You can be assured that Slater planned to win this event and then finally, for once and for all, bow out, just as he wishes he had after his last Pipe victory. Instead, his dominance has ebbed away in a sea of marginal waves and high fours.

Kelly Slater loss at Tahiti Pro “another notch in his mortal decline and each is exponentially more painful”

"Not all heroes endure slow deaths, but for some there’s no way out that isn’t tragic."

We’re just animals at the end of the day, and our senses, vestigial though they may be, require immersion in nature. In our stolid homes and offices of glass, concrete and steel it’s easy to forget this, or never know it.

Surfers, for the most part, understand this need to reconnect with our animalistic senses. This intuition is part of the draw. The same is true for other outdoor pursuits, for anyone who knows that exposure on mountain ridges, deep forests or heaving oceans is where we might find our true selves, the ones we lose in the mundanity of daily existence.

But there are levels to this understanding. And only the most skilled, the most committed, understand that peak experience comes when you toe the line between glory and disaster.

The surfers of the WCT know this when they travel to Tahiti. Where else is there such a quixotic mix of beauty and threat?

Some travel in hope, knowing they have the faculties and the arena to reach peak states. Others travel in trepidation, knowing that Teahupo’o will expose them, through inexperience or fear, and that there will be nowhere to hide.

Teahupo’o wasn’t perfect today, nor did it reach its terrifying potential, but it was enough. Sufficient to test the inexperienced and showcase mastery alike.

The result is a tantalising quarter final draw. The world’s most talented hollow wave aficionados remain alongside two local wildcards who prove once again the lesson our incumbent world champion has never learned: experience and commitment matter most at the end of the road.

And desire. Perhaps desire matters most of all.

Who has exhibited more desire, more love, than Kelly Slater? He travelled for forty-nine hours from Namibia to Tahiti, rested for just six, then surfed heat one of the opening round.

Today, after laydays allowed some respite, he attacked Teahupo’o like a man in possession of some dark power. He caught ten waves in his defeat of Ryan Callinan, eleven in his narrow loss to Dora. The oldest man in the field rode more waves than anyone else, and took just as many floggings. Slater was once again the hunter, and for veteran surf fans it was a pleasure to witness.

It’s often possible to discern Slater’s mindset by the way he exits waves. Today, after exiting a barrel for a 7.33 in his heat against Yago Dora, it was a turn that exhibited Kelly’s verve. A searing backhand carve, perhaps one of the best turns we’ve seen from him all year, ironically in a competition where turns score nothing, was followed by a wild hook under the lip. The final turn wasn’t made, and it wasn’t necessary, but it showed a man reconnecting with the energy that formed him.

In his post-heat interview after a comprehensive victory over Callinan, he seemed Dracula-like, the years falling away before our eyes as he dissected what he did and why, how he drained the life from his victim.

But he was to lose to Dora in the next round, in a heat he had controlled throughout. In what we might come to see as foreshadowing of world champion credentials, Yago Dora never lost his composure. With a minute left, Slater had priority and control. Each feinted, and eventually Kelly was forced to go. Dora needed a high seven, on a day when scores could not be manufactured. In Slater-esque fashion a wave materialised, stretched out down the reef, and was threaded with typical panache by Dora. An eight point ride and no argument.

In the wake, Dora was elated. “I was pissed off,” he said, referencing Slater’s dominant rhythm throughout the heat.

Kelly took it hard, slain in the manner he has so often inflicted on others. “He’s the most upset I’ve ever seen him,” said Strider.

You can be assured that Slater planned to win this event and then finally, for once and for all, bow out, just as he wishes he had after his last Pipe victory. Instead, his dominance has ebbed away in a sea of marginal waves and high fours.

This wasn’t the last competitive heat we’ll see Kelly Slater surf, but it was another notch in his mortal decline, and it’s understandable that each is exponentially more painful.

Not all heroes endure slow deaths, but for some there’s no way out that isn’t tragic.

But on a day when surfers pinballed between inside and outside waves, never quite sure where the best scoring potential was, the pretenders to Slater’s throne could still learn a thing or two by watching him. The best did.

Joao Chianca, now eliminated and with the unfortunate fate of watching Medina, Florence, Robinson, and perhaps even Fioravanti, hunt down his top five place, was evidently hungry.

