"Our ageless prince is just about the most interesting thing that has, and will ever, exist in our strange pastime."
Like Gay Talese, I normally prefer the B-character, the off broadway, the battler, the beautiful loser, except in the case of pro surfing. That stands everything on it’s head.
In that case, our ageless prince is just about the most interesting thing that has, and will ever, exist in our strange pastime. For his last ever go around it is, I think, worth keeping an even closer eye on his every move, for posterity if nothing else. To be, like the failing New York Times, the “paper” of historical record.
He surfed his QS heat today, in one-to-two-foot surf. Did you watch?
Kelly walked down the tunnel, the crowd had swelled, as expected. Small entourage. Ripped dude in Gracie BJJ t-shirt preceeded him down the tunnel of fans. Kelly looking ripped. An extra inch or so of muscle had seemed to have magically appeared on both biceps. It is hard, but not impossible, for a forty-seven-year-old man to add an inch of muscle to his arms.
He carried two boards. One stock standard helium Slater designs Gamma. One nifty looking swallow-tail quad that is not part of the Slater Designs range. He rode the 5’8” swallow-tail quad.
Against him: a Morrocan goofy-foot, Ramzi Boukhiam, noted horror film director Vincente Romero and Brazilian small wave specialist Victor Bernado. Fast twitch little zig-zags and tail-free surfing had been scoring. Judges had been courting a fondness for counting manouevres like in the glory days of Australian pro surfing. Jacob Wilcox scored an 8.5 for seven regulation backhand snaps to win the previous heat.
Kelly bought a paddle battle to wave one. A scrap with Bernado. Bernado submits. Kelly puts a little speed line on a left, then a backhand floater, a backhand foam climb, a bog, another foam climb and a lame turn to finish.
“Please no!” I thought. Don’t pay those dreadful foam climbs that rightfully went extinct from pro surfing as the new millenium dawned. They paid them with a five.
The crowd had swelled. With the hook of a QS aimed at swelling tourist numbers there was every reason in the world to juice scores.
Romero bought zippy little zig-zags for high fours and a heat lead. But Kelly was comfortable now with a score. A bad Kelly heat always starts bad. When he falls apart it’s apparent immediately. This was no bad heat. He had started well.
Wave two he did a half-turn power slide karate snap. A money turn from a time before his competitors were alive. You know the one, where he kicks the back leg out. The one they modelled the Cocoa Beach statue on. It was worth a five and they gave it a five-and-a-half. The surf was deteriorating, popcorn from an increasing south-easterly wind frothing up out to sea and messing up the line-up.
On the way back out, he scrapped into a knee-high micro-peeler that grew a little down the line. A thrill rippled through the crowd as he found a speed line and did a vertical turn. Judges took an age to consider the ramifications of the ride. Long enough for a suit in the marketing department of Tourism NSW to quantify the value of RK Slater to the economy of Sydney.
A similar suit in the WA Tourism dept told me Kelly was worth millions in what he called “media equivalency”. Whatever that means.
A high-five put Kelly in the lead. First heat of the year. Olympic qualification off to a flying start.
He didn’t look out of place. Forensically, objectively; this is true.
Unlike JJF, he don’t want to leave this heaven so soon.