Article

Lightning Strikes Thrice

Kelly Slater Wins the Pipe Masters while Mick Fanning clinches the 2013 World Title in dramatic fashion

| posted on December 14, 2013
Mick Fanning, gunning down the line toward title No. 3. Photo: Noyle

Mick Fanning, gunning down the line toward title No. 3. Photo: Noyle

Kelly slept like an angel.

I’m unsure whether I’ve just infringed on Matt George’s copyright here, but last night it was the God honest truth. Of course I can neither confirm nor deny the above statement—unlike Matt I wasn’t in the same room at the time—but I do know that nobody sleeps better the night before the final at Pipeline than Kelly. It mattered little that he had to win that final to also win the world title. It mattered even less that Pipe was going to be north of 10 foot and there were waves washing into his backyard. Pipe is Kelly’s patch. Has been for years, still is today, and when he woke this morning and looked up from Beach Park he was looking Pipe straight in the eye. Neither blinked. He knew he was going to surf a perfect day…and he would.

Mick Fanning meanwhile was down the beach, just past Off The Wall, and he’d hardly slept a wink. The swell was one thing. The dull roar of the approaching freight trains on Third Reef, the sledgehammer-on-steel strikes on First Reef that sounded like time being torn, the whole North Shore a white noise cacophony under the influence of a big north-west swell. But the fact Kelly was looming large in his rearview mirror was another thing altogether. Kelly’s Pipe Masters record here is fat as a phone book…and that’s not even the part you’ve got to worry about. Pipe is one giant magnetic field of energy, and Kelly out here is not only purely magnetic but can also influence his opponent’s polarity.

The swell that filled in yesterday afternoon was forecast to be almost identical to the Black Friday Pipe swell of 16 days ago. Apart from a 10-degree shift to the north you could lay the two swell charts over the top of each other and barely see a difference. Mick surfed twice that day and was glad he did. His Pipe Masters record is less of a phone book and more of a brochure, and although he has years of form on Backdoor, Pipeline itself remains relatively uncharted waters for him. On Black Friday he took a 7’0″ out and spent most of his first session between the “Kalani Chapman spot” and the “Wakita Bowl”. If he got a proper Pipe day for the contest he wanted to be ready, because on the day there’d be no Chapman or Wakita in the water. There’d be just one other guy. There’d be no bearings and nowhere to hide.

The swell had kicked fast yesterday afternoon. I surfed with Mick Fanning at midday and Backdoor was three foot at best. Kekoa Bacalso yelled across in pidgin to Mick, “Gonna be some gravediggaz out here soon, brah!” By dark it was 12-plus. The 51011 buoy of Kauai was showing 17 seconds at 13 feet. A set surged up the beach, smashed into the wall that gave Off The Wall it’s name, and dragged half a dozen people back out to sea with it, including a 10-year old grom who Dylan Goodale was lucky enough to pluck from the briny. It also washed out the campsite of one of the dozens of homeless crew who sleep rough on the sands between Pipe and Keiki. Watching his every Earthly possession—a BBQ cooker and a sleeping bag—being washed out into a boiling ocean as surf stars played was poignant.

Whenever spectators got too brazen, the wake of a 12-foot set pushed them back up the sand. Photo: Noyle

Whenever spectators got too brazen, the wake of a 12-foot set pushed them back up the sand. Photo: Noyle

Kai Otton watched on yesterday afternoon with a tweaked knee. We were talking about the draw and I pointed out to him how he potentially had a chance to surf against Kelly and win the world title for Mick. “Maaaate,” he piffed dismissively, “I already done that for him.” He did. He beat Kelly in Brazil in 2007 to ice Mick’s first world title for him. I then pointed out to him that this world title thing is only happening here at Pipeline because of him, having beaten Mick in Portugal in a heat that would have wrapped it up for Mick. Surely he could now help a brother out? “Orrr yeah, s’pose so,” he replied reluctantly in a thick Australian strine. Mick and Kelly wouldn’t even meet before the world title was decided, so it all came down to who they did meet and who had more to surf for. To win the world title Mick Fanning needed to win two heats while Kelly needed to win three. Whoever got there would first get the tin cup.