He rightly felt pressure facing local standout, Kauli Vaast. This was evidenced by a critical drop early in the match-up which Chianca somehow made before disappearing in the ferocious churn of foam. In the aftermath he ripped off his wetsuit and discarded it in the channel. It was an animalistic response, in the same vein as drunk young men tearing off their shirts as nightclubs spill into the streets, readying for battle against as yet unidentified foes.

By contrast, there was an unexpected calmness in his post-heat interview. He spoke of “the dark part of the game” referencing the fact that people must lose so you might win. “It’s how you have to play,” he stated, but said he wished to distance himself from it for now and just see how things play out.

Final five or not, Chianca has established himself as a force this season, in all conditions. There’s a cerebral ruthlessness in his demeanour, and I suspect we’re still to see the best of him in heavy water.

Kauli Vaast recognised the strategy of getting busy today in his victories over Chianca then Colapinto. It was counterintuitive, perhaps, in a line-up where the take-off spot is normally narrow and well-defined, and waiting for the best waves pays. But today the best waves were uncertain, and the most feverish hunters were rewarded.

Once again Vaast has reached the finals stage as a wildcard, cementing his legitimate talent at Teahupo’o.

In the same way the wavepool lays bare the talent differential between surfers on the WCT, so too does Teahupo’o. Comparisons and judging are refreshingly straightforward and free of controversy when the criteria is clear: make critical drops on the biggest waves and get barrelled for as long as possible.

The masters of this are Jack Robinson, Gabriel Medina and John Florence. Teahupo’o is their element, and their mastery is unmatched.

The contrast between these three men and the one sitting atop the rankings is jarring. For the layperson or those new to pro surfing fandom, it would be hard to explain.

Robinson, in contrast to the zen of his early season, still appears a little frazzled and edgy in post-heat interviews. Not so his surfing in waves like this. He’ll face Dora in the quarter final courtesy of a nine-point-four for a barrel which wasn’t exited cleanly, but he had no right to appear from.

Gabriel Medina’s prowess in hollow, technical lefts is always arresting. To my eye, he’s marginally the best of this holy trinity, even though he lacked the high nines on his scorecard today. Like everyone who performed well, he surfed his way into rhythm, gambling on inside waves to rack up scores early, before moving outside. He controlled his heat against Seth Moniz from beginning to end and will match up with Florence in a quarter final made tantalising by form, location, and rankings.

And it was John Florence who was to punctuate the day with innate mastery of waves like this. He had three or more, and a heat total in double figures before we’d even seen one. This was the result of the still inexplicable “Stay Tuned” breaks, showing us nothing but a longshot of distant whitewater and judging tower.

Florence’s final wave, the last of the day, was not only the best by score at 9.57, but also aesthetic beauty. He was blown cleanly out of the tube, head bowed as if baptised in the spit, with a style that exemplified both grace and mastery.

“The wave did not look like it was going to do what it did, it was almost like it did it because he wanted it to do it,” fumbled Strider.

We wonder why Florence persists with surf competition when there are so many other things he might do, so many ways he might exhibit this skill. But to do this in the heat of battle, when all eyes are on you, and when it means something: that’s sport. And perhaps sport is the only way to mesh our clashing worlds, the material and the natural. Maybe John Florence understands something of this that we never could.

What better sport than pro surfing to provide us with everything we lack in life? Communion with nature, chance and consequence, pitting the strength of your desire against that of another human being.

In this final wave Florence was everything we hope him to be, everything that conveys a vicarious pleasure that many of us may appreciate but will never really know. It was a glimpse of the peak experiences he seeks.

It’s a fallacy to question him.

"Cams are down."

Surfline Man Hates Surfline!

"But how can he live without cams and forecasts? All those colorful blobs and arrows and technical forecasting stuff. He loves them so much!"

Coffee in hand, Surfline Man is sitting on the patio tucked under an umbrella at his favorite local spot. Cold brew season, baby! He flips open his laptop to Illustrator where he’s creating super cool designs for his new surf clothing brand.

The surf brands all look the same now. It’s just so boring. It’s totally time to shake things up. Surfline Man is certain he’s just the guy to make it happen.

Surfline Man has been working so hard designing and doing other important surf brand stuff. `He and his new best friend Dylan are going to make the most awesome brand ever. They’re so close to launching now. They just need to come up with a sweet name. Really, it’s like, the hardest part.

