Our fascination with Kelly Slater is gonna ride into the 2020s!
Yesterday, prez Trump was forgotten for a moment and we shifted noisy in our couches at the sight of Kelly Slater back at Haleiwa. For the first time in four years, the 11-timer was entered in all three Hawaiian Triple Crown events.
Was Kelly back in the Triple Crown game? Was running fifth in the all-time winner’s list suddenly insufferable?And, yeah, he looked like a whale that had received a harpoon. Darting back and forth. An easy heat win.
This morning I ran the whole thing though surf historian Matt Warshaw’s filter.
BeachGrit: Does it strike you as odd that Kelly doesn’t have more than two Triple Crowns, the last one almost twenty years ago?
Warshaw: Tom Carroll only has one. That’s much odder.
BeachGrit: You think it gives Tom some pain?
Warshaw: On good nights, Tom falls asleep thinking of his three Pipe Masters trophies, and on bad nights he revisits the horror of the ’88 Billabong Pro, and his stillborn third world title. But the Triple Crown, no, he’s fine with one is my guess.
BeachGrit: But, Kelly. There’s this…thing… that he can’t ride Sunset real well, hence the lack of TCs. I don’t believe that’s true. How do you see it? Is it a lack of interest in the Triple Crown on Kelly’s part?
Warshaw: Kelly fell hard for Pipe, right when he turned pro, or just before. Pipe was glamour. Pipe was new ground waiting to be broken. Sunset—not only is it a stupid amount of work, and the world’s most frustrating wave, but there wasn’t much left to do there by the time Kelly arrived. Long, deep turns, with 50 yards of travel time in-between.
Tom Carroll and Kong had already maxed out the performance level, more or less.
BeachGrit: And those skinny flip-nosed boards Kelly was riding back then . . .
Warshaw: The only place those boards really made sense was Pipe. I don’t know if Merrick shaped them specifically so Kelly could ride deeper at Backdoor, or if they just happened to work best there. Either way, Sunset wasn’t high on Kelly’s to-do list. That said, he easily could have won five events there. It’s just a lumbering heartbreaking bitch of a wave. You never put a big pile of money on anybody at Sunset. Tom Curren never won out there, and he rode the place like a god.
BeachGrit: How important is winning a Hawaiian Triple Crown? It gets talked up as the next best thing to a world title but, let’s be honest, that’s bullshit. Anyone remember Bede or Mike Rommelse or Myles Padaca or Kaipo Jaquias’ Triple Crowns? Although, I suppose, you could say that about Adriano or CJ’s world titles…
Warshaw: A Triple Crown trophy is worth more than a CT win in Rio or Portugal or Huntington, but less than a Pipe win, or an Eddie win. These days, anyway. The QS kicked the Triple Crown in the nuts, and it never really got back up. Before 1992, all three Triple Crown events had world title points. In ’92, when the QS started, it was just Pipe. Back when the Triple Crown mattered, the Ho brothers owned it. Kong got a couple. Tom got one. There was a year where Dane Kealoha won two of the three Triple Crown events, but didn’t get the title—how weird is that? Dane not having a Triple Crown seems impossible. But yeah, it really was a big deal up until the QS. And even after that, for a few years, I think all the top CT guys felt honor-bound to do all three events—but the focus shifted to Pipe. Sunny won whatever it was, 52 Triple Crowns in a row. Which he probably would have done even if all the CT contenders were involved. All the surfers you mentioned, Bede and Rommelse and Kaipo, none of them were undeserving. Apart from the fact that a lot of big boys weren’t playing, Kelly being the most obvious, there aren’t any real outliers on the Triple Crown winners list. They were all great North Shore surfers.
BeachGrit: Kelly’s hitting all three events this year, the first time in four years. What do you suppose his motivation is?
Warshaw: He’s been going to the North Shore every winter now for I think 30 years. If he hasn’t done all three Triple Crown comps for that past 20 or so, I guess he’d do it this year just to put a new twist on something that has to be getting . . . I don’t know, not boring maybe, but repetitive.
BeachGrit: If 2017 is Kelly’s last year, and he’s said enough publicly to presume it to be true, what will it mean for the tour and for pro surfing? Has he wrung the last drop of milk from the teat anyway and so little will change or matter? Or is he, in your opinion, still the hub around which the tour spins?
Warshaw: He’ll get wildcards for as long as he wants, and our fascination with Kelly’s wavepool ain’t going anywhere. So the tour will indeed spin out without him, but no doubt whatsoever that he’s gonna keep flagging our attention. My track record is horrible on trying to guess what Kelly is up to or what his motivation is. But I think he wants to win a CT event in his 50s. I really think that’s his goal, and there’s a decent chance he’ll pull it off.
BeachGrit: Over the last year, what has been your favourite moment involving Kelly’s social media? His pool announcement less than a day after Adriano gets the title? The Instagram post shortly after JJ won the title telling the world Jordy Smith made the best video parts and was the best technical surfer on tour?
Warshaw: I have a list of things to erase for memory once The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind technology is up to speed, and somewhere in the middle of that list is Slater’s face pasted onto Gene Wilder’s head. And fuck you for reminding me.