyming slang for “angle”. “Shit the bed” is a universal expression uttered when one cannot believe the set rolling through Cloudbreak in front of them.] It had to be Parko. He’s bouncing around on the marshalling boat as a big ol’ set rolls through. He’s up against Mick in the last quarter, but the pair have already surfed a heat this morning. They paddled out at dawn on their own. Not another breathing soul. And they found Cloudbreak way bigger and way better than they’d imagined. Mick was on a 6’0”—way undergunned—but snagged the wave of the morning. By the time they paddled out for their actual quarterfinal it looked a little iffy—the wind had drifted cross-shore south, the sets started to cap and crumble, and the barrels became rare gems. Again, you figured turns favored Mick, while tubes favored Joel, and Mick ended up squeaking past his mate by 0.3 of a point in the dying seconds. It was typical of Parko’s season, the result not commensurate with his surfing, but he took it on the chin…eventually, on the way to the airport.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. As the quarters rolled into the semis a familiar pattern emerged. Kelly’s heats pumped stratospherically beyond all others. His perfect quarterfinal, won by two 10s, was followed by a heat won by two fives.

Kelly caught plenty of bombs on the ledge, sure. But a more careful examination of his heats today would see nothing waves caught by Kelly that would somehow put him in the sweet spot for a sneaky blue blowtorch on the inside. They’d see him catch a nothing wave that would suddenly put him in rhythm with the sets…he’d get evens for the rest of the heat while the other guy would get odds. All day, it was uncanny, unfathomable, and defied most laws of physics, but we’ve seen it now for almost 20 years. There has to be a science behind it. CJ Hobgood, who’s surfed with Kelly from Spanish House lefts to Cloudbreak over 20 years, watched today as Kelly waxed John John in the first semi with a script playing out not too dissimilarly to the one above. “Man,” he turned to me, shaking his head, “I’m perplexed. Totally perplexed.”

In the end it was Kelly and Mick. There’s a clear pattern that has developed over the past decade, and that’s whenever you put pro tour contests into good waves, the old guard are gonna tap the young guys, and those old guys for most part have been Kelly, Mick and Joel…along with CJ and Damien in the tropical lefts.

Kelly opened the final audaciously, painting the ceiling on a gaping pit out the back before the wave coiled and cannoned onto the inside reef, eventually guillotining him. It was a wave he reckoned was heavier than the one that famously clipped Raoni Monteiro here last year. It was showy, but downright ballsy at the same time. And after that—the first wave of the final—you could never accuse Kelly of being calculated. It was almost as if he wasn’t going to allow himself to be upstaged by the quality waves. And as the waves got better, so did he. You could only put on a show like this if you believed you had the chops match it. There had to be supreme self-belief…and you know he has it by the bucket.

Mick opened the final the same way he’d opened the day, and when he chalked a 9 it looked like the future Kelly had predicted for himself this morning might have gone a bit “Tiago” on him. But then they came. The first wave was wide, the second one long, and by the end of them he was a struck match from posting his second perfect heat of the day. He finished with a 19.8 out of 20. He won in Fiji again, and you can now set your watch by it. I asked Kelly afterwards if—just as he’d known at Uluwatu that day he was going lose—that this morning at Cloudbreak he knew he was going to win. “I just had a vibe,” was all I got.

But maybe the most powerful observation was made by Kelly’s long-time wrangler—and friend—Stephen Bell. While Kelly was doing hot laps around the lineup celebrating his fourth Fijian win, Belly clambered onto the boat. He reached in, grabbed a Fiji Gold, cracked it and shook his head. “You know, after all these years surfing around the world with him, even I still get amazed. That was the best I’ve ever seen him surf today. Ever. Not a word of lie.” He takes a swig and stares out over the Cloudbreak lineup and the attendant mayhem that’s broken out. “Makes you wonder where it’s all going to end, doesn’t it?”