The Kam Highway was a car park by 5am this morning. Traffic was backed up down to the Waimea bends. The homeless guy who’d been sleeping at Off The Wall now had not only lost all his shit, but woke up on the beach to find a thousand people gathered around his little slice of paradise. In the backyard above Joel Parkinson surveyed a big, brawling lineup that was still raw with the front edge of the swell. “Everything’s a gamble out there,” offers Joel Parkinson sagely as Mick Fanning paddled out for the first heat of the morning. “Boards, waves, where to sit. Everything. You don’t make right decisions, you just make less-wrong decisions.” Mick had already gambled a few days earlier… if you subscribe to the theory he engineered his previous heat to get a cleaner passage in the draw toward the world title. The gamble was that he now faced CJ Hobgood. Now, CJ might be carrying a knee injury, but along with his twin brother has been the form Pipe surfer of the winter. On Black Friday CJ paddled over to Insanities—the sandbar west of Off The Wall that looked like the seven circles of hell—and pulled into closeouts. All because he could.

Deliberately drawing CJ was tempting fate, and Mick Fanning looked like Eugene Fanning for much of the heat. He caught a lot of bad waves, his board looked too flat, he fell from lips and spent a good part of the heat underwater. If the world title wasn’t on the line it would have almost been comical. “Fark,” barked Parko who was pacing the yard, “he’s killing us!” And then the finger descended from the clouds and pointed at Mick and the whole day changed. Needing an eight with three minutes to go—in a heat where he was struggling to find a three—fate served him up a hand. The wave let him in easy, but his fade at the bottom was both audacious and crucial. It set him up deep, and when he came flying out of the tube for a 9.5, fists skyward, it appeared to be the defining image of the season…or at least it would be for another 90 minutes.

Whether or not Fanning's Round 4 interference was intentional, he's certainly glad to have avoided facing an on-fire John Florence today. Photo: Noyle

Whether or not Fanning’s Round 4 interference was intentional, he’s certainly glad to have avoided facing an on-fire John Florence today. Photo: Noyle

If again you subscribe to the theory Mick engineered the draw in his favor, then his quarterfinal with Yadin Nichol was the real target. It sure beats a must-win heat against John John at what, by this stage, was close to drop-perfect eight-foot Pipeline. But Yades needed to win the contest to save his career, and that can drive a man with a family to places he’s never been. Yadin owned the heat, and with the clock counting down Mick could taste a sour reflux in the back of his throat and could be seen muttering, “Are you f–king kidding me?”

Now, Mick has put his Mum through some tough moments over the years, but poor Lizzy has experienced nothing like this. On the beach she couldn’t watch. Mick gets all his heart from his Mum, but even she was starting to lose all hope as the minutes ticked down five, four, three. Mick would later shake his head in disbelief at what happened next, and how eerily similar it was to his first heat. The set appeared on Third Reef at 3:30 in both heats. He needed nines or better in both. And by some righteous and divine providence they were delivered. Needing a 9.57 his Pipe drainer went 9.70, the news delivered after the siren and it met with Mick Fanning’s face melting like a wax dummy on a hot summers day. Not just tears, blubbering, schoolboy tears. This was a world title that literally meant the world.

More importantly, the world title was won before Kelly could change the polarity of the lineup. Kelly wasn’t even wet yet, and was clearly bummed the oxygen had been sucked from the room. But the one certainty in a day of big fat otherwise was that Kelly Slater would win the Pipe Masters, and so it came to be. Nothing could have been surer. He had to surf through John John in a final 15 years in the making between old neighbors, but along the way he redefined his Pipe playbook. What he did on finals day in Fiji back in June he did again here at Pipe today. The big question was always going to be what would winning a 12th world title have offered Kelly that an 11th hadn’t already delivered? But by the end of the day the money question is what would losing a 12th title (for the second year running) mean? Kelly was effusive in the wake of his simultaneous win and loss. He waxed metaphysically on his future, but offered that after a day like today how could he walk away.

“Mick Fanning, Renaissance Man” might sound implausible to anyone who is currently watching the cultural tsunami that is Eugene Fanning drinking beers while breakdancing at the Rip Curl house, but Mick Fanning has grown more as a person this year than any other during his 32 hot laps of the solar system aboard this watery ball of rock. He’s grown in ways that won’t become clear to him for years. He might even achieve a little clarity on the subject after the hangover clears in a couple of days. But tonight he’ll go to bed in the same bed Andy Irons slept in years ago. Andy won all three of his world titles while staying in the same house. Mick will wake tomorrow morning with a category five headache but without the same gnawing anxiety he woke with this morning. And amongst the upwelling of first-thoughts that go through his head as his eyes are crow-barred open, he’ll flash for a minute, with a wry smile, and wonder what Andy would have made of it all.

