As anyone who has ever had one too many drinks will appreciate, knowing when to leave the party is far more difficult than it sounds. “What harm could one more drink do?” you tell yourself. Or, “Who knows, I might still pull.” And the party is, after all, where the party’s at. Home is so boring by comparison. | Photo: WSL/Steve Sherman/@tsherms

Opinion: “Kelly Slater has left us a story that is profound and strange!”

Is the 11-timer a tragic hero, ageing gracelessly, losing his grip on both power and reality? And will Pipe provide a happy end to the Slater psychodrama?

At the risk of kicking a dead horse, or a moribund GOAT, let us turn our thoughts once more to the ever-fascinating case of Robert Kelly Slater.

Yesterday, during a four-hour round trip to the surf, I finally brought myself to listen to Slater on Joe Rogan’s podcast. They weren’t the two most riveting hours of my life but actually I didn’t think he came across too badly, and certainly not as some kind of irredeemable bell-end.

Oh, I’m not saying he isn’t prone to narcissism, or that he doesn’t deserve the criticism. I do not mean to defend Kelly Slater, as such, but to defend the idea of Kelly Slater.

The world needs heroes.

It also needs villains.

But heroes and villains are crude archetypes, the stuff of children’s stories. There’s not necessarily anything wrong with children’s stories in themselves, not even when read by adults. They can be edifying and life-affirming and all the rest of it. But to go no further would be to deny life’s depth and complexity, and to deprive ourselves of so many of its joys.

How much more fun, how much more interesting, how much more conducive to online speculation and shit-talking, to have characters who do not fit neatly into either category; characters who resort to villainous means in their pursuit of heroism, or attain heroic status in their very villainy.

JP Currie wrote last week that there is a time when even our deities should “slip away with dignity to burn brighter in our memories with every passing year”.

He is right, of course. A man should know when to leave the party.

But as anyone who has ever had one too many drinks will appreciate, knowing when to leave the party is far more difficult than it sounds. “What harm could one more drink do?” you tell yourself. Or, “Who knows, I might still pull.”

And the party is, after all, where the party’s at. Home is so boring by comparison.

Speaking of leaving the party, and of burning brighter in our memories with every passing year, JP’s article put me in mind of the trajectory of another sporting great. In extra time of the 2006 World Cup final, the game he’d already announced would be his last, Zinedine Zidane head-butted a member of the opposing team in an off-the-ball incident, and was duly sent off. The other player had whispered something in his ear, and Zidane flipped. It cost France the final. It was unthinkably stupid.

Shortly afterwards, the novelist Javier Marías wrote a column for one of the Spanish dailies, arguing that, thanks to the headbutt, the story of Zidane’s career had been elevated to the status of great literature, and would linger far longer in the collective imagination.

“Yes, in a sense it’s a shame what happened,” wrote Marías, “but in another sense you have to thank the great Zidane, who in his final hour has left us a story that’s profound and strange, whose surface is uneven and furrowed, and not a tale so predictable and polished it cannot be reread.”

Slater has never been the violent type and his final hour has been drawn out to over a decade. And yet, while his defining gestures have lacked the cataclysmic poetry, the dramatic finality of a Zidane head-butt, they have been exquisite in their own way.

Telling Andy Irons he loved him moments before a Pipe Masters final.

Unveiling his new wave pool the day after de Souza won the world title.

The numerous minor incidents that have generated content on this website and others.

The point is that Slater, too, is a tragic hero. He is part King Lear: self-obsessed, ageing gracelessly, losing his grip on both power and reality. He is part Narcissus, even to the extent of owning his own pool – a pool in whose convex surface he can, on glassier days, see his own reflection. He is part Achilles, if only in his vulnerability to foot-related injuries.

Unlike us, he is a freak, physically and perhaps also mentally. But like us, he is flawed, and thus his is a story that keeps on giving. He isn’t perfect, but then as his own wave pool has demonstrated, perfection grows old pretty quickly.

In the late-17th and early-18th century King Lear was often altered to incorporate a more cheerful resolution for the benefit of audiences who couldn’t handle the tragedy of the original.

The Slater psychodrama has not yet reached its conclusion. Pipe is just around the corner.

One can appreciate the truth and power of tragedy while still hoping for something approaching a happy ending.

From the Better Business Bureau: Is the World Surf League a bedazzled international pimp?

"The fees have become part of the furniture..."

Nick Carroll brought up a very interesting point yesterday on the tanned heels of Joel Parkinson’s win at Haleiwa. He wrote, “The WSL makes a lot of money out of the QS. All the entry fees, all the licensing fees. Millions of dollars.” And the statement could be dismissed but Nick Carroll is the only living surf journalist so we must take it seriously.

