Kelly Slater and bird
So much of surfing is filled with flamboyant crooks and racketeers, many of whom are also drunks and sex maniacs. And then there is Kelly Slater, a man you want to tell at least a hundred times how beautiful he is and how much surfing needs him… | Photo: Steve Sherman/@tsherms

Kelly Slater Don’t Give A Fuck

A new clothing label, new boards, movies, cruel jokes. Kelly Slater circa 2015 is a bird set free… 

Two days ago, on April 1st, Kelly Slater announced his retirement (“The #RipCurlPro was the first event I surfed on tour and it’s fitting that this will be my last ) and baited his one million followers into a melee of pustulating and sad say-it-aint-so’s.

Most of them debated whether it was an April Fool’s joke, or if in fact the 11x World Champ was retiring (last year he announced his departure from Quiksilver on April Fool’s eve).

The post turned out to be, of course, a joke, the record corrected, first, by BeachGrit. (Click here!)

Slater will continue to win or not win contests, will continue to age effortlessly and beautifully.

Because here’s the thing: Kelly Slater doesn’t seem to give a fuck anymore. His behavior over the last year, since parting ways with Quik, has been something like an elite athlete’s version of Tom Hanks’s life in Big. Let me lay it all out for you:

In the 12 months since Slates announced the split, he founded Purps, a canned energy drink that purports to provide unparalleled natural liquid nutrition and energy, and which you couldn’t keep out of his hands during the middle-half of last year’s tour, each of his on-camera appearances marked by that white can with eep-purple graphics.

He founded his own company, Outerknown. Backing him? The Keiring Group an international clothing firm alongside upscale brands like Alexander McQueen, Gucci, Saint Laurent and, more closely related, Volcom. Then he spent the year wearing Veeco boardies and Electric sunglasses which was, in our little corner of the world, newsworthy.

Then in a year marked with barely-post-pubescent competitive domination by a crop of youngster half Slates’ age, the Old Man threw down one of the more absurd moves of 2014, a massive helicopter-like 540 air in windy, messy Portuguese beachbreak and basically broke the internet.

This year, after a disappointing finish to the 2014 season, Slates began ’15 out with a bizarre mid-heat board change (switching to a Daniel Thomson-designed Firewire hydrodynamic planing hull with just a few minutes left in a heat) and proceeded to get swatted by a rookie Brazilian.

Then he bought 70% of Firewire. (The decision announced to the world on BeachGrit! Click!) Because, well, why not?

Even in the last week he’s purchased the movie rights to a book that chronicles surfing’s lurid affair with drug smuggling, released a line of teenage home furnishings with Pottery Barn/William Sonoma’s kid sibling company, PBTeen (which you just have to go fucking see, as some of the champ’s collabo pieces are wretchedly great); and then, as mentioned above, punked his loyal followers with an April Fool’s retirement.

Kelly Slater PBTeen
Kelly Slater and his Shoreline task table lamp ($US149) for PBTeen.

Which is to say, good for you, Kelly, you beautiful motherfucker.

If this is the twilight of your career, as so many seem so certain is the case, then fuck it. You do you, brother. Have the fun you so deserve. We’ll be watching until the last curtain closes. And probably long after that, disbelieving til the end.

As seen tomorrow on Stab!

Kelly Slater predicts his own death!

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.

Why I hate Bells. And so can you!

"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.

Greg Webber and banana board
Will you just look at that beautiful continuous curve? Most boards are a three-part curve, a hit in the nose, a hit in the tail with a flat mid-section. But, this. Such tones, such harmonious ensembles. Question is, does it work? | Photo: Richard Freeman/

Greg Webber Just Shaped Kelly Three Banana Boards

And, this morning, he arrived at Bells with 'em… 

“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.

Greg Webber and banana board
This is not a flat bottom. See the concave all the way through to the nose? Anti-conventional? Yeah, it is. Dimension-wise, it’s 5’10”, 12 and a bit in the nose, 18-and-a-half in the middle, and 14″ in the tail.

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.”

Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. Conventional enough outline. The art is in the rocker and the bottom curve. Photo by Richard Freeman.
Nothing is a waste of time if you use the experience wisely. Conventional enough outline. The art is in the rocker and the bottom curve. Photo by Richard Freeman.

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…”

Three, four, fins. And the dimensions of an ambitious experiment. Photo by Richard Freeman.
Three, four, fins. And the dimensions of an ambitious experiment. Photo by Richard Freeman.

(You like the photos? Come to Richard Freeman’s website. Click. Or Instagram. Click.)

Matt Biolos (screen left) wearing windshields and huh?
Matt Biolos (screen left) wearing windshields and huh?

Candid: Matt Biolos called me a Peruvian hooker

A sting worse than 1000 paper cuts.

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.