Tag Archive for: Pipeline

Thank You, Kelly

10 Feb
February 10, 2022
Photo: Brent Bielmann for WSL

On Saturday afternoon in pumping 10- to 12-foot surf at one of the world’s most dangerous breaks, Kelly Slater made history … again. The 11x world champ won the Billabong Pipe Masters just six days shy of his 50th birthday. He took the final against 24-year-old Seth Moniz, a world-class talent, North Shore local and Pipeline specialist.

 It was Kelly’s 8th Pipe Masters title and 56th event win of his illustrious career, one that spans 30 years, 832 heat victories and 31 perfect 10-point rides. He is the youngest world champ ever (age 20 in 1992) and the oldest ever (age 39 in 2011). He won 5-straight world titles from 1994 to 1998 and holds nearly every record of significance in professional surfing.

 As word spread around the net about Kelly’s most recent – and possibly, greatest and maybe even last professional milestone (he referenced the “R” word) – images of his incredible rides and emotional post-heat interview began popping up on social media. If you are connected to surfing at all, you likely came across a few of them on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter.

 On Sunday morning, I even saw a post about it on LinkedIn. It garnered a handful of likes and made me feel good to see it there. But it also gave me pause to consider all those people for whom the post might have seemed trivial on the professional careers network, as well as others who might have noticed it only briefly on various other platforms while quickly scrolling through the news of the day. 

 For many, Kelly’s historic accomplishment may have been nothing more than a passing headline in their newsfeed, a novel tidbit about a vague personality in a sport that is too often associated with frivolous immaturity. But for those of us who surf, who through some serendipitous fortune have had the opportunity to witness the entirety of Kelly’s incredible decades-long career, it was and is something far more meaningful and consequential.

 There is a poem by Samuel Ullman titled, “Youth”. General Douglas MacArthur used to keep a framed copy of it on his wall and often referenced it in speeches. In it, Ullman reflects:

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind; it is not a matter of rosy cheeks, red lips and supple knees; it is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, a vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep springs of life … Nobody grows old merely by a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Whether sixty or sixteen, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonder, the unfailing child-like appetite of what’s next, and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station; so long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage, and power from men and from the infinite, so long are you young.”                              

 I am not big on celebrity culture and I have never been one for hero-worship. But what are heroes? In their simplest form, they are people who do something more. They work harder, persevere longer, take more risks, and make greater sacrifices. They inspire us to change and to do more, ourselves.

 As a 50-something who still surfs regularly (your average free-surfer, but I’m out there), who remains professionally and creatively inspired, and has never been willing to forsake my physical health, stop chasing my dreams or setting my personal goals one inch lower because that’s the expectation of culture for people my age; that’s what Kelly’s victory in the powerful surf at Pipe, his current World #1 ranking days before his 50th birthday (February 11th), and the entirety of his career, mean to me.

 It is about optimism and the challenge of remaining true to one’s ideals.

For the greater part of my adult life, Kelly has been one who has inspired these things in myself and so many others– to pursue life with vigor and passion; set goals based not on what others think, but on terms you set for yourself, and to believe anything is possible, something more – far more – than most others might even be able to imagine. Yes, there will always be wins and losses, but why burden yourself with pre-conceived notions and limitations?

 To Kelly, on behalf of myself and millions like me who have followed every step of your remarkable career, I say, Happy 50th Birthday. Thank you for your unyielding optimism and countless messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power played out across so many waves and oceans, and for so many years.

 Thank you for your enthusiasm, your unfailing childlike appetite for what’s next, and joy for the game of living. Thank you most of all for a lifetime of inspiration and for holding fast to that wonder that lives in the center of your own heart, and in ours.

The Real Winners of the World Title Race: The ASP and Pro Surfing Fans

23 Feb
February 23, 2014

Mick-Fanning-wins-2013-World-Title_Surf-Channel-Photo-Emily-Bates_7335

The real winners weren’t even in the water. Photo: The Surf Channel | Emily Bates

Cry all you want. Light up the net with rants, raves and conspiracy theories. Break down the heats, waves, drops, barrels, surfers, scores, could-have-beens, should-have beens and never-gonna-be’s. The contest is over. And while nerves were frayed, dreams shattered and emotions overflowed, one thing is clear – the winners of this year’s epic battle on the North Shore far outnumbered the losers. Kelly picked up his seventh Pipe Masters. John John nabbed his second Triple Crown, and Mick snatched his third World Title. All this, and the real winners weren’t even in the water. Rather, we were watching it unfold from the beach, the scaffolding, at home, at work, behind our computers, on our phones and through networks like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Congratulations ASP– you, ZoSea and fans of professional surfing everywhere won big. That. Was. Epic.

