Hamilton getting barrel and with bad boy Kelly Slater. Photo: Instagram
Hamilton getting barrel and with bad boy Kelly Slater. Photo: Instagram

Race star Lewis Hamilton reveals surf great Kelly Slater goaded him into surfing “25-foot Pipeline wave” nearly killing him

“Kelly was like: ‘There’s no way you’re going out there.’ And I was like: ‘Kelly, I’m going out.’”

Lewis Hamilton is a bonafide international super star. The racing legend has many victories under his belt, is handsome, suave, enjoys the company of famous friends and also dares the devil. A life well-lived by any measure. The knighted 38-year-old sat down with luxury publication Robb Report recently and shared one of the most dangerous things he has ever done.

What do you imagine it might be. Bungee jumping in beautiful New Zealand? Skydiving over Bora Bora? As it happens, Hamilton almost faced death while practicing our surfing and all thanks to one Kelly Slater.

The two were staying on Oahu’s fabled North Shore, a few years, gazing at “giant” Pipeline and Hamilton declared, “Kelly was like: ‘There’s no way you’re going out there.’ And I was like: ‘Kelly, I’m going out.’”

He paddled, much to the 11x world surfing champion’s chagrin, and was soon facing a 25-foot bomb.

“I dived down and grabbed the reef and prayed,” he continued. “I could hear the thing land behind me, like a bomb going off. My board got ripped off and snapped in half. I was very close to the end. But that excites me for some reason.”


I was out at 2-foot Off the Wall, before, not paying attention to the forecast and it suddenly rose to solid 4-foot. I was absolutely terrified, dropping into what felt like the biggest wave ever, sticking it but getting detonated by an end bit, washing up on shore thankful to be alive.

Hamilton’s 25-foot Pipeline experience must have been unbelievable.

I guess that’s why he’s a knight and I’m merely a serf journalist.

Get it?

Transplants (pictured)
Transplants (pictured)

Orange County paper of record pins new surf world champions Caroline Marks and Filipe Toledo with “transplant” tag

"A place belongs to whoever claims it hardest... loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image."

For the entirety of my life, I have been a rolling stone. Born in San Jose, California but bundled to Coos Bay, Oregon before the lights really turned on until 18, at which point I moved myself to La Mirada, California and university. Stints in Buena Park, Stanton, Whittier, South Pasadena, Highland Park, Bondi, Melbourne followed before I landed in Cardiff By The Sea, where I have now been for 13 years.

Experiences, man. And flavor.

Though I often do look at those who have called a place home for generations and wonder what that sort of deep, deep localism must feel like. A sense of place, roots pushing through the soil, lending a perception of belonging come hell or climate change? A pair of cement boots that trap feet to location, stifling dreams and adventure? Some mix of the two or something entirely different?

I’ll never know what beats through, say, Griffin Colapinto’s heart. Matthew McConaughey delivering a spine-tingling speech overlaid with video clips of deep locals Kolohe Andino, Matt Archbold, etc. waving at the camera ahead of his hometown hero performance at the just-wrapped Finals Day.

The pulse of community pride didn’t seem to help Colapinto, that day, as he was undone by Australia’s Ethan Ewing and San Clementines became very sad. Depressed even though Caroline Marks was crowned the women’s champion, Filipe Toledo the men’s.

Both have called San Clemente home and for a long, long time.

Paper of record The Orange County Register noted the fact but didn’t celebrate the pair as locals done good but as “transplants.” Marks from Melbourne, Florida, of course, and Toledo from Ubatuba, Brazil.

Why aren’t they embraced?

Difficult to say, but looking back at the McConaughey video and seeing Matt Biolos amongst the localist of locals cheering Colapinto on sparks something. Ten years ago, now, when I was writing the award-nominated Welcome to Paradise, Now Go to Hell, I spent a good amount of time with North Shore icon “Fast” Eddie Rothman. Now, that specter was not born in Haleiwa nor did he come from a long line of Oahuans. He had come to the island via Philadelphia and Texas as a young man. And yet, he seemed to be as North Shore as Pipeline’s reef itself.

As I was pondering belonging, back then, I stumbled upon a Joan Didion quote reading, “A place belongs to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image.”

It felt as true then as it does now and, back to Biolos, he came to San Clemente from the gross inland yuck of Chino some sixty miles away. But Chino doesn’t mark him. He is as San Clemente as Big Helyn’s Saloon.

Loving it radically.

Marks and Toledo? Maybe someday they’ll be claimed by the Spanish Village by the Sea but I doubt it. They don’t seem the sort to remake it in their image. Florida will always “home” for Marks, I guess. Toledo is neither Brazilian nor Californian, now. Certainly not Tahitian either. Does the lack of belonging make him sad or, as McConaughey suggested, are roots manmade things which he has clipped in order to fly?

Thoughts, please.

Back-to-back world champ Pip Toledo and newbie Caz Marx, both unstoppable in the little Californian peelers.
Back-to-back world champ Pip Toledo and newbie Caz Marx, both unstoppable in the little Californian peelers. | Photo: WSL

Surfing’s most important voice slams Californian site of world title showdown, “Finals Day belongs in Indonesia or the South Pacific or maybe Hawaii if you really need to baby out and stay close to home”

"Trestles three years in a row? That's basically an insult, a fuck-you to the pros, to the fans, to the game."