Last week, they signed the lease on a super cute store in Encinitas and they’re going to have the coolest opening party. Surfline Man can’t even wait. All the beautiful people will be there! And Surfline Man is going to be one of them.

Dylan’s so the best. He just moved south from Santa Cruz and he’s like, super core. Surfline Man met him in the parking lot at the Seaside Market. Surfline Man’s shopping cart totally ran into Dylan’s Tacoma and Surfline Man felt super bad. But it was okay! Dylan wasn’t even mad.

Now they’re totally good friends, and they even went to Nicaragua together last month. Surfline Man got so barreled for the first time ever. Or at least, mostly barreled. Kinda barreled. Whatever! It was so much fun! Surfline Man can’t even wait for the next trip. North Shore, here we come!

Surfline Man takes another sip of cold brew and contemplates his surf trunk design. It’s looking good so far, but it needs something. Surfline Man just isn’t quite sure what. It’s hard to think of his best ideas every day. It’s good to take breaks! Surfline Man does not want his precious brain to be worn out.

Surfline Man switches over to the surf forecast. He keeps Surfline open at all times, because he would never want to miss anything important. He wants to see all the waves, all the time! Surfline Man can almost see Cardiff from his seat at the coffee shop, but the cam is like, so much better.

But when he looks at Cardiff all he sees is a blank screen. Where is his favorite surf cam? Surfline Man’s heart starts beating very fast. Maybe it’s the stress or too much cold brew, but omg he is so worried right now. Where is his surf cam?

In a panic, Surfline Man hits refresh. Still nothing! How will he know where to go if he can’t see it on the internet? How will he ever know how to surf again? The world is suddenly so frightening and filled with uncertainty.

Surfline Man does not know what to do. He picks up his phone and taps out a text. It’s super slow and frustrating, like why is auto-complete so bad now. Finally he hits send.

omg dylan
the cardiff cam is down

it is?
just surfed trestles
super sick

Surfline Man pulls up the cam for Trestles. He can’t even resist. He just has to see. If only he’d known, he could have watched Dylan surf. That would have been so fun!

But no! Trestles is dark, too. The little symbol just spins and spins. No waves! No new best friend surfing!

ugh trestles is down too
forecast says it’s kinda small

nah brah it was super fun
surfline kinda sucks
better to just check it yo

Surfline Man feels the earth shift under his feet or his chair or whatever the earth shifts under. He feels so uncertain of everything now. Dylan is so core and knows everything. He got super barreled in Nica and he’s super nice. He brought the best vegan burritos over for dinner last night.

But how can Surfline Man possibly live without his favorite cams and forecasts? All those colorful blobs and arrows and technical forecasting stuff. He loves them so much! His days would feel so drab and empty without them.

Already, Surfline Man is feeling so depressed he can’t sit just here and watch the surf while he drinks his coffee and designs his rad new surf brand. Why can’t he have this one nice thing?

It’s not like he can run off to Trestles when he has important surf brand work to do. Someone has to design these sweet trunks. The world will be so sad without them! Surfing will be so much better and more fun with Surfline Man’s new brand that doesn’t even have a name yet.

They really do need to work on the name part. Surfline Man might not be the smartest guy in the world, but even he knows you can’t have a launch party with all the beautiful people for a brand with no name. Who knew making a surf brand would be so super stressful?

Forget Surfline anyway. Surfline Man is going to make his own forecasting site. It’ll have cams that work and forecasts that are actually good. He’ll pick even better colors for the maps and stuff.

How hard could it be? He’s like an ace programmer already. Surely Surfline Man can build something better than Surfline!

Suddenly Surfline Man remembers his old enemy Trey. He could totally help with a forecasting site. If Trey can sell Elevate! he can sell anything. Anyway, they weren’t exactly enemies, just like, not the best friends. As long as Surfline Man doesn’t have to play dodgeball it’ll be totally fine.

Surfline Man is super sad he didn’t know that Trestles was good and that he couldn’t watch his new friend Dylan surf. But if he made his own Surfline he could like, totally do those things. He could design his radical new surf trunks and watch Trestles at the same time.

Surfline Man just wants to live his best life. It should not be too much to ask.

If he had super good forecasts he could plan so much better. And he could even get all the way barreled. He’s been making so much progress on his surfing since he met Dylan. Surfline Man can totally see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s getting so close now.