Hordes of surf fans clung to any piece of sand they could find to watch the final day at the Pipe Masters. Photo: Noyle

Hordes of surf fans clung to any piece of sand they could find to watch the final day at the Pipe Masters. Photo: Noyle

With a 7th Pipe Masters title in his pocket, the day definitely wasn't a total loss for Slater. Photo: Noyle

With a 7th Pipe Masters title in his pocket, the day definitely wasn’t a total loss for Slater. Photo: Noyle

The jersey says it all. Photo: Noyle

The jersey says it all. Photo: Noyle

  • Luciano

    WOW, Kelly surfs Pipe so much better than Mick.
    I just remembered that final that Mick “won” against Medina in Europe this year.
    WOW…

  • Chris

    Micks wave wasnt a 9.7, more like a high 8 or low 9. But congrats to Mick for surfing consistent all year, Kelly on dominating another Pipe Masters and JJF on the VTC. All around it was a great day of surfing.

  • Luke

    I tried watching this on the webcast but couldn’t because the inept people running the show kept cutting away to shots of the beach. The world’s most famous wave is firing on all cylinders and the dummies keep showing us the tourists on the beach.

    Billabong, sucking balls since 1973

  • Meehushmee

    Far canal you can write Doherty
    Love it

  • Turpentine

    Nice article, I am happy for Mick. I didn’t think the wave he won the heat against Yadin with was as good as the won he had in the CJ heat. It was perhaps over scored a bit, but he deserves the title. Same could be said for Slaters waves in the final. Seems like the judges sometimes swing it a bit to make the narrative better.

  • North Shore

    Kelly beat Mick and Joel at their homebreak to open the season. Kelly beat Joel in Tahiti and Pipeline. Kelly beat Mick at Fiji. Mick gets comboed by John John yesterday and then Kelly beats John John. Did Mick or Joel beat Kelly in a heat this season? No way Mick surfs better than Kelly. The judges have had a lot to do with Mick and Joelʻs heat wins this year – not their surfing. Anyhow, something sure doesnʻt feel right about Mick being the “World Champion” this year. And donʻt forget the priority call in the Final at Tahiti!

  • Ben

    No mention of the egregious underscores for Yadin Nichol? Literally one of the most biased judging examples I’d ever seen, made even worse by Richie Porta’s halting explanation. “A savage bottom turn?” Really? The Pipe guys call it a roll in, nothing savage about it, and to a man they’ll tell you its a million times less risky than hucking one’s self into a first reef ten footer. Nobody honestly thinks that Mick won that heat. He should have been comboed after Yadin’s last wave. A damn travesty for Yadin, the world title, and competitive surfing in general.

    • North Shore

      Porta’s explanation regarding the two highest scoring waves was a joke. Since when is pulling straight in on the drop not a good thing? Also, glad Ben mentions Yadin’s last wave! That was underscored! Look at that footage.

    • North Shore

      Take a look at Mick’s second scoring (2.5) wave against CJ – he ate it pretty quick. So Mick beat CJ with one completed wave? CJ’s high scoring wave was clearly underscored for one thing and then CJ made a relatively small barrel and only gets like 1.3 points more than Mick’s eat it? Having reviewed it I like to think of Mick’s 2.5 eat it as his World Championship winning wave. More clearly illustrates the joke the judging was.

  • Bruno

    Good article, but how can we describe yesterday’s events and Mick’s title without discussing the fairness of it, both reg his forced interference and his heat against Yadin?

  • Slim

    Well written! Intelligent, effusive and poignant.

  • whamo

    Fanning looked like dead meat, eating it, again and again, and then, at the end, he pulled it off. The man has true grit.

  • amosandy

    Congratulations to Mick, Kelly and John John. Some of the finest surfing to grace my computer monitor ever!!!! We live in an amazing age where half the nation can be locked down by a blizzard and yet still watch a live event half way across the Pacific Ocean taking place in near perfect conditions with the gladiators wearing board shorts.

  • Charles Webster Baer

    all of us here at global internet government wish to congradulate mick fanning on his third world title .

  • Ben

    Really, no comments? One of the most egregious underscore/overscore dichotomies in contest history, and a career ender for Yadin, and no comments? A volitional dodging by the supposed world champ of a specific, far more gifted surfer who utterly trounced the same world champ in the semis (after the title was wrapped up)? Hmmm…. Where’s Lewis Samuels? You have to have an honest opinion!

