Kelly's agonising form, Leo's ascent and "massive generational change."
The fifty-something Stephen “Belly” Bell, best friend to Kelly, step-daddy to Leo, also owns a piece of my heart. For the two years I lived in Hossegor, through the grey cloak of the long winters and the saturated golds of the too-short summers, he was kinder than he ever needed to be.
Maybe it was our mutual love of titties, short trips to Spain and whistling sand-bottom tubes that clapped like thunder across the town’s sandbanks, but it felt real.
Belly moved from Victoria to France in the mid-nineteen eighties and set up a glassing shop called Euroglass. He had the contract to build all the Quiksilver boards for Europe which, in the honey surf industry days at the turn of the century, meant everyone was coming to Belly for boards, Kelly Slater and the sixties icon Miki Dora included.
Because he was Australian, and more Australian than anyone I’d ever met (although fluent in French), Belly was the hub around which that country’s surfers revolved during the European leg of the tour.
Once Belly asked me to affix a tail-pad onto a board that was bound for Quicksilver’s flagship store in Paris. It was, ostensibly, an ex-Slater board, but it wasn’t. I put the K-Grip pad on a crooked angle and while it would’ve been justified for him to be agitated and cruel, a hard kidney punch at least, he gave me a fatherly smile and said, “you fucking idiot.”
“Loved by all” is a hoary old phrase to throw around, but it really is true.
Stephen Bell, a little man with a bald head and baggy pants, is all heart, no ego.
Did you know he also rips?
This morning, the World Surf League posted an interview with Belly on their website, covering such topics as Kelly’s agonising form, Leo’s sparkle, and how he came to be the boo of Leo’s mama.
On his pro surfers losing:
Kelly’s in a bit of that situation at the moment. And we’ve spent long periods of time talking about it. We were at the same house in Margaret River when Kelly lost, and he spent the next day with Leo giving him his wisdom. And that was one way of dealing with his own frustrations. I wouldn’t go past frustration, period, to describe it.
He won the Pipe contest at the start of the year, and came in fifth at the Eddie Aikau. I said, ‘Hang on a minute. Just because you’ve had three tough events, you’re the greatest surfer on the planet.’ I think he realizes, it’s a frustration point, he didn’t get good waves, versus ‘Oh my god, it’s the end of the world.’
But for the kids, it can be like that. And the QS is worse — to get to those stages, and come so close to qualifying. It’s like having my surfboard business two week away from bankruptcy.
On what separates winners from losers:
That’s a matter of how badly you want something. I will not be beaten and I’m going to do whatever morally correct thing it takes to get me there, and I’ll be smart about it. That goes with every facet of life. With my staff at the surfboard factory, I say if you want something, go and do it.
I say the same thing to the younger team riders. There’s a rider I invited to Hawaii. He said, ‘I don’t have the money.’ I said, ‘I’ll give you a free house and food, all you have to do is get a ticket. Go out, work two jobs — you get what you want in life.’ Talent comes in many forms, and I’ve seen much less talented surfers make it further competitively than more talented surfers who don’t have that drive or resourcefulness.
On generational change:
We’re right in the crisis now of a massive generation change. From 2004 to 2011, you had your quarterfinals with Andy Irons, Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson, Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow. You’d have — pardon my French — kids shitting themselves, scared shitless of being there. And the other guys would eat them alive.
And then those five guys have pretty much retired, or just about on the edge. And with the Matt Wilkinson and others, they’re not afraid to win anymore.