Picking up his phone, Surfline Man scrolls until he finds Trey’s number. Time to get the Elevate! band back together. A new Surfline. It’s going to be so good. Surfline Man will be super famous for his awesome invention. He could name it after himself. Forecasting with Trent. Well, it’s a good start anyway.

Before he can find Trey’s number, Surfline Man’s phone buzzes. Oh, it’s Dylan! This makes Surfline Man so happy.

meet you at acai bowls?


cool be there in 15

Surfline Man hits save on his super important surf brand stuff and slides his laptop in his backpack. He returns his cold brew glass to the barista because he hates to leave a mess. He is eating açaì bowls with Dylan and it’s going to be so fun!

Smiling, Surfline Man walks out into the bright sun with a spring in his step, all thoughts of Trey and building a new website forgotten. Who needs to know before he goes? He can go check it just like Dylan. Next time, he’s totally going to score Trestles.

On their next surf trip, Surfline Man going to get so barreled. He just needs a little more practice. And he’s going to launch the best surf brand ever. Surfline Man is totally sure the perfect name is going to come to him so soon. Maybe it’ll even be today.

Açaì bowls are so inspirational!

Tears and shock as Kelly Slater loses in last-minute boil-over at Tahiti Pro, likely bringing his professional surfing career to an ignominious close

"It's the most upset I've ever seen him."

The greatest surfer ever Kelly Slater has been bundled out of the Tahiti Pro by the Brazilian world title contender Yago Dora in a buzzer beater boil-over. It brings, likely, an end to the Champ’s thirty-year professional surfing career. 

Yeah, there’ll be a wildcard here and there, definitely Pipe, possibly Tahiti, but you ain’t gonna see Slater on the tour full-time, in 2024. 

There’ll be no complaints about Slater’s performance in Tahiti. The 11-time world champion controlled the heat with Dora until the very last minute with a series of imposing rides, a seven-five and a six-nine-three pinning the Brazilian against the ropes. It was a masterful performance given his frantic odyssey from Namibia to French Polynesia just to surf.

Needing a 7.76 and holding priority with two minutes left, Slater, a man in his fifty-second year, gives his twenty-seven-year-old foe an inside drainer, a wave Dora expertly threads. There is shock as judges barely give it a five. 

Slater uses priority and threads a smaller wave. The man whose popularity is such that it has shattered any other surfer is assured of his place in the next round. 

As the clock runs out, the best wave of the heat appears and Dora, angry, insulted by the previous low score, puts the result beyond any question. 

Still, the judges only give the wave an eight, but it’s enough to end Slater’s career, the pain clear, probing his insides, the heart going out of him along with the blood. 

As the numbers were read out, delivering the fatal blow, Slater sat in the channel, head bowed, appearing to weep.

“It’s the most upset I’ve ever seen him,” said WSL commentator and long-time friend of Slater’s, Strider Wasilewski.

More at the completion of the day’s play.

Not how Teahupoo looks today (pictured). Photo: ASP
Not how Teahupoo looks today (pictured). Photo: ASP

Surf fans flock to Tahiti Pro webcast to witness potential last ever heat of “world’s greatest athlete” Kelly Slater!

Ready the Kleenex.

“Where were you when Kelly Slater surfed his final ever heat” is, maybe, going to be a question asked by children and their grandchildren into eternity. The world’s greatest athlete will come up in heat 5 of the Tahiti Pro, today, against Australia’s Ryan Callinan.

The elimination round.

Commentators in the booth are calling conditions “challenging” i.e. “bad” and Strider Wasilewski let it slip that Slater had not caught a wave in the morning warm-up session.

A goose egg.

So, where are you going to be in just a few short hour’s time?

Taking time off work, heading down to the local bar and hugging patrons tightly?

Alone in your house, lights darkened, candles lit?


Click here to live comment with friends wherever you may be.

If Slater loses, remember, he will be finished for the season and will only be back next year if granted a special season-long wildcard by the World Surf League itself.

Almost impossible to imagine.

Oh wait.

As you were.


Kelly Slater made it past R. Cal in the Elimination Round! Will surf against Yago Dora in Heat 3 of the upcoming Round of 16.

Open Thread: Comment Live on day two of the Tahiti Pro as professional surfing collectively “goes to turns!”

The End of the Road.