That was the end, my friend.
That was the end, my friend.

As dust settles after dreaded mid-season cut, reality dawns that world’s greatest surfer Kelly Slater “may become little more significant than family pets, buried in unmarked graves in some opaque corner of the garden!”

So long, champ.

At two-thirty AM this morning there was a loud bang. The whole house shuddered and shook, as if shunted by a giant mechanical hand.

Monumental forces were at work, acts of God. Something big was moving.

Perhaps it was a nod to John Florence, and the tectonic power of his turns I referenced yesterday.

Perhaps, if that was the last heat we see of Kelly Slater as a full-time Tour professional, it was something colossal shifting in the landscape of pro surfing.

It was not the drama of the Cut, which promised fireworks and fizzled out before the Round of 16. And it was not the performances, which were highly competent without being jaw-droppingly spectacular.

Waves and opportunities were plentiful, but in surf scoring parlance, the day was a mid-seven, and that’s mostly what was awarded. Ten heats were won with totals between fourteen and sixteen, and that seemed about right.

Maybe I’d been hoping for too much in light of the forecast, but I was left with the sense that both waves and surfers had more to give. Only Yago Dora, Italo Ferreira and John Florence achieved excellence today.

To my eye, Filipe Toledo did, too, but once again seemed slightly low-balled by the judges. We’ve seen this before, of course. Surfers fall in and out of vogue, even when they perform consistently. Just as I alluded to in my final Bells wrap, judging is subjective, and scores are swayed by the vagaries of temperament and emotion.

Toledo seems a victim of this right now, having fallen out of favour for whatever reason. The change is subtle, but it has happened. He knew this last week when he ranted on the Bells stairs, and he knew again today after blitzing Reef Heazlewood with four scores in the high seven range, frustrated that he couldn’t seem to elicit more from the judging panel.

“Maybe I should just go for a layback”, he said, clearly exasperated, watching Jordy get an eight in the heat after his.

If you follow the NBA, you’ll understand what I mean when I say it’s a bit like the Jokic vs Embiid MVP debate. When awards are opinion-based, fatigue among voters sets in quickly. The unspoken rule is that one man must not win all the time.

Italo Ferreira has been a victim of this sort of groupthink in the years since his world title. That hasn’t been his only issue, of course. But today, joyfully, we saw a return to the Italo of old.

He vanquished Kanoa with a 9.03, the highest score of the day, after flying down the line of an imperfect wave, launching himself skyward, and twirling above the glacier-blue water with the ease and ebullience of a children’s toy.

I found my spirit soaring in his post-heat interview. Gone were the hollow, dead eyes. Gone were the moribund, monotone responses. Gone was the darkness that has shrouded him ever since he shouldered the burden of a world title. The Italo of old was back, the one we fell in love with once.

“Sometimes I just need to catch a wave and surf”, he said. “I just do this for love and that’s it.”

Keep doing it, Italo. It was good to have you home.

The forecast for the remainder of the waiting period is uncertain. A dropping swell then strong onshore winds before a glimpse of potential in a few days. The round of 16 looks good, the draw exceptionally well balanced.

John Florence notwithstanding, the backhand quartet of Medina, Ferreira, Dora and O’Leary have stood out the most. The latter pair will meet in the next round.

On their forehand, some big guns are yet to fire, notably Chianca, Colapinto and Ewing. Each occupies a separate corner of the bracket, and we can but hope for fireworks in the centre.

The Cut is done and dusted, and ultimately there were no major shocks. Only Barron Mamiya and Liam O’Brien have surfed their way from below the line, doing so at the expense of last years’ top rookie, Sammy Pupo, Nat Young and Jackson Baker. Young has been forgettable, Baker and Pupo perhaps a bit unlucky. Both have had memorable performances this season, much more so than Seth Moniz and Ian Gentil, who both squeaked through.

And so we come back to Kelly, just like we always will.

For a minute, as his heat wound down against Liam O’Brien, it looked like we might get a vintage Slater moment.

After coming back from a near-combination situation, he needed a high seven as time ebbed away and O’Brien held priority. In classic Slater fashion, like a grandmaster, he suckered O’Brien into a poor one. He had his chance. It looked possible.

But the timing of his turns was very slightly off, belying both age and reality. Still, he clung onto them like a younger man and somehow stayed on his feet.

The required score looked plausible, or maybe I just wanted it to be. Maybe I wanted that final moment with Slater to be the best version of him, the version that so often left us astonished. The Kelly Slater that carried the entirety of pro surfing’s present and future on his shoulders for so long.

But the judges weren’t feeling so nostalgic. The score came in a full two points below requirement.

If we’re honest, he’s never looked like making the grade this year. Only through rose lenses and wilful ignorance could you argue otherwise. The oft-repeated argument that his problem is equipment based, that he should go back to thrusters or CIs etc is a fallacy spoken by other old men who can’t accept the steady march of time.

We all wish Kelly Slater could stay as we knew him best forever, a fly trapped in amber, in all his simmering, calculated brilliance. He’s more than just some bronzed effigy for Florida retirees to point at but never understand.

