Kelly Slater has a surprisingly kooky sense of humour. I remember once, live, overdubbing a camp commentary, to the movie No Destination that was playing on a big-screen at Quiksilver’s head-office in France. The gag was a hit. Some party-goers were outraged (you mock homosexuals?) while others laughed at the absurdity.
Soon, another voice joined me, endowing the game with in-character banter for ten minutes.
“Oh Ross! Great turn! Who knew you had such spunk!”
“O0hh Shane, great… bottom… turn…”
Who knew Kelly had humour!
And, today, on Instagram, as April Fool’s Day fell in America, Kelly Slater announced his retirement.
“Big decisions in life don’t come easy and it’s taken a lot of quiet time and personal introspection to come this conclusion,” wrote the 43-year-old from Torquay, Victoria.
Twenty-two thousand fans double-tapped “like”; nearly two thousand were moved enough to write some kind of message, a litany of disbelief and wailing sadness.
…and by beating Mick Fanning with one huck, he saved the WSL from a day of reckoning…
If you are one of the few who didn’t happen to call me to let me know, yes, I am aware. Mason Ho won his heat at the Rip Curl Pro Bells and made me look terribly stupid on the internet.
But hate all you please, because I couldn’t be more thrilled! I may have egg on my face but we, and more importantly the WSL, have more live Mason time. Find me a contemporary shredder who ain’t glued to their screen for more action of the diminutive Hawaiian!
When Brett Simpo toppled Adriano De Souza I should have figured something was up. But at two-foot high-tide Rincon, with Mick Fanning, the three-time Bell ringer and defending champ in the red jersey, the kid never stood a chance.
But he did. And he nailed it! I was 0.03 from saying I told you so and couldn’t be more psyched! And you know what the best part was? He surfed fun!
He sniffed at sections. I willed him on. He hunted closeouts. I wanted him to go. He found the sweetest little ramp of the morning and full-roted his way to an eight and the highlight reel like a young Reynolds circa 2005. He surfed exactly how he wanted to and we applauded.
And then he went into comp mode, and it got weird.
That 5.13? Sheesh. Ross Williams called it “funky” and “bordering on awkward” and it sure was. He found the lead, but it wasn’t over. If I know one thing about professional surfing it’s don’t count out the three-time world champion against the wildcard in his first ever dance on the main stage. On the beach Mike Ho was damn entertaining, tripping on every moment.
But it was enough, and Mason Ho defeated Mick Fanning and Freddy Patacchia and you all told me I was an idiot. And I was. He proved me wrong, and in doing so, Mason Ho saved the WSL from a day of reckoning.
WSL Commissioner Kieren Perrow is rubbing his hands together. Could you feel the vibe around Mason today? On a day of fat, weak Bells where only seven heats were run, the second event of the year running in sub-par waves, Mason is all anyone can talk about. You know Kelly and John John both surfed, right?
Mason is hot property. He’s the guy who you tune in to see. Even Bobby Martinez probably watched him surf! He’s different and we love it. He flared in the water and giggled at Todd Kline in his post-heat interview without mentioning three-to-the-beach or building a house or some other surf garbage. When Todd asked Mason if he’d ever dreamed he could beat Mick Fanning at Bells, Mason said, “Yes!”
The kid brings traffic, and traffic to a WSL webcast is Paul Speaker’s dream. You think the WSL is missing Alana Blanchard on the girl’s roster this season?
Mason wants to be on tour. Is very public about wanting to be on tour. And the tour wants Mason to be a part of it.
But does the tour fit Mason? Or was this an entertaining, and one-off, curio?
According to a WSL insider who spoke with BeachGrit on condition of anonymity, there are some big shakeups on the way.
It’s long been an open secret that the new tour is operating heavily in the red, and the non-endemic sponsor dollars that ZoSea has been courting are proving increasingly gun shy when it comes time to sign on the dotted line.
According to our source, WSL brass have been “in talks with a global sportswear company,” the ultimate goal (from ZoSea’s perspective) being their name on all events.
While our source declined to name a specific brand, available information indicates an Oregon-based footwear manufacturer that has repeatedly dipped its toes into the surf market before eventually retreating to more lucrative shores.
Most unfortunately for Speaker et al., concerns regarding reportedly lackluster numbers from the Gold Coast webcast, exacerbated by growing doubt that ZoSea can properly administrate and monetize the tour, have thrown the proverbial monkey wrench into ongoing negotiations.
“The GC event looked really bad, and there’s been pressure to move more events into the mainland US. They want to dump Fiji in favor of the US Open as a late addition this year and add another event in CA for 2016… [It] will most likely be an existing QS event to save money using existing infrastructure.”
This should come as no real surprise. The Fiji contest has long been a logistical nightmare and the remote nature of the break makes it impossible to recoup expenses with on the ground advertising and permitting.
“There’s a large contingent who feel quality of surf should be a secondary concern, compared to getting people to events. These guys come from mainstream media and don’t understand how bad it looks. In their minds it’s all about attendance numbers.”
Unfortunately, that’s not all. In response, all surf brands will pull out of their existing events, using various loopholes to escape contractual commitments.
Details are vague, but our source believes it is likely that Quiksilver will exercise a “mismanagement” provision in their contract, employing the Gold Coast event as a pretense in order to withdraw from the tour without penalty.
This marks the second time in two years that bad news for Quiksilver has been released on April 1st , no doubt lending doubt to its veracity. But, as with Slater abandoning ship in 2014, it is, sadly, deadly serious.
You can expect to see any mention of surf brands be quickly and quietly scrubbed from the WSL’s website, with litigation to follow.
But his post-heat interviews will be uproarious! The spirit will soar!