I treated myself by spending seven hours yesterday embedded in the BeachGrit WSL Finals Day livestream comments section, where I am more or less handled gently, given my age and station—Aussie great Snow McAlister worked the same angle, see below—by the gathered BG surf-hooligans who pass as fans.

I’m very much pro when it comes to pro surfing, as most of you know, not so much because I care about who is winning or losing, and certainly not because I give a shit about surfing being elevated somehow by dint of it being recognized as a “sport” (an Olympic sport, in fact), but for the simple reason that it gives us something to talk about. 

If we talk about Fred Hemmings’ world title win in 1968, for example, we’re that much closer to talking about Wayne Lynch not winning in 1968, even though he was a mile ahead of everybody else in the contest. That kind of thing. 

Surf contests are occasionally worthy in and of themselves, as discrete events, but mostly they just get us to another, juicier topic, and I’m all for keeping the conversation rolling.

Anyway, a couple of thoughts on what happened and did not happen at Lower Trestles.

There were some red-hot moments yesterday, but we most certainly did not get a full seven hours’ worth of exciting premium-grade surfing. We never will, as long as the Finals Day venue is Trestles. 

But hold that thought and let’s pause for a moment to consider the Finals Day concept itself, because I’ve very much gone back and forth on this. 

The Finals Day format, as most of you already know, is basically the idea of playoffs, which we didn’t used to have. A one-day event, five surfers on the men’s side, five on the women’s side; the top-ranked surfers from what I guess we now have to call the “regular season.” 

On Finals Day, the #5 seed goes against #4, the winner takes on #3, and so on up the ladder until the #1 seed meets whoever comes out on top of the previous three heats. That’s the new format. Or not “new,” exactly, it’s been in place for three years. Easy to understand. Every heat (except the final pairing, which is best two out of three) is very much do-or-die, and it makes for great viewing.

In the old format, the familiar format, it having been in place for 40-plus years—but let’s not forget the IPS (now the WSL) more or less superseded the one-event championship format from the ’60s and early ’70s, which was pretty close to the current Finals Day format; damn, it is confusing—the champion was the surfer who collected the most points throughout the year, like Formula One racing

There is a downside to the new Finals Day system. A big downside, some might argue. Carissa Moore would have two more world title trophies on the mantel if we were still using the old format, and it is hard to disagree with the idea that surfing your way to a massive points lead over the course of the year and then having the title decided (and lost) in a two-out-of-three match held in low-wattage C-plus waves is bullshit. 

On the other hand, we’re talking professional sports here, where the whole idea is to entertain fans, and while our entertainment depends at least partly on fairness, the fact is the better athlete or the better team often loses. 

All the time, in fact. 

It happens in the Olympics, the Superbowl, at Wimbledon, on and on. 

Under the old format, the pro surfing game—and the more you think of it, and yes discount it, as a game, the better; as opposed to regular before-work after-school day-in-the-life surfing, that is—favored the better rounded, most consistent competitors. It still does, to some degree, as you have to work through the season to get a final five slot in order to have a shot at the title. 

But now, in addition, you have to monster-up and crush whoever comes at you on Finals Day, with no safety net of already-earned points below you, just 35 minutes to beat the other person in the lineup. 

The amount of pressure involved here is no doubt excruciating. Some thrive on it. Others do not, Carissa first and foremost—she’s been in the final heat on Finals Day three years in a row, and even the year she won (2021) she was not on her game.

So you could argue that is unfair. I certainly have. 

But I’ve come around. 

Finals Day is designed for the spectator, the fan, not the pros themselves. It creates a guaranteed entertaining day of viewing. In 40-plus years under the old system, going back to 1976, how many down-to-the-wire nailbiting world title showdowns did we have? Ten or 15, I’m guessing, men and women combined, which leaves a lot of years—most years; a big majority of years—when the last contest of the season was by and large just a matter of reshuffling the numbers a bit to get the finals ratings sorted out. 

Not boring, but not dependably exciting. The new Finals Day format is always exciting, and let’s give credit where it is due—thank you WSL, and thank you Erik Logan, you did us a solid there. Finals Day is the way to go.

In theory, anyway. Not in practice. Because the WSL never, ever does not step on its own dick, and holding Finals Day at Lower Trestles three years running is so aggressively and spectacularly wrong-headed that I would at this point vote to go back to the old format, with Pipeline as the last event of the year and the champ picked by aggregate points over the season.

Trestles for the first year? Okay, why not, make it easy on everybody I guess. Trestles three years in a row? That’s basically an insult, a fuck-you to the pros, to the fans, to the game. 

Finals Day belongs in Indonesia or the South Pacific or maybe Hawaii if you really need to baby out and stay close to home. It does not belong anywhere near Lower Trestles, and keeping it there year after year turns this thing into a low-stakes hostage situation. 