Regardless of whether you believe fill-in-the-blank was underscored or overscored (please choose one) by fill-in-the-blank points on his first, second or both (please choose one) wave(s), there are a few things I think we can all agree on.

a) The top surfers on the WCT are absolutely phenomenal. Pro-surfing snobs who still deride competitive surfing as uninspired, mechanical or lacking in any manner, spare us you indignation and spiritual self-righteousness. It’s you who are tired, repetitive and devoid of originality. No soul in pro surfing? Go learn to use the heat analyzer and watch Slater’s reaction after getting blown out of a menacing 10-point barrel against Parko in the semis. Watch him bravely trying to maintain his composure while speaking onstage prior to his heat with John John or Mick trying contain his own emotions after realizing he had earned the score to secure the World Title. Watch nearly any heat with surfers like Kelly, Mick, Julian, Gabriel or Adriano. Watch some old heats of Andy’s. Then shut up and stop trying to affix your definition of “soul” to everyone else. Thank God our souls are all unique.

b) The drama that unfolded on this year’s World Tour, from Bells to Cloudbreak to Tahiti and the weeks leading up to the Triple Crown rivaled any in professional sports. How much tension, how many storylines, how little margin for error in waves of beauty and consequence can we ask for? I think we got our money’s worth (and oh yeah, that’s right –I watched every contest online, for free!)

c) Mick may (rightfully) be 2013 World Champ, but Robert Kelly Slater is still the greatest surfer in the world. Right now. At age 41. Soon to be 42. How long can he continue to defy the laws of nature? Seriously? Had he won, I don’t think we’d ever really know. I think he would have retired. I’m a third-generation native of Florida and a die-hard Kelly fan. I wanted to see him win the World Title as much as anyone. But at the end of the day, I was stoked just to watch him put his full talents – his very soul – on display in the emotional way that he did following the loss of the title to Mick.  Selfishly, I’m thankful that his own competitive drive and pure love of surfing will bring him back for yet another year. It’s historic. It will never be duplicated. And each passing year only adds to that legacy.

(Disclosure: I feel for Yadin Nicol, but believe that his heat with Fanning was a true coin-toss. And, I don’t believe that Mick’s last minute wave against CJ was overscored. I do, however, believe that both of Hobgood waves were underscored, as has been the case with both CJ and Damien many times over the years, in my opinion. Perhaps that’s just my Florida bias. In any event, we can’t change history. And frankly, at this point, I’m not sure I’d want to.)

d) The ASP won BIG time, controversy be damned. Here’s the dirty little secret of subjective judging: it’s as compelling as it is maddening! It’s going to be extremely interesting to learn what the viewership numbers were online. I watched nearly the entire comp on my desktop, but had to leave my house for a different event prior to the final. There, at a holiday performance of the The Nutcracker, in which my daughter had a role, I had brief opportunity to steal away and catch a few minutes of the final on my cell phone. And there in the hallway, surprisingly, three other guys were doing the exact same thing, or otherwise asked for an update from me.

Now, with Kelly returning next season, the schedule enhanced yet again with the addition of Margaret River, and a contract with ESPN in hand, the ASP has a legitimate shot to get their plane in the air. They’ll need to take quick advantage, because they very likely dodged a bullet by Kelly not winning the title. Once he does decide to call it a career, there’s little doubt that it’s going to present a powerful vaccum for ZoSea, the parent company of the ASP, to work against. And, as great a champion as Mick may be, and as dynamic a surfer and promising a future world champ John John seems destined to be (or Julian or Medina), it’s going to take the kind of effort and infrastructure that ZoSea seems to be putting in place to keep the tour strong once Kelly calls it quits. But for this moment in time, in the weeks leading up to and during this historic North Shore season, ZoSea, the ASP and fans of pro surfing have all won. Call it a Triple Crown.

Not: The above article was originally created for and published on The Inertia, Surfing’s Definitive Online Community. To see full reaction and discussion of the article, click here.

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