Kelly Slater, Telluride
Kelly Slater, almost an heir to half of Telluride, net value in the billions.

Kelly Slater reveals the fateful real estate decision that cost his family billions but transformed surfing in new tell-all interview

"Our destiny, our fate, was to be at the beach."

Fresh off retiring for the twenty-seventh time, Kelly Slater, who finished the regular season equal last with Deivid Silva, has given a tell-all interview to the 1988 world champ Barton Lynch. 

The stories, the quotes, the anecdotes are as rich as you might imagine when two men who’ve known and trusted each other of thirty-five years meet with loose tongues and time on their hands. 

To know where to begin with faced with the treasure trove which is Kelly Slater’s remarkable life is difficult. 

He is born to a one-eyed fisherman-surfer Dad, an alcoholic, who rode switch on lefts so he could see the face of the wave and a Mom, who’s been married before, who works at NASA. They live at Coco Beach in the shadow of what used to be the world’s greatest space program. 

How the Slaters ended up in Coco Beach, Florida, is the most remarkable of all the stories. His Mama Judy tells him that her and Daddy Stephen Slater were driving through the ski town of Telluride, Colorado, in the late sixties and were…this…close to buying half the town for two hundred gees and setting up a mountain lifestyle. 

These days, Telluride is the home of the rich, the famous, the beautiful. Tom Cruise sold his ranch there for forty mill, and ten, twenty, thirty mill for a house or ranch, don’t surprise anyone in those parts. It’s been described as a “crucible of billionaires and ski bums.”

“My Mom told my Dad, let’s move to the mountains and live in the snow,” says Kelly Slater. “My Dad was, like, no, I want to be at the beach. So, I mean, if we owned half of Telluride we’re probably be billionaires at this point.”

“Well, you’d be a snowboarder,” says Barton. 

“Probably be a skier, you know, back then and maybe I’d understand the snow and the mountains the way I do the ocean. But our destiny, our fate, was to be at the beach. My Dad wanted to camp and fish and hang out at the beach and have a beer with the boys. So we ended up the beach and I wouldn’t change a thing.” 

An essential two hours. 

Tyler Wright, layback, Margaret River Pro .
Somehow, Tyler Wright transforms what should be a radical turn into a whippy little spinny thing. Tyler’s version never seems to land too close to the pocket. It’s like a top turn trying to be something more interesting in the same way a writer might try to use bigger words to look smarter. It’s easy to see through the lie.

Is the WSL trying to kill women’s pro surfing?

"If people who actually like surfing get bored and wander off, maybe it’s time to rethink the thing."

I have a stupidly short attention span. This makes me extremely fun on roadtrips. Are we there yet? What if we just decided that here was good enough?

Recently, for example, I drove to San Clemente and back in a single day. I did not enjoy it. I sat parked on the PCH, stared at the shuttered Boardriders store at Topanga, and wondered what the hell I was doing.

Sometimes, things take far too long, is what I’m saying. Sometimes, I am not that patient at all.

This has both nothing and everything to do with contest surfing. The way the Championship Tour works now involves a whole lot of waiting. There we are, grinding along through opening rounds in small, inconsistent surf. It’s rarely that interesting.

Try to watch heats live, and there’s more ad breaks than waves ridden, and most of the waves are shown on delay. Watching the replay the next day feels more live than the live show. Also, there’s only two ad breaks on the replay. I try to find joy in unexpected places.

All of that waiting and patience, two skills in which I don’t excel, is to hopefully someday make it to the promised land of finals day. That’s the thing that’s supposed to make this whole trip worthwhile. Sometimes, it even works. It might be nice, though, if a few more roadside attractions popped up along the way.

By the time finals day came around, I felt pretty sure that the comp at Margaret River had lasted the entire year. Pipeline? Oh, that was five years ago. Like driving the 405, time had lost all meaning.

But at last on Sunday in West Australia, finals day arrived just in time on the last day of the waiting period. No hate here, I believe in procrastination. I am a writer. Game recognizes game.

On Sunday Kaua’i girl Gabriela Bryan won her first ever CT event after beating Sawyer Lindblad in the final. She also rocketed up the rankings to slide into the top five. It might look like a surprise result, but Gabriela’s been making heats consistently and she was the only rookie her year to make the cut. It was only a matter of time.

If you didn’t know what a perfect layback should look like, John John showed how it’s done in his semi against George Pittar. Rail engaged. Body extended. Deep in the pocket. This is how you do it. Why am I talking about John John? Because once you’ve watched John do that turn, you can’t possibly bear to watch Tyler do it. It’s, like, so painful.

In the quarterfinals, Tyler surfed a clean, if not especially inspired heat to beat Caity. To be clear, Tyler deserved to win it. But that layback, man. She used it twice in that heat and the judges rewarded it both times.

Somehow, Tyler transforms what should be a radical turn into a whippy little spinny thing. Tyler’s version never seems to land too close to the pocket. It’s like a top turn trying to be something more interesting in the same way a writer might try to use bigger words to look smarter. It’s easy to see through the lie.

At the moment, the judging panel does not seem to reward variety. Or at least, they don’t punish repetition. It’s possible to win heats, even very important heats, doing the same turn over and over. I don’t think I’m being super controversial here if I say that this is not super exciting to watch.

It also seems to go against the whole point of the thing. At its heart, surfing is creative self-expression. The Championship Tour should showcase the best surfers in the world. Surely, the best in the world can muster up more than one turn at a time. I know I am impatient and bad at all kinds of things