But there’s no easy way for the things we love to die. In time, for many of us, Slater may become little more significant than family pets, buried in unmarked graves in some opaque corner of the garden. A resting place that does no justice to how much we loved them in their prime.

I wish Kelly had retired after Pipe. And if he had, I’d have wished he kept going. A blaze of glory will always leave us wanting and wondering; a slow decline will always ache with sadness.

There are only two ways out of this world. You go before your time, by accident or illness, and leave a world wondering what might have been. Or you shrivel and fade into obscurity, drifting ever further from once vivid memories, not least your own, until you vanish like a bubble, bursting softly.

In the wake of defeat today, Slater seemed magnanimous and happy. There were no excuses.

There were no clear answers about his future. I hope there never are. I want to keep guessing. I want him to abuse his privilege and steal wildcard slots for Pipe or Teahupo’o on choice forecasts. I’ve written many, many words about him, and whatever comes next, I look forward to writing many more. Despite the eulogies, mine included, this is not the last we will see of Kelly Slater.

“Whatever. We’re breathing”, he said.

Was this a genuine, holistic view of his life’s purpose and meaning? Or just a way of deflecting hard realities? I’d say only Kelly knows, but I’m not sure that’s true.

I am sure, whether in this moment or the next, that he will feel a release of pressure, a great, invisible weight shifting, like the mighty grind of tectonic plates.

“I want to get really barrelled, somewhere”, he said, staring over Stace Galbraith’s shoulder at the waves in the distance.

Maybe he simply wanted to escape to the ocean, where the turmoil of his mind is still, just as he has done his whole life.

Executioner Erik Logan and his American trophies.
Executioner Erik Logan and his American trophies.

American bloodbath at Margaret River as Kolohe Andino, Jake Marshall, Nat Young brutally executed alongside surf great Kelly Slater!

Red, white and extremely blue.

The architects of the cruelest spectacle in sport must be horrified as the sun rises on American soil this morning. As you know, the World Surf League, founded and based in Santa Monica, California, has just concluded its second annual mid-season cut wherein underperforming surfers are paraded in front of the people, laid on a rocky slab and ruthlessly beheaded.

It wasn’t always so. In past years, the aforementioned not-so-great would have the opportunity to right themselves throughout the season and, if not, quietly disappear whilst surf fans were not paying attention.

Alas, a lust for ratings has created the bacchanal we have now and with the round of 32 at the Margaret River Pro fully completed, we see 4/5ths of the United States’ championship tour surfers brutally executed.

Kelly Slater, winningest of all-time, was undone by Australia’s Liam O’Brien, Nat Young by Brazil’s Yago Dora, Jake Marshall by Hawaii’s John John Florence and Kolohe Andino by Australia’s Ryan Callinan all while the Star Spangled Banner was played like a dirge.

The Stars and Stripes’ only remaining surfer is Griffin Colapinto and do you imagine this is what was hoped for when Oklahoma-born and bred World Surf League Chief of Executives Erik Logan put pen to paper, making the mid-season cut official? The basic erasure of entire nation?

Well, American patriots can be lightly consoled this morning with the knowledge that not even the ultimate surfer survived the guillotine. Hawaii’s Zeke Lau’s reality television storybook journey has also come to an untimely end.

Tears in Honolulu.

Also fan favorite, Australia’s Jackson Baker, has been cleaved. Do you recall when Logan giddily posed with him at the start of the season a mere four months ago?


David Lee Scales and I, anyhow, lightly discussed the cruelty alongside Tyler Wright’s ill-advised opinions on the latest episode of The Grit! I think you will greatly enjoy.

Slater goes down fighting while fans weep!

Surf fans inconsolable as 51-year-old Kelly Slater’s three decades long professional career ends in sudden-death matchup at Margaret River Pro!

"He has been the custodian of pro surfing… The greatest of all time, that will never be matched."

After Kelly Slater’s barely conceivable heroics yesterday, beating the world number one and keeping his pro career alive for one more day, the Champ finally laid down his rusted barb today following his defeat in the round of thirty two at the Margaret River Pro. 

To avoid ending his career in ignominy, and the larger gloom of a tarnished legacy, the 11-time world champ needed to finish, likely, ninth or better in the event.

On a warm Autumn afternoon at the holiday hamlet three-and-a-half hours south of Perth, Slater was beaten by the Australian surfer Liam O’Brien, the surprise stand-out surfer of the event, John John Florence’s histrionics notwithstanding. 

“If there’s one point of difference… Liam’s been able to do three complete, full-blooded manoeuvres while Kelly’s been doin’ roundhouse cutties,” the 1978 world champ Wayne “Rabbit” Bartholomew said, although a late flurry, including the equal highest-score of the heat, a 7.83, reduced the margin somewhat. 

Slater was the youngest world champ (20, 1992) and the oldest world champ ever (39, 2011), has most world titles (11). most contest wins (56), etc etc.

Likely, he’ll compete at the next contest as a wildcard, The Surf Ranch Pro, a venue he created, as well as the Outerknown Pro in Tahiti, an event which he sponsors.

