As The Sport of Kings attempts to professionalize, here are some new data points to help elevate the low-brow webcast commentary.
Five reasons why the tour will get the shakes without the greatest athlete in history…
More likely than not, Kelly Slater, 43-and-a-half years old, will step away from the pro tour after Pipe.
It’s never that easy with Kelly. He’s been threatening to leave since he came back from retirement in 2002 (he finished ninth) after a three-year sabbatical.
However, 2015 is different. His small-wave game is shadowed by the barely believable histrionics of Filipe Toledo, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence. Kelly is smarter than most. He’ll preserve his legacy and step off the tour in 2015 rated second or third in the world, a result that will surprise even him this year.
He won’t disappear, of course. Kelly’ll appear, in 2016, at those events at which he excels, Fiji, Teahupoo, and will hover around the commentary booth.
But how will the tour look without Kelly Slater? Can it even survive? Let’s examine the five issues that’ll arise once Kelly splits.
1. Will the title matter?
Isn’t it something that Kelly is only a few thousand points off the title, well into his middle age, those harvest years? Let’s swing back to the years when Kelly wasn’t on tour, 1999, 2000 and 2001. In 1999 Occy won the title, Sunny got it the following year and CJ, in the abbreviated year of terrorism, the year after. Two of those titles went surfers far beyond their primes; the other was an anomaly of a six-event year.
Compare those titles to Andy’s three consecutive crowns fought against Slater. In 2016, without Kelly, the title will be the most open it’s been in a decade-and-a-half. But there’ll be a shadow of doubt on the winner.
As in, could he have beaten Kelly?
2. You can forget about the voodoo that strikes you in the heart
John John is very close to miraculous at Teahupoo and wherever else (yeah, ok, France). But it’s Kelly, who like Tom Curren a generation before him, who’ll conjure a 10-foot standup barrel where others were falling off in closeouts. Who’ll nail a full rotation in a stinging offshore to beat whoever he has to. It’s in Kelly’s fight-to-the-death nature. No other surfer has anything close to Kelly’s desire to win.
3. It helps if the Champ is lucid
Apart from being movie-star handsome, Kelly Slater is also the smartest guy on tour, a little too hot for conspiracy theories but nobody’s perfect. And so after a heat, or a contest, win or lose, Kelly will dissect in forensic detail his heat or event. He’ll push back on a commentator if they’re wrong and answer tough questions if he feels they’re warranted. And that passive-aggressiveness when he loses?Priceless! There is no other surfer on tour even close to Kelly when it comes to opening their mouths.
4. You can forget the mainstream coverage
News outlets can jam a story around the hub of Kelly Slater, the oldest athlete still shooting for world titles, former lover of Pam, Baywatch, slayer of the Andy dragon, committed bachelor, all that gear, whereas a piece about two 22-year-olds without much beyond their athletic ability, just doesn’t fly.
5. Kelly spikes
YouTube hits, crowds on the beach, everyone comes for Kelly. Take the Orca out of the marine park and all you’ve got is a pool full of jumping fish.
(Now let’s watch his world title interview in 1992)
(And world title 11 in 2011)
Youngbloods Spearfishing and the overhaul of a once-dreary sport.
There’s not a lot of good spearfishing content online. Tons of fun amateur videos, but not many people putting the effort into stringing together a high-quality edit. Which is surprising, given how damn expensive spearfishing is.
I don’t like thinking about the absurd amount of money I drag into the water with me each time I go for a dive.
Youngbloods Spearfishing is pretty damn awesome. Slaying fish, getting barreled, a rather nice ass repeatedly making its way into frame. It’s a lot like my life, only the fish are bigger, the barrels deeper, and my wife’s ass hasn’t looked like that in years.
World champ Medina swings a second, CJ retires with pride, Kelly hovers nearby…
Every reader of a sentimental turn must have been pleased with the tableau with which the little drama of the Billabong Pro concluded. For what was better than the resurrection of the non-brain damaged but helmet-wearing Jeremy Flores and the world champion Gabriel Medina, who had previously been having the worst season of his life?
Yeah, the waves got progressively shittier, the swell interval shorter, the wind stronger, and Gabriel tried to hustle Jeremy out of position, failing.
But out of nowhere, Jeremy appeared at the apex of a six-footer, a ride so almost perfect (9.77, two judges calling it a ten), that Jeremy exited and formed an artificial penis over his pubis mons with his hand. Such virility! An orgiastic climax!