  • nyisflat

    through the ability to bicker over the internet, i think that many are too heated and even blinded by the “mob mentality” of pissing about over the title. yes, yadin was deeper, but sheer luck allowed mick to win that heat. kelly should have won it, but he didnt, and mick still deserved it in his own right. kelly meanwhile put on a mind blowing show in 10 foot pipe, so im happy. good contest, bittersweet ending, all is okay.

  • nico

    sorry but judging was EPIC FAIL!!! kelly showed us all who is the ral champ!

  • RAMSE

    YADIN NICHOL SURF INCREDIBLY WELL

  • flakoman
  • flakoman

    looks like once Mick clinch the title he lost the interest @ next heat against JJF…not surfing ..work was done..but contest still ON…not a champion heart he should go for the pipe title.

  • Dirt

    Micks last wave in the Yades heat was so good. I was watching live on a big screen tv and my gut said he got the score. The replays only confirm that it was a hard decision for the judges. They went with Mick, get over it !! Remember Kelly has been the beneficiary of many suss calls.

  • JM101

    No entity in the mainstream surf media and most certainly no one from the Australian Surf Protection Society (or whatever the hell ASP stands for) is going to make any concessions regarding the judging over the last two years and the blatantly obvious “pushing” that went on; they simply are not allowed to. However, I’ll bet anyone a dollar there is a lot of tongue biting going on now both at the mags and within the ASP after the actual best surfer on tour has been ripped off twice, and in complete transparency this time around. Anyone who has one quarter of a functioning brain and half a working eyeball and paid attention to the last 2 years is probably ready to call it quits on taking the WCT seriously. A lot of people will say that complaining is fruitless, but if enough people complain – and more importantly stop watching – something will have to change. The facts are facts: the “world champion” couldn’t beat someone over ten years his junior and effectively cheated to make sure he had virtually no chance of losing. No judge was EVER going to give it to Yadin or CJ over Mick if it was close, but there would be hell to pay if that same scenario came down in a heat against JJF and Mick was pushed. The world champ can’t beat John John or do an air, so its bullshit. If you don’t believe that you and the ASP deserve each other.

  • Jeff

    Unbelievable
    that you mention the “controversial score of John’s last Backdoor wave”
    but ignore the internet uproar about Mick’s over scored waves, Mick’s
    intentional interference to avoid JJ in the quarters and Mick’s one win
    all year in weak French waves. I’ve read a number of posts related to
    end of the year… About 40 percent congratulate Mick, 59 percent claim
    it was all rigged, Mick was over scored and Kelly is the true Champ and
    maybe, maybe 1 percent mention that John John’s final wave was a little
    under scored. Nobody really has a problem with Kelly winning Pipe. He
    was amazing. Lots of people reasonably believe Mick, though a great
    surfer, should not be champ in 2013. It’s an asterisk title win for
    Mick.
    Unbelievable
    that you mention the “controversial score of John’s last Backdoor wave”
    but ignore the internet uproar about Mick’s over scored waves, Mick’s
    intentional interference to avoid JJ in the quarters and Mick’s one win
    all year in weak French waves. I’ve read a number of posts related to
    end of the year… About 40 percent congratulate Mick, 59 percent claim
    it was all rigged, Mick was over scored and Kelly is the true Champ and
    maybe, maybe 1 percent mention that John John’s final wave was a little
    under scored. Nobody really has a problem with Kelly winning Pipe. He
    was amazing. Lots of people reasonably believe Mick, though a great
    surfer, should not be champ in 2013. It’s an asterisk title win for
    Mick.

  • Alex Neville

    Nicely written piece, very enjoyable.

  • markallen62

    kelly’s air-drop on that 10 ft keg i will always remember….total fearlessness..and how about that composure on the re-connect,rail-set and butt drag…and one of the hardest spitting waves i have ever seen omg-

  • a.ec

    does anybody really believe that mick is in the same league as a.i. and curren?! for shame asp.

  • DB

    Sean- Thoroughly enjoyed your story- a true master of the written word. Slater #1 Jersey does say it all!

  • chidders

    Hey all, its just competition. It happens in all sports. The best don’t always win do they! End of the day they are all fantastic surfers and, do we really give a f**k! Lets catch some waves of our own ;-)