“He has been the custodian of pro surfing for the last thirty-one years. The greatest of all time, that will never be matched,” said the commentator and former tour surfer Richie Lovett.

“He’s left nothing on the table,” said Rabbit.

John John Florence makes “tragic mockery of opposition” at Margaret River Pro, “When waves turn on, Florence surfs with the latent power of an eagle hunting on a thermal!”

“He’s connecting to that power of the Southern Ocean.”

We’ll begin with wine, the finest in the land, obviously.

And how about the food? Sustainable, locally sourced, as fresh as the breeze. Farm to table!


Then wild, raw nature. RAW you understand.

Perfect waves, HEARTWRENCHING sunsets. Soil so soily you want to roll around in it like a dog, grinding it into your orifices.

Chop yourself some BIG, FAT LINES of West Aus dirt!

And the golf? Oh the golf. You’d whore out your sister for the run on those greens.

Fuck me.

Is Western Austrailia a pyramid scheme? Every year it gets less appealing, the way things do when shilled to the point of psychological torment.

It’s a WSL speciality, of course. The door-to-door salesmen of professional sports leagues.

What you want? Acai? Collagen supplements? Fucking…ladders?

They’re a kick in the arse from hawking scrap metal.

I get it. It’s a money game. Events hinge on funding from tourist boards and plucky start-ups swayed by Santa Monica pitchdecks. But it makes the end product seem cheap, unserious. Especially when you give voice to it with Kaipo and Joe. In that context, excellent surfing becomes a sideshow to clownish, performative advertising.

Thankfully, we have John Florence, whose turns have the sort of tectonic power that can shift hearts and ideologies.

And we have clean, building swell over an aesthetiucally pleasing line-up. A clear peak. A favoured right and a maligned left. Opportunities for all.

Florence seems to be building a rhythm this year. He acknowledged as much in his post heat interview when pressed by Stace Galbraith about his tactics. “I’m just kind of surfing how I surf,” he mused.

And that’s why we love him. His arcs of character and rail appeal to our core sensibilities, if not always judging criteria. But when the waves turn on, Florence surfs with the latent power of an eagle, hunting on a thermal.

“He gets it,” said Tom Carroll via phone in, levitating somewhere beyond. “He’s connecting to that power of the Southern Ocean.”

Carroll, of course, in his late-life guru phase, was referencing the assumptions we all make about Florence, the “it” being our love for surfing, why we do it, that opaque, soulful connection we sometimes feel but rarely say if we’ve any sense of dignity or respectable position in polite society.

But at the end of the day, John Florence is still here competing for world titles. And that’s not very zen. Neither are his actions on days like today when he makes tragic mockery of his opposition. Carlos Munoz does not belong in the same league.

Gabriel Medina does, and today there was a measure of composure in his surfing that displayed the same burgeoning comfort and rhythm that Florence alluded to.

What’s been forgotten, or misrememberd, about Florence’s Margaret River performances of old, is how close Gabriel Medina came to ending him. My memory is of traded nines and splitting hairs.

Medina doesn’t have the aesthetic to appeal to a certain breed of highfalutin surf fan, but examine the depth of his bottom turns at Main Break. Observe the speed with which he projects up the face. Witness the precison as he strikes the lip.

Florence is supreme, but Medina is right there.

“It feels good to finally surf,” he said post-heat, with chilling calm.

It feels like we’ve been waiting to see Medina unleashed all season. That day is coming, and it could be tomorrow.

With the exception of Ibelli, Robson, Fioravanti and Igarashi, all the important players advanced today. We might well question whether everyone in that group is a player, of course, but Kanoa certainly should be.

Could he really fall off Tour? I won’t pretend to know the various scenarios that see him saved or culled, but why should I? If the WSL want to make this Cut more impactful they need to do a better job of outlining this for fans, beyond the half-baked vagueness of “soandso needs a strong result…”

Notable for saving themselves today were Kelly Slater, Zeke Lau and Kolohe Andino, who all took unlikely top honours in their opening heats.

I’ll keep my powder dry and words few on Slater today, because there will be much more to say in time, regardless of how the days pan out.

There was a litany of excuses today, despite his victory. It was almost as if he’d front-loaded them, expecting to lose. He’d got here late, three in the morning. It was a fifteen hour journey. He’d surfed in a northerly, the worst thing you can do, he said. There was a kick away air, a good board broken. And so on and so forth.

We get it, Kelly, excuses come more readily than wins these days.

There’ll be plenty of opportunity for Slater in the coming days, and everyone else. And that’s the great thing about Main Break, it’s one of the more democratic waves on Tour. It favours neither goofy, nor regular. Airs might be a point of difference, but commitment to sections in more traditional or purist style will be equally rewarded.

We’ll still have the red, dusty gloryholes of the West Australian tourist board shoved down our throats, of course, (before, after and especially during heats) but thankfully, the surfing should dampen the pain, if not snuff out the noise.

Failing that, just turn the sound off, or get your beak in the dust and get into it. Farm to table, naturally.

Open thread: Comment live, Margaret River Pro, as Kelly Slater fights for survival in wild building surf!

Hot surf chat!