Nick then went on to add:

The fees have become part of the furniture, something all the associations and leagues etc etc have come to depend on to some degree, and something the surfers just assume has to be paid. The fees have expanded in all manner of odd directions. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, the CT seeded pros actually had to loan back money to the ASP as a special fee, so the organisation could manage to pay its bills. Today the WSL has centralised its entry fee collection, so everyone pays directly into a competitors’ portal which aggregates everything; this gives the WSL full control over every QS entry fee, which runs as high as $350 per competitor in a QS10,000. This money, which in the past was split 50/50 between the organisation and the event, is now held solely by the WSL; a portion of it is sometimes handed back to the event if the WSL deems it necessary. Which is not very often.

And yes, I am repurposing here, an ugly bald-faced grab, but the points raised are just so juicy, just so delectable and beg the overall question. Is the World Surf League, as Nick Carroll suggests, a fabulous international slum lord?

Or similar, a bedazzled international pimp?

Promising glory while charging for a dank room in Warsaw, Poland and/or passage to France on a dank vessel?

That’s what I’m picking up here and all of a sudden the whole dog and pony show snaps directly into place. What happens at the top with the Jeep Leaderboard and Yellow Jersey etc. is pure sleight of hand in order to get mama and papa to cough up those very first entry fees which continue to get coughed up until junior is 22 and the dream is officially dead.

Of course it’s all a victimless crime. Mama and papa get to be involved in junior’s life. Junior gets to dream. And Erik Logan gets to go to Fiji.

Speaking of, Elo update coming soon!

Breaking: Haleiwa serves up “refined savagery” as Joel Parkinson smashes young Brazilian in Hawaiian Pro!

Creaky joints call the day!

The Triple Crown of Professional Surfing is officially here and has been for at least seven days and son of a bitch, nobody knows it. Nobody knows it at all. Folk on the mainland are watching college football or taking afternoon naps. Folk in Australia are waking up and going to church (just kidding).

Nobody is watching but why? Because the first jewel in the crown, Haleiwa, is considered a strange wave and the World Surf League completely destroys any storyline.


Why don’t the powers in Santa Monica’s High Tower push the Triple Crown of Professional Surfing like a Connor McGregor fight? It makes no sense to me. Haleiwa, Sunset and Pipeline, the combination of the three, winning across all three, is beautiful poetry.

In today’s Hawaiian Pro final, at Haleiwa, we have J. Parkinson, R. Christie, M. Herdy and D. Silva.

“J. Parkinson?” You ask. “Do you mean Joel? Isn’t he dead?”

Apparently not. The 50-year-old spent his final absolutely shredding, claiming and barking into the ears of boys 1/4 of his age.


Not if a man hopes to win the Triple Crown of Professional Surfing but wait… is that Ross Williams back in the booth?

Ross Williams is back in the booth! Oh how he was missed. Oh how his critical analysis of professional surfing was missed.

But anyhow bravo, Joel Parkinson. He just won. He just took down the youth, the airs, the speed. Next year he will be dead but this year he is leading the Triple Crown of Professional Surfing.


Jen See croons a gorgeous ode to California’s fifth most famous wave!

Wanna go for a ride?

You can imagine me paddling out at Rincon today.

You can imagine the glowing cat-eye green of the waves and the cloud-painted sky overhead. You can imagine the sharp bite of the barnacles and the way the stones shift and tilt under foot. You can imagine the way I almost fell awkwardly, but I saved it just in time. The white fall light. The boards piled on the beach. The inevitable pot smoke.

You can imagine the speed of a low-tide zipper plucked off the sandbar. Steer the board to the very top of the wave and hang there, suspended. You can imagine me laughing right then, laughing at the pointless joy of it. And then turning, because why not. Pretend the final section is a barrel, even if it’s not, not really. Go on, imagine.

A couple weeks back, I drank coffee with Chas. I’d gone south to pick up an alaia, a beautifully thing shaped by Christine Caro from Paulownia wood. No, I can’t ride them. Maybe someday I’ll try to learn, when I’m done obsessing about tiny-ass twinfins. (Yes, I’m still obsessed. I might need an intervention. But it goes so fast! Squee!)

Get you a girl that’ll drive the 405 for you. Get you a girl who’ll pick up your boards. I drove the 405, music cranked in my rented minivan, boards stacked in the back. Hat on backwards. Punk rock sing-along. This would be an embarrassing way to die, I thought. Fuck it, keep driving.

Sitting there at the coffee shop in Cardiff, we could see the first northwest swell of the season building long, beautiful lines. A dreamscape. I’d paddled out quickly within reach of the coffee shop. I am bad at waking up in time for things, bad at mornings altogether. I surfed a quick heat in jumbled high tide. Salt water hair. Sand-dusted toes.