As fans, we’ve been frog-marched to Lowers. The pros, I’m guessing—apart from Toledo who lives in nearby San Clemente, is scared of big tropical reef waves, and knows Lowers better than you know the opening lines of your favorite Taylor Swift song—hate Lowers Finals Day even more than we do.

Lots of other minor complaints about what happened yesterday, but let’s instead throw huzzahs to Toledo and Ethan Ewing’s opening heat, which was a masterful pas de deux of high-performance surfing, and also to Caroline Marks who opened the day by putting much daylight between herself and Tyler Wright and kept her distance and pace during two heats against Carissa, and the goofyfooted pride of Melbourne, FLA, will wear the crown well.

Read JP Currie’s excellent Finals Day wrap-up here, and in fact I will steal his beautiful denouement, which has to do with the ongoing and very lively debate on the merits and demerits of the performances turned in by Toledo and an emphatically healed Ethan Ewing.

Some of you will be quietly seething tonight. All you style puritans who believe, truly believe, that you remember one or two turns which felt like Ethan Ewing’s look. All of you would prefer him as your world champion. Not because he is clearly and objectively better than Filipe Toledo, but because he’s more like you. Toledo’s surfing, on the other hand, is so far beyond the pale that we can’t possibly know what it’s like to venture there.

And more of you still will have deep, aching reservations about a double world champion with a mortal fear of heavy waves, especially left-handed tropical reefs. I love that I can say that to you without the need to explain it. Because you’ve all witnessed it with me. And I could try and explain it to someone outside surfing and they wouldn’t really get it. 

They wouldn’t really understand what it means to have a world champ who bears the weight of an asterisk from all those who know and admire him.

So I say we should celebrate this little anomaly. It’s just another weird little quirk of this game to enjoy. An in-joke in a fringe sport, but one that you understand.

Because it’s your sport. Your odd little hobby that mainstream audiences will never appreciate.

Laugh at it. Rage at it. Love it.

And thanks for laughing, raging and loving along with me.

And thank YOU, JP, for not suing me for plagiarism.

World Surf League creative team in utter disbelief as NFL retreads vacated slogan “You can’t script this” for new football season

"You can't make this stuff up."

The World Surf League has many awkward and embarrassing components including, but not limited to, the broadcast team, the environmental division, the legal department and everything else but the most awkward and embarrassing has to be the creative desk. From World Surf League Finals Day t-shirts described as “stunningly bad” to season-branding jingles such as “it takes a tour to make a title” and “you can’t script this,” the creatives really take pride in making a goofy thing goofier.

Well, in a turn absolutely no one saw coming, the mighty National Football League, with a reported $30 million paid media budget, has rolled out its 2023/24 season campaign which just so happens to be a version of the aforementioned silliness.

“You can’t make this stuff up.”

The spot (watch here) features a Hollywood-style table reading of a script for the 104 season. Various scenarios are discussed, humorously, the joke being that, obviously, there’s no telling what might happen during a season.

The World Surf League, having just finished its season, scripted for Filipe Toledo to win and Carissa Moore to lose by holding Finals Day at Lower Trestles, must really be rubbing its eyes right now. Maybe wondering if it should sell Joao Chianca’s “Cold Head, Warm Heart” to the National Basketball Association or “The Global Home of Surfing” to Major League Baseball.


Back to Carissa Moore, though. How furious do you think she is? This should have been her seventh world title, tying her with Layne Beachley, one ahead of Steph Gilmore. She is, instead, stuck at five.

It Takes a Logan to Make an Oopsie.

Kelly Slater (pictured) undefeated. Photo: WSL
Kelly Slater (pictured) undefeated. Photo: WSL

Surf great Kelly Slater Kelly Slater’s WSL Finals day by announcing shock hip surgery

King of Shade.

Yesterday, so gorgeously summed up by JP Currie, was fun. I just so happened to be at a wedding in Palm Springs so watched much of the action poolside, volume all the way down in order to preserve the vibe. I’d imagine it to be an inauspicious beginning, Joe Turpel et. al. jibber jabbering away during the last few hours before the tying of knots. I could tell what was happening, though, by watching and also reading your fine commentary.

Very funny.

Though at no time did I read nor see Kelly Slater, unless, that is, I missed it.

Well, the world’s greatest ever surfer, never not front and center, took the WSL’s crown jewel and stood above it, opened a wide umbrella and blocked the dying summer sun.

King of Shade.

Before the first finals final heat between Caroline Marks and Carissa Moore, the GOAT took to Instagram, his medium of choice, to announce that he was “on the couch post hip surgery watching #WSL finals…”

Hip surgery?

What happened to the 11x World Champion? Did he fall at home? Was he wearing his Life Alert? Did he activate it and ride in an ambulance?

Hip surgery seems very serious and, as a surf fan, I can’t help but wonder if the World Surf League will be forced to give Slater a year long injury wildcard to go along with his special Kelly one.

The ol’ double double.

Whatever the case, while Kelly Slater won his last title in 2011, he is 12 and 0, over the ensuing years, in pulling all focus back to Kelly Slater when it matters most.


Suck it, Adriano de Souza.