Somehow, someway, after 20 years of dominance, Kelly Slater's performances just keeps getting better. Photo: Joli

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    Here we go again. Richard Woolcott and Tucker Hall founded Volcom on “The Youth Against Establishment” creed. They then recently sold “Volcom” to the very people they were rebelling against-(The Establishment)-”PPR-Gucci”-(a woman’s fashion company)-for 600 million.and got rich. “Volcom” is now owned by a company called “PPR-Gucci”. Seems like kind of a slap in the face to all the “Youth” who bought their tees and helped make them rich. Is this how you repay them-sell out to-”The Establishment”? “Volcom”-is now owned by-(PPR-Gucci)-and- “Volcom” -now-”is”-”The establishment”. No wonder kids-”Youth”- are boycotting “Volcom”. I found posts where a Volcom rep. tried to give out free t-shirts. The kids -”Youth”- took the “Volcom” tees, but then put them in the fire pits at the beach and burnt them. Maybe this contest should have been called the-”Gucci Pro.

  • lex danger

    id just like to no were all the brazilians go when the surf is good…..didnt see any ot them anywhere near the finals ….what a shame….??

  • Daniel

    Tony, go live in Venezuela mate, suits you better. Anyways, great comp even better performances, cheers Volcon, amazing to have opportunities to watch history unfolds like yesterday… AND how good is to watch the big old dogs battling in perfect big waves. Stoked for sure..

  • William

    Slater is the King of Surfing hands down. The aussies should have their own tour so they can win without Slater.
    Unreal Contest in Unreal Waves. Great job to all.

  • chris eaves

    i hate listening to you tony. every surfing website you go onto i end up reading the garb that spews from your mouth. if you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say it. do you think you’re bad ass because you write shit on the internet. if you are so against the establishment then walk the talk. don’t preach it do it. the computer and the internet are tools of the establishment so why are you using it. who cares if they ” sold out”? a business man wants to “sell out” because that is how he makes money. your knowledge is useless and so are our thoughts. great article surfer keep up the good work. i am thankful for getting to watch the greatest surfer ever in his prime with my own two eyes.

  • Matt O’Brien

    that was an event for the history books. so stoked to have got to watch the action unfold (for free even!) nice to read an article in a surf publication that doesn’t make me feel like a 12 year old wrote it (not all but most have that effect). we got to witness Legend. guess it’s shows that Best Surfers in the Best waves is really the way to do it. on to Bali

  • Marcelo

    how epic is that?

    “John John is so good, they named him twice”
    Dave Wassel

  • http://none Steve Briggs

    What an amazing Final day for Fiji. Summed up best by Stephen Bell, “that was the best I’ve ever seen him surf today”. If anyone out there thinks Kelly is slowing down in any way that performance put those thoughts to bed for good. The perfect score for a heat, ground breaking boards, catching heat winning wave without priority multiple times, the tube riding ability of a dolphin, what else can be said? Did anyone notice that he also CRUSHED John John? He seemed motivated to send John to slaughter. With all the pundits pointing to John John and Jordy and how it was their contest to win Kelly paddled out and destroyed that concept. Fanning mentioned after the Final how after his highest scoring wave he turned to see Kelly doing the Jesus thing and knew it would be a huge score. All bow down and thank Kelly Slater for showing the world how to win a World Tour contest is perfect surf. History was made and with that Kelly Slater truly is the Best Surfer in the World. Ever!!!!!!!!!

    As for Tony Big Island who put the poker up your ass with Volcom? Nike owns Hurley, Vans and Reef were sold, Billabong and the 12 other companies they own are about to be sold or go bankrupt. Here’s a suggestion, buy another brand. Volcom paid for that contest yesterday and I am stoked to have watched it. Thanks Volcom for supporting something so epic.

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    Well, Chris, last time I looked out side it was still a free world, I believe I have the right to voice my opinion, just like you are voicing yours. Who cares if they sold out- you ask? I care, the “Youth” who burnt their “Volcom” tees in the fire pits at the beach, sure seemed to care, and I believe the thousands of “Youth”, who bought “Volcom” tees based on the “Youth against Establishment” creed, care. Don’t sell the “Youth” short , they have a lot more integrity than you give them credit for. “Youth” can usually spot a hypocrite faster than an adult can, and I believe selling “Volcom” to “The Establishment” – (PPR-Gucci)-was hypocritical. I think the “Youth” who burnt their “Volcom” tees in the fire pits felt the same.

