Why surfing with the cutest (and best) surfer of all time ain't no great thing…
Wouldn’t it be great to surf with Kelly Slater? He’s the world’s best surfer and an inspiration to generations of professional and casual surfers alike. Of course you want to surf with the King.
Are you sure? Some true stories might make you think otherwise. Read on!
A few years back I landed in Barbados on one of my many trips there. When I arrived late in the evening in Bathsheba, home to the consistent and often powerful Soup Bowl, I was greeted at the local rum shop by a few local friends. The first thing out of their mouths?
“Kelly’s on the island.”
Now, this isn’t an unusual event. The King cut his teeth over the years on powerful north swells at Soup Bowl, pound for pound as heavy as Hawaiian North Shore juice. Check out his section in Campaign 2 or the myriad illegal downloads of that section on YouTube for proof.
Slater is well-liked on Barbados and frequently returns to the island in between contests and sponsored events. No big deal, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a session with him at Soup Bowl? Of course!
Or, of course not…
Three days into the trip, I was out at average November Soup Bowl, a combo of windswell and smaller, rising north swell. It was a typical weekday, mid-day crowd of five, with myself, a Huntington Beach lifeguard named Adam, and three locals, including Kevin Nicholls, a homegrown Bathsheba standout. We were trading waves in the shifting peaks, with plenty to go around.
About an hour into the session, we noticed a little commotion in the parking lot, but thought nothing of it. Soon, a familiar bald head paddled out and sat with us in the lineup.
Kelly is very personable. Not too talkative, but polite. Not overly aggressive, but often in the right spot. I would surf a wave as hard as I possibly could, then paddle out to watch him show me how I truly was not surfing the wave to its fullest. I was surfing with Kelly Slater! I was stoked! For about 20 minutes…
Soon enough word got out and average Soup Bowl with just six guys out turned into a mad house. I guess everybody wants to surf with the King. And damn near everybody on the island seemed to have the same idea at the same time. Suddenly the main peak was swarming with locals, tourists, kooks and chicks on longboards sitting in the channel, you name it. It was out of hand. Unstoked…
Adam and I paddled up the reef to High Rock, another peak altogether and watched the mayhem until Slater paddled in about 45 minutes later. Lesson learned: don’t surf with the King if you don’t want to share.
Unhappy Corollary #1:
Two days later, the Bajans (that’s what Barbadians call themselves, sounds kinda like BAY-jen, not Bah-hen, because they’re from Barbados not Baja California) had their annual national surf tournament at Soup Bowl, so it was closed to free surf. It was windy that day, so after a few fun days, it was time to take a break, drink a few Banks beers and rum punches and watch the event. Reggae music over the loudspeaker, good local food, and a great tropical vibe are typical to any Bajan surf event.
After a few hours, we were walking back to our place along Parlour beach, which is just up the road from Soup Bowl. Parlour is a big, shifty, tricky field of waves that takes some time to get to know. Usually it’s empty or uncrowded, but up top we could see what seemed to be at least 20 people out. Twenty surfers at windy, shitty Parlour? What’s up with that? Then we figured it out.
Up the road, there were three long-lens photographers shooting the surfers. I walked up to one and said, “Let me guess. Kelly’s out, right?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” he replied sarcastically.
Parlour was crap. Total crap. The King probably just wanted a solo session to get wet. I know I’ve done the same and though it’s not a quality wave when it’s windy, warm tropical waves all to yourself aren’t so bad in the end. Unless of course you’re out and Kelly paddles out, then it’s a mob scene. So I’ve learned. So I’ve learned…
Unhappy Corollary #2:
Fast forward two years. I’m out at Surfrider Beach in Malibu on a fun south swell. Malibu is always crowded when it’s on, but I have this special lineup between Second and Third points that I like to sit on. When the waves shift a certain way, I get a bunch of long waves in a session. It’s never crowded in that “tweener” spot and is a great way to enjoy a “secret spot” between the mobs at the main peak.
There were just five of us out trading waves. Sounds familiar? A familiar face paddled out and it turned out to be Adam the Huntington Beach lifeguard. After a high-five, exchanging “waddups” and so on, I brought up that time we were surfing Soup Bowl when Kelly paddled out and everything went crazy. We had a laugh and compared that crowd to double whatever we were seeing at the main peaks here at the ‘bu.
Not five minutes later, as if on cue from the director of a grade-B surf horror film, a familiar bald head paddled out. Dammit, it’s Kelly and he’s coming straight to our little “secret spot.”
As I said, the King is a nice guy. He gives us a nod, asks if it’s fun, and otherwise just fits into our little pack. Not for long…
Faster than white on rice, flies on shit, you name it, it seems as if the packs at Second and Third point flowed to our spot as if a drain opened and they were caught in a rushing rapid headed straight for the King. Adam and I looked at each other as if we are caught in the same déjà vu moment at the same time (because, well, we were) and immediately bailed to the beach.
From the sand we witnessed world class surfing not at Second or Third point, but at what had become “Slater Point” because everybody wanted to surf with the King. It was a crazy display of crowd mentality that I will never forget.
What’s it like to be the greatest surfer in the world? You’ll have to ask Kelly Slater. He’s an excellent ambassador for the sport, a role model in many ways, and sure he has well-earned privileges: boat trips, secret spots, keys to cities, you name it. But, apart from those waves on the Dream Tour or a secluded surf magazine trip, it has to be hard to find privacy at any regular spot.
Superstardom has its advantages, but clearly it has its disadvantages.
And that privacy thing?
I’m not just talking about him. I’m talking about me. I mean, look, he’s able to get any wave he wants. People either give him waves, or he just goes deeper, dodging kooks, wannabes, and groupies as he flies down the line. But I’m a regular guy and I get stuck having to move down the beach, go in, or just wait until he’s done so that people can go back to using common sense and return to what they were doing before the King paddled out.
Of course you want to surf with the King. Wait, are you sure? Be careful what you wish for…