I always imagine you paddling out at Rincon, Chas said. I flapped my arms vaguely, as though to agree, as though to say maybe, or maybe not. A girl has to have some secrets. Later on, I taunted him with photos. Somewhere in California. No directions, no names. Places spoken of in whispers, known, but not quite.

But Rincon sits hard by the freeway, not so much of a whisper as a scream. It’s a weird quirk of California that we build freeways next to beaches, but that’s how it is. Today I watched idly from the lineup as a train raced a semi. The train tracks run parallel to the freeway. It’s the only flat ground around. The train won.

It’s been a slow fall, and that first northwest that Chas and I watched, came and went, a cruel tease. I’d walk down to the beach, hopeful. But no, not yet. Storms drifted into our swell window on the ten-day models, then disappeared. Instead of winter, we have endless fire. Here we are, dancing on the edge of it.

Imagine me at Rincon today, doing laps around the parking lot, looking for a spot. Imagine the angry Tacoma tailgating my VW on the road to the beach. I don’t understand the people who somehow think that tailgating an old VW is going to make me drive faster. This all we got, brah. It doesn’t go any faster. Imagine my boards piled in the front seat, all snug and cozy. Who wouldn’t want to drive to the beach with a couple surfboards tucked in right there next to you? I love the stupid things so much.

Imagine people circling, looking for parking, as I sit, car door open, drinking my coffee and finishing my muffin. Lemon poppy-seed, my favorite. Hogging a Rincon parking spot, just to finish my coffee. I’m an asshole. But chill! So very chill. And then I slide my boards out of the car, slip into my backpack, and head down the trail.

There’s always that magic moment when you make the final turn and see the first set roll in. There are views that are better in this world, but not too many. I pick my way through the rocks, past the house where a man once yelled at me for putting my boards to close to his fence. As though it really matters, as though he didn’t have enough already.

I’d brought two boards, an approach I don’t recommend. I stare at the lineup much longer than I should, trying to decide. Just bring one board, paddle it out, and go surfing. Simple. Sometimes I’m as bad at simple as I am at waking up early and choosing road trip music. I shimmy into a wetsuit and flail with a bar of wax that fell out of the box. I lost my ear plugs and keep forgetting to replace them. It’s one less thing to remember, at least.

Imagine the sun high overhead and the warm rocks under your toes and the steady beat of anticipation. Sure, it’s crowded. It’s always crowded. But isn’t it worth it? Not everyday and not every time, certainly. But isn’t it worth it to slip away and fly free, to dance, weightless.

Just this once, maybe it was.

Revelation: John John Florence is set to become the most beguiling surfer in history!

Besting Slater, Curren and Dora!

I’ve been chewing on a delicious piece of gristle for the past week courtesy of the world’s foremost and only surf historian Matt Warshaw. He and Derek Rielly’s conversations have, since the very beginning, been my favorite part about this little website. Each is finer than the last and the last was very fine. They discussed Gerry Lopez turning 70, modern myth making etc. and Matt also listed his five pantheon of greatest surfers in order.

Duke, Dora, Lopez, Slater, Curren.

Now, we both could and should have fun creating the definitive list but I had a thought this morning and I believe it to be a true thought. If John John Florence continues along his current path would he not be the most intriguing, the most beguiling surfer in all of history? And let me explain.

John John was born in the surf imagination. He arrived, fully formed as a long-hair’d Monchichi there on Oahu’s North Shore dazzling onlookers with his preternatural talents. It’s ever so rare to witness a prodigy transition easily through adolescence into adulthood, take the case of Macaulay Culkin, but John John did. He somehow made it onto the Championship Tour without looking foolish groveling in Japanese beachbreak, won back to back titles gracefully and now he is sailing and paddling around the world, dropping in to release clips that expand the very nature of what we love.

He has made surfing fit into his own dream, getting paid a fortune while wearing it lightly, surfing brilliantly but never with a chip on his shoulder. Dane’s greatness, if you would permit a comparison, is that he is human all too human. That last “things I hate” feature was so brilliant because it highlighted Dane’s internal dichotomies. His wrestle with meaning. John’s transcendence over struggle, though, puts him in a category of his own.

Likewise, when compared with Lopez. Of course the zen master narrative is gorgeous but there are enough stories floating around of the great Gerry snapping and growling that it has always felt slightly manufactured. Not by Lopez, necessarily, but my us.

John John’s narrative is… effortless. And isn’t effortlessness the very pinnacle of this Peruvian dance? This surfing?

Thus, I would argue that if John John Florence continues on his current path, whatever that path is as long as it doesn’t include one drop of sweat on his brow, he will become the most beguiling surfer in the pantheon and second only, in terms of greatness, to Duke.