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    And Thank God, for the liberation of Cloudbreak. No one- should ever have to pay anyone-to ride a wave. “Thank God for a few free waves”. MSD

  • Pat Judd

    Congratulations to Kelly…totally awe inspiring performance. Couple of comments from watching the webcast each day: It looked to me like John John just simply ran out of gas. His surfing was brillant throughout!!! I also noticed that Jordy really got scored low (in the 6′s) on a wave the other contestant got an 8 on in a semifinal. Oh well. It seems that Kelly pulls one move in EVERY contest he surfs that’s just totally breathtaking: for Fiji it was to fall off his board on the face of a frothing wave and then pull himself back up and position himself into another rifling barrelled again!!! Other total stand outs were CJ, Flores, John John (of course), Taj, Mick, Parkinson and Jordy. I only wondered one time during a slow spell between sets what difference would have been made if Dane was in it?

  • Scott

    Dang Tony, you sound smart. You’re so smart I bet if you worked VERY hard you’re whole life at whatever it is you do and somebody came along and offered you enough money to ensure that you and your kids and your kid’s kids were financially secure and wouldn’t have to struggle to make ends meet, like you surely have, you probably wouldn’t accept the offer. Again, cuz you’re so smart…..

  • http://www.allsurfersunite.com Hugh Pierpoint

    I agree. Greatest performance by the Greatest Surfer (and probably the Greatest Sportsman ever) great to see & sure He will be on a High for a week or two before moving on to His next endeavor . All the Best & more to come .H.P ( -:Thank God ( -:Hu

  • http://mocean.com.au pete

    for god’s sake …can someone please kidnap this bloke and stuff him in a hessian bag….preferably with a hot looking girl to keep him occupied.

    its no good having freaks running around the planet like this…puts the rest of us to shame.

    bloody amazing surfer.

  • Jimbo jOnes

    Heaven = Kelly’s surfing career/life. Always stoked

  • http://dangerwoman.com Kim ‘ DW” Hamrock

    Congrats Kelly. Absolutely beautiful! You are amazing. I have watched you surf for years and years and you are more mind blowing than ever. You are someone I am proud to have as a world champion, excellent representative. Keep going Bro!
    love ya!
    - Danger Woman

  • http://www.michaelyankaus.com Mik

    I think that the wave Kelly got guillotined on was the best of the event. A 10 just for the audacity of the arms out gaping barrels, and then the reckless poise he threw at trying to doggie door out of a macking 12′ barrel in shallow reef; especially knowing that Reino had paid such a heavy price for trying the same. Kelly’s 10 in the final may have been a bit overscored, but the reality is the judges owed him. Kelly surfed that close out through three gaping sections, in a historic wave. A wave even most of the Tour guys have probably never experienced. It wasn’t huge, but OMG, it was beautiful, and heavier than it appeared in its beauty.

    (great read btw)

  • michael ginsberg

    All the bullshit we heard in the mags about Dane Reynolds( please do not get me wrong he is a great surfer) is the best surfer in the world vaporizes into poo-poo compared to Kelly Slaters total dominance of all facets of surfing over the past 20 years and should be a lesson to all surf commentators to temper their rush to judgement as to who is the best . If anyone cannot see the obvious they know shit about real surfing. Congratulation MR. Slater and thank you for being such a class act

  • http://www.nzsnowboarder.co.nz Ste’en Webster

    Great article from a great writer. I’ll always read articles by Sean Doherty, knowing they’re going to be well written, inspirational interpretations… like what we used to find in the good old days of print media! I’m glad the web world hasn’t entirely changed the way we get our editorial buzz – keep it up Surfer, and Sean. Oh yeah, and the whole Kelly/Fiji thing… amazing!

  • Pingback: O feeling de Slater sobre heat com Tiago Pires em 2008 | ONFIRE Surf | Portugal | by surfers, for surfers

  • http://nathanpetty.com Nathan

    Some of us will be fortunate to say that we lived on the planet when Kelly did and many of the people since the time of Adam will say…. “Very cool.”

  • Otaycec

    Kelly, you are a wave machine! Unstoppable and as graceful as ever. Great job and congratulations. The Slater legend continues!

  • Amber

    I think I’ve spewed kudos all over the internet about this contest (and Kelly’s performance). Now I just want to give some kudos to author Sean Doherty for crafting such a good read! Reading sports recaps is one of the dullest things ever – it’s not easy capturing the excitement of an event. I think Sean did the finals day great justice and especially liked the comments he peppered in from Belly, JJ, CJ, etc since all I heard for a week straight were the commentators going nuts every time someone got spit out a beautiful barrel. Well written, sir!