Now before we get into this, let me make one thing clear, I love Mason to death. My favourite surfer? Yeah, he’s close. Head-checks, backside alley-oops, backside tweaked-out method grabs, disco floaters plus the general not-giving-a-fuck-what-anyone-else-in-the-world is doing, especially on a piece of foam and fibreglass. Mason Ho is fan-fucking-tastic, if I’m going to be honest.
The newly signed Rip Curl Hawaiian has the wildcard entry into the Bells Beach World Tour event and this will mark his first ever appearance in a World Tour event.
And he won’t make a single heat.
You see, Mason ain’t known for grinding out turns in creaky little waves. Against the three-times Bells winner Mick Fanning? Fred Pattachia? Those old horses who’ve thrown their lives at the Tour? Who understand, implicitly, what World Tour judges want?
Mason is the antithesis of Mick, and this is why Rip Curl signed the 26 year old. He makes surfing look like more of a hoot than anyone out there, hunting his closeouts on dry reef while riding those colourful beefed-out Mayhems.
Epic right? Well, not really. When was the last time you saw a chop-hop in a heat? A switchfoot? Or when someone got naked mid-wave? Mason is famous for fun surfing. But fun surfing is not World Tour surfing. Mason will have to change his entire wave outlook to stand a chance against any one of the world’s best.
Remember we’re talking about Bells here, the fattest wave on tour, where tubes are seldom seen and air sections are few and far between (unless you’re Kelly whose Bells huck-to-the-flats is surely implanted in your memory bank). The rail game has always reigned supreme out here and Mason’s rail game while solid is not the focus of his repertoire.
Bells also has a habit of eating rookies alive. The supernatural cauldron of eyes beaming down on you has played on everyone from Kolohe to Kerrzy and Mason is up against the wall. Having not shown the form to qualify through the WQS and a lack of winning experience at a wonky ole wave like Bells will leave Mason with his hands full from the get-go.
Oh yeah, and it’s cold. Like real cold. Hawaiian surfers don’t get a lot of full-suit time and have struggled here as a result. The last Hawaiian to make a final appearance out here was the late great Andy Irons with the new breed struggling to make an impact in recent years. Mason has the froth with his collection of brand new Curl steamers but that shiver sure is hard to shake.
Mason, I hope you read this and go out and prove me wrong. I want nothing more than for you to combo Fred and Mick in the first round. I want you to cheater-five all the way to the final and out-boogie the whole damn tour, come in, and then show ’em how to nail a post-heat interview.
Bring it on Mason, bring it on.
Hope: The new GPS watch will make you a better surfer!
Rip Curl will change your life with bulky plastic trinket!
I was in a cafe eating bagels when my companion reached for a slice of seared tuna from the unfinished plate of the just-departed diners next to us. As his arm reached across me, the shirt-sleeved pushed back enough to reveal a bulky plastic watch, the sort you might’ve seen on children in the eighties. It was a squared-off, all-black device that protruded from his wrist like a pyramid with the point sawn off.
“Rolex?” I said, irony heavy.
“Rip Curl,” he said, forking the tuna into his mouth.
By Rip Curl he meant the Rip Curl GPS watch, fashioned from the same technology that Billabong had knocked back during its terrible time with buy-outs and revolving CEOs.
I’d seen ’em online and knew Rip Curl had squeezed some of the most fabulous surf-centric software into its little anodes and transistors and valves. What use was irony to me now? What use was allegiance to everything hip when what I wanted, as a surfer, was here before me in this plastic shell?
I begged, “Get me one.”
My pal has contacts. Three days later, a box was dropped onto my doorstep containing my own GPS watch. The watch comes in a small white container with simple instructions and a charger that bites the undercarriage of the watch like an inquisitive shark.
I’ve had it for one week, or four surfs. I’ve ridden a total of 54 waves, paddled 14.5km, reached a top speed of just over 30 clicks and danced upon a wave that traversed over 140 metres of Pacific ocean.
I follow the surfers Mick Fanning, Owen Wright and Matt Wilkinson on the Rip Curl Watch app and find my numbers compare favourably, although mine are at Bondi; theirs are at Pipeline and Bells.
Mostly, I’m a lazy surfer, or at least I was. Pre-watch, I’d paddle out the back, sing a few tunes, engage pals in conversation, wait for sets, get one out of every three if I was lucky, most surfs coming in at six waves or thereabouts. In and out within thirty minutes.
Now I’ve got a wave-count meter staring at me. How long can you look at the number one on your wrist? Or two? Fifteen is now my lowest acceptable number. Paddle distance enthrals me (fitness!) so I traverse the beach looking for banks, looking to up my wave count, of course, but also to get the kilometres ticking over.
The money figure is top speed. Who knew 30 clicks could be so fast? Who knew how often we stagnate at around 23 or 24 k’s or, if the surf is weak, between 12 and 16. If you really wanna go fast, you have to try harder, and harder than you think. Already, I’ve learned that one pump into a critical-enough turn will up the speedo. It’s addictive and I’ve developed a no-prisoner approach, even in crowds.
Are you really going to paddle over that shoulder and force me to lose precious momentum just to avoid you when my vanity is at stake? A stutter along the wave could mean the difference between something in the high-twenties and the thirties. What a thrill it is to skim your fingers and see your bewildered eyes!
Downsides? Yeah, there’s a few. Run fast and hard enough into the water and it’ll count it as a wave (but you can lose it with the software’s trimming device). Apparently if you pump your arm fast enough back and forth it’ll add a little too. If you thought surfing was a way of getting away from staring at your phone, well, don’t tell me you won’t be staring at his.
And, with precious data at stake, every surf becomes a heated battle with yourself.
I like it. I love it. I live for it.
When I forgot to charge it and arrived at the beach to surf yesterday, I didn’t paddle out.
What if I succeeded in creating a new benchmark in my stats? What use would it be?