“It was impeccable, the flair for dramatics, foam ball drifting… again,” said Peter Mel, the channel commentator.
It was Jeremy’s great tactic, to wait only for sets, for waves that were nine or better, that threw him past Kelly Slater (in Kelly’s 152nd quarter-final), then CJ Hobgood and, finally, Gabriel Medina.
“Exact repeat, he didn’t get frazzled by Gabriel’s frantic tactics. Gabriel started scrambling all over the place; Jeremy steadied the course,” said Ross Williams.
“Had the skills to pay the bills,” said Striker Wasilewski.
Jeremy: “Gabriel is one really tactical guy. I thought I’d play his game and his game is to be really aggressive in the water. So I’d be more aggressive.”
Even radder, is Jeremy’s comeback from a head injury (read here) that kept him from competing at J-Bay. And now he wins? His first, since Pipe in 2010.
Highlights? Yeah, the first wave of the final:
Jeremy vs Kelly Slater, in the quarter finals:
Owen v Gabriel, semi one:
CJ v Jeremy, semi two:
But also, CJ Hobgood winning the AI Award for the Most Committed Surfer:
And, Filipe scored a perfect zero heat in round five! Watch here! But fans of a Filipe world title, fear not! The next event is Trestles. “He’s going to ride a white point down to Trestles! He’s such a stud!” said the commentator Ross Williams.
Billabong Pro Tahiti Final Results:
1: Jeremy Flores (FRA) – 16.87
2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) – 13.20
Billabong Pro Tahiti Semifinal Results:
SF 1: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 16.63 def. Owen Wright (AUS) 8.70
SF 2: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 15.86 def. C.J. Hobgood (USA) 8.93
Billabong Pro Tahiti Quarterfinal Results:
QF 1: Owen Wright (AUS) 16.93 def. Italo Ferreira (BRA) 15.94
QF 2: Gabriel Medina (BRA) 15.64 def. Kai Otton (AUS) 11.00
QF 3: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 12.90 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.16
QF 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 16.83 def. Kelly Slater (USA) 15.66
Billabong Pro Tahiti Round 5 Results:
Heat 1: Italo Ferreira (BRA) 15.00 def. Filipe Toledo (BRA) 00.00
Heat 2: Kai Otton (AUS) 13.50 def. Bruno Santos (BRA) 11.76
Heat 3: C.J. Hobgood (USA) 14.36 def. Aritz Aranburu (ESP) 14.00
Heat 4: Jeremy Flores (FRA) 13.37 def. Wiggolly Dantas (BRA) 13.21
2015 WSL Jeep Leaderboard Top 5 (after Billabong Pro Tahiti):
1: Adriano de Souza (BRA) 34,950 pts
2: Mick Fanning (AUS) 34,700 pts
3: Owen Wright (AUS) 34,400 pts
4: Julian Wilson (AUS) 33,200 pts
4: Filipe Toledo (FRA) 33,200 pts
Crimson-faced and puffed with effort...
The act of surfing, even at its most glorious, can still be an awkward dance. Arms flailing wildly, torso bent wrong, legs so spindly poking out of trunks or swathed in black neoprene. When lesser mortals partake it can look downright ludicrous but we love it and thus spare scientific description. No need to use the correct verbs. Better to simply emote and pretend we all look like swans.
But the British, dour and honest, see no need for restraint. Famed tabloid, The Daily Mirror, described Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent session in a way so painful that it is art. I reprint, in full, here. He was on a bodyboard, fyi, which makes it even more amazing. It also makes me very happy I am not British. My sensitive heart could, literally, not stand being talked about like this. So without further ado, I give you the best/worst thing ever written about surfing.
The portly Prime Minister donned a figure-hugging wetsuit on Polzeath beach in Cornwall while bemused security guards stood around…
Crimson-faced and puffed with effort, the portly Prime Minister finds the Cornish surf all a bit much. David Cameron donned a figure-hugging wetsuit and braved the grim August weather today as he surfed at Polzeath beach in Cornwall. But the driving rain and rolling waves soon had the Tory PM scampering back to shore for a cup of tea.
“He went running into the water like a 10-year-old kid,” an onlooker said. “It was like watching the opening scene of Baywatch!”
“He tried to surf but the waves were proper fierce. He soon came running out again – I think he got water in his ear.”
“They gave him some earplugs.”
Mr Cameron caught an ear infection on his first summer holiday in the Algarve earlier this month. He is spending this week in Cornwall and also plans to squeeze in a trip to Scotland before Parliament returns next month.