OuterKnown is finally real because it is finally in the New York Times. Kelly Talks about his influences, brilliantly weaving Pete Townend into a conversation of surf substance and style. I love Pete Townend and Kelly’s including that brilliant little man is perfect. He also predicts his own death, claiming that he will drown when towed into an 80 foot wave. Why not 100 feet? Because Kelly is an enigma. He never does what you think he will do. The piece is well written, beautifully photographed by Morgan Maassen and totally worth a read (here).
Or, if you are overly tired, wait until tomorrow and read it on Stab.
"What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly..." says Thomas Paine. I respond, "$25? For this?"
I never meant to go to the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach. Its chunky, cold thing right on the heels of the glorious Gold Coast never got me. The tour is fresh at Snapper. Anything is possible. By Bells we know anything is not possible. That the same names, give or take a few, make it to the quarters, semis and finals year in and year out. It is both way to early to care and just too late to care. The perfect blah.
One year I was cooling my heels in Bondi, having just returned from Coolangatta and happy that I did not have to go to Victoria. Then a little exchange that I had had with Mick Fanning on the North Shore, a few months earlier, erupted onto the front pages of Australia’s papers. “Damn all…” I thought “…now I have to go to Blahs because if I don’t, everyone will think I’m chicken.”
So I went.
My first night I loitered in and around the pub, or whatever it was, where Rip Curl was holding a party. “I can’t believe you are here…” surf industry acquaintences would gasp, and I felt warm inside while responding, “What do you mean? I didn’t do anything.”
Nobody punched me.
The next day, the event was called on and I wandered to the event site. There was some semi-truck trailer operating as a …I couldn’t tell what until I got close. A ticket window. I looked at the board and saw it would cost me $25 dollars to go to the beach and watch professional surfing.
I had never been so incensed in my life.
Usually I would have found some media pass or industry hook-up or something, but I think my media privileges had been revoked at Rip Curl. So I just stood there staring at the ticket board. I literally could not believe they had the audacity to charge money to go to the beach and watch professional surfing. Charge money! To go to the beach! And watch professional surfing! And on Easter of all weeks. I threw a cup at a poster of Mick Fanning and stormed out of the area. I didn’t care if people thought I was a chicken or not. I refused, on principle, to pay money to go the beach and watch professional surfing. I am not a cheap man. I glorify in spending money as quickly as I can on pointless extravagances. Going to the beach and watching professional surfing is not one of those pointless extravagances.
I sometimes think back on that day. Was I in the knee-jerk wrong? Should all surf events charge an entrance fee? Would professional surfing be in a better place if it cost money to see? And then I think “No.”
Also, the aboriginal face painting tradition seems off.
“If it wasn’t Kelly Slater I couldn’t give a shit,” says the semi-retired shaper Greg Webber, explaining his return to the shaping bay as he pulls a modern interpretation of his famous early-nineties banana board from the rear compartment of a station-wagon.
Greg has stopped, briefly, at a photographer’s studio in Sydney, en route to the surfboard’s destination at Bells Beach. He smiles.
“But if Kelly likes it…”
The surfboard is a five-ten squash tail, with flyer, all white, the Webber Rorshchach logo mid-deck, and when one holds it by the tail, nose down, and looks down along the deck, the famous continuous curve, or banana, reveals itself. The curve is as sculptural as it is beautiful. Such tones and harmonious ensemble. To even get the blank to shape the board, Greg had to physically bend the blanks to the required curve.
Is it art or a workable machine?
A little history. In 1992, Kelly Slater won his first world title, that ain’t news. But, in that year’s first event, at Narrabeen, it was the Australian Shane Herring, on a Webber banana, who beat Kelly in the final. History has recorded Slater’s rapid upward trajectory as well as Herring’s equally rapid trajectory in the opposite direction.
But Kelly never forgot about Herring and, specifically, the turns he was able to create on Webber’s continuous curves.
“The boards didn’t have their full day in the sun, in my opinion,” Slater had told me earlier. “Did you see those turns Shane did on em? And Rommel (Michel Rommelse) and Richie (Lovett)? When the waves have substantial power and speed they’ll do whatever you want and opens up new places on the wave.”
On an earlier call, Greg had told me about a photo Kelly had sent him (super low-res, natch, so the photos can’t be reproduced even online) and I ask that he open it on his phone. Greg has talked the photo up like crazy and I’m sceptical. The little file, this photo that is pixelated even on the screen of a telephone, is almost beyond description. But let me try.
We see a wave, maybe four feet, and Kelly is 10 metres out on the face, rail buried from nose to tail. He is two-thirds of the way through a cutback, and if one imagines the final few frames, Kelly has transmitted a turn so experimental it is, absolutely, one of the best I’ve seen in surfing.
“I wish Herro had stayed with them longer and the older crew like Barton had been open to them,” said Kelly. “It seemed like Shane couldn’t deal with the huge difference in design (focused on him and his success) and carry the weight of it around and he simply quit them instead of taming them down a little. He went straight back to flatter rockers and vee-bottoms I think, which didn’t suit what he had built his surfing around with the tight pocket turns even though he had the low centre of gravity and power to ride anything. The whole design was like this crazy, radical evolution that died abruptly… They were like Greg’s Chernobyl experiment, just super volatile and unstable.”
If you’ve ever tried to surf a banana you’ll know what Kelly’s talking about. They ain’t for beginners. Unless you’re turning, you’re sinking. Get ’em moving and they’re rockets.
Greg and Kelly’s 2015 version has lowered the rocker, but not the nature of the continuous curve. Greg pulls out the analogy of the banana board as a turbo engine as opposed to the normally aspirated engine.
Nothing special, at low revs, but once the turbo kicks in? The trick, of course, is getting rid of the turbo lag. And, so, Greg and Kelly have a few different version of the curve. There are three versions in the back of Greg’s wagon, all untouched, except for my dirty fingerprints on curve #2.
“Low speeds are an issue. It’s a constant balance mixing speed and maneuverability,” said Kelly. “There’s no reason you can’t calm the curves down a bit. Different waves, different curves. We’ll all die looking still looking for the perfect board.”
Is the modern banana going to work? Will Kelly ride ’em at Bells?
“I don’t know where I’ll personally end up with it but I’m into a mix of different designs and ideas at the moment and I’m sure something good will come from it. I’m still riding CI’s and also working with Tomo a bit and even got a couple nice boards from Stacey. I’m sure Maurice will have a couple options for me at Bells also. I’ll likely hit up Simon to see if we can make something for J Bay. Just lots of design ideas getting thrown at the wall. And they all have their merits…”
Matt Biolos is known as many things. One of them is, most assuredly, not fashion icon. He generally pairs worn t-shirts with whatever else is in his closet and then liberally sprinkles fiberglass onto. His sunglasses range from overly large to why are you wearing a tinted windshield on your face? I think his shoes still have the puffiest tongues. He is perfect just the way he is and I hope his San Clemente circa 1999 never changes.
Recently, I went to pay him a visit. It was a sunny morning and the alley behind his shaping bay was alive with pleasure. I always look forward to our visits because Matt is not only very intelligent about surfboard design he is also very opinionated and well studied in global/local politics. He could be considered a sort of renaissance man, if hipsters had not utterly tainted the word.
I pushed into his shop and there he stood and he looked me up and down and said, “Did you buy those jeans that way or did they fade naturally? You look like Peruvian hooker.” I didn’t even have to look down to be mortified for I knew exactly what he was talking about.
Three years ago I found a perfect pair of jeans. They were made in Denmark by a fine label, Won Hundred, and they fit exactly, and I mean exactly, right. I wore them and wore them and wore them for two years but I became very worried that they would break down and I would be left without so I scoured the internet for another pair. Unfortunately there was only one in the same fit/measurements as my exactly right pair and it had an extreme wash. Deep dark blue everywhere except thigh and shin, where it turned a very much lighter blue. Still, I was so worried that I bought them. They came and, while I knew the wash wasn’t good, the fit was even better. I hoped that the dark deep dark would lighten a bit or the much lighter would darken or something.
Eventually, I stopped thinking about the wash because the fit was OMG. Women would ask me who designed. Men would stare with envy. And then I walked into Matt Biolos’ shaping bay and, like a very sharp tack, he popped my balloon. I could not lie to him and stuttered that I bought them that way. He laughed and continued to talk about the sorts of jeans that Peruvian hookers wear, the same sort that I was in, and I could not dismiss his description because I knew he was exactly, and I mean exactly, right.
I wear those jeans sporadically, still, but when women ask me who designed, I wonder if they are, secretly, Peruvian hookers. When men stare with envy, I wonder if they are merely pricing my services.
Who knew the WSL was endowed with such a fine humour?
The WSL proved it isn’t averse to an April Fools prank either, and by proxy of it’s XXL arm, posted this photoshopped picture of Maya Gaberia earlier today.
The intrigue thickened with the cryptic caption: “BREAKING NEWS – Did Maya Gabeira just ride the biggest wave in history today? XXL Judges are working to determine if this late ride is eligible for the 2015 Biggest Wave Award and possibly the 100-foot wave bonus worth up to one million dollars. Stand by for more details about this potentially record-shattering day at Dungeons, South Africa.”
The gag proved a hit on Facebook, with Scott Burke keen to play along: “Guys, if this is a ‘joke’ it’s in particularly poor taste. Is it funnier because she’s a woman? Thought you’d be supporting that, rather than making jokes. (111 likes and counting)
From Gabriela: “This joke is tasteless, and disrespectful to Maya and shows that unfortunately surfing can be a sexist sport still now. Sad.”
From Juan: “If this is an April Fools joke you guys are a bunch of assholes for using Maya in it. Why use a woman that is truly breaking barriers in our sport? It truly shows the sexist bullshit that continues to plague a sport that should be pure and open to whomever can ride a wave with whatever means…”
The comments drew this response from WSL: “Don’t take it wrong people, we love Maya. She is the FIVE TIME XXL Women’s Best Overall Performance Award winner…. (And who else even has a division for women’s big wave surfing?) Happy April Fools to all (60 likes and counting).”