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Beach Grit

Opinion: “Kelly Slater slain by own creation!”

JP Currie

by JP Currie

Was the Founders Cup a fitting or sad end to Kelly Slater's illustrious career?

The Emperor’s New Clothes. You know the tale, right?

A particularly vain emperor, who cares for nothing except basking in his own glory, employs tailors to make him the finest garments ever seen. In an elaborate con, the tailors convince the Emperor that his clothes are made from invisible material. The Emperor parades in front of his court and townspeople, showing off his wonderful new clothes.

In reality he is naked. Of course his subjects go along with it, telling him how wonderful he looks. Until a boy, too young to understand the pretense, shouts the truth and strips the whole sham bare.

Derek Rielly believes that we have seen the future. He believes our world class beachies, our Hossegors, our Supertubos, all will be gone. He even suggests the goose of Snapper rocks might be cooked.

I think he’s being hasty. But it’s also true that with new technology we often overestimate the impact in the short term but underestimate it in the long term. Today it is The Emperor’s New Clothes; tomorrow, it might be real.

But for now, in the opinion of many, The Founders Cup was a flop. Even Stab didn’t seem to be tripping over themselves with their usual brand of effusive flatulence.

And didn’t the finale just sum up the weekend? We looked on as Slater’s wave ran off without him, and the production pretended they’d seen something else entirely.

Let me recap…

The crescendo of an inaugural event! A glimpse into the future, a harbinger of the explosion of competitive surfing in the collective mainstream psyche!

And of course it was left to Emperor Slater (46) to play us out.

He stood in the chest deep water and breathed. Not steady, compose-yourself breaths, but deep, theatrical Wim Hof breaths. He had soft eyes which alluded to intense focus but was actually flirtation. This is my moment, this is me, this is what I do…went the internal monologue…likely to a pounding backdrop of: LOOK AT ME. LOOK AT ME. LOOK. AT. ME.

Turpel promised us we might get “a crazy tie break sudden death experience”. We didn’t. I’m not sure Joe knew what that was anyway. Instead, we watched the spectre of the GOAT, gutted and laid bare by his own fair hand.

The wave was too fast. Too fast for 40 years of muscle memory and 20 years of competitive mastery. Those final two waves are among the most awkward, out of rhythm attempts I have ever seen from Slater. His trademark cat-like balance was still there. But what looks superhuman falling out of the sky at La Graviere, doesn’t so much at a shoulder high, off-green, man-made tidal bore replica. His arms flailed. There were spasmodic pumps down the line and half turns, all for a whitewater bash half a second too late.

You might get away with half a second in the ocean, son, but not in this tub. The wave is relentless, like the passing of time, or aging, for that matter. There’s a lesson in there somewhere.

His barrel riding was still great. He can do that. His set-up on the left was sublime. One might get the impression that most of what he’s done here is practise crouching.* Is Slater such a conehead that he built a place where he can just set his line and hold on til grim death?

He did one “big frontside wrap”, so expertly called by Joe Turpel. Martin Potter said “ooooooff”. The progression in the commentary box hauntingly symbolic of what we saw in the pool.

They desperately tried to attach meaning to the ending of his lefthander. Turpel said it was a rodeo flip. Pottz called it a backside rotator. Everyone else saw it as a fly away kick out.

A pudgy, shirtless man in the crowd with a GoPro strapped to his red-faced head waved a large American flag vigorously from the stands. “U.S.A! U.S.A!” I’m certain he shouted. He is our future.

Slater mounted his board in the afterwash, the foil jizz (we need new language, as per Jen See). He seemed, momentarily, to catch a glimpse of himself, hunching his shoulders and ducking his head under the water. But when his face lifted he was back to his impervious best, the facade of a smile as he raised his hands to golf clap himself.

Pottz said: “Wow, that was insane!” I wondered if he was.

I felt embarrassed hearing the echo of Martin Potter’s voice, like it was a dirty secret that only we should know about. I cringed to think it was being broadcast live to the public.

Jen See said Lemore was like the setting of a Steinbeck novel. I desperately wanted Turpel to take Pottz down to the water’s edge and ask him to look towards the horizon and imagine his future.

As a fitting visual metaphor for his demeanour and impact throughout the event, Strider was towed behind, head down and prone, like a piece of seaweed caught on a fin.

I was sad, I turned it off.

Just before I tapped out I watched Slater do his non-victory victory lap, a pre-diabetic Raimana* beaming from the front of the taxi ski, struggling onto the plane at full throttle. As a fitting visual metaphor for his demeanour and impact throughout the event, Strider was towed behind, head down and prone, like a piece of seaweed caught on a fin.

Slater is the tailor and the emperor. He wouldn’t have it any other way. You might say it’s a tragic end to an illustrious career, or you might consider it a fitting one. Slain by his own creation, or perhaps self-mutilation by masturbation.

“Slater needs to finish!” said Joe Turpel on the final wave, raising his tone for the occasion, and unwittingly reaching a level of profundity which escaped everyone.

“But he isn’t wearing anything at all!” A young boy in the crowd cried.

And it was over.

*Credit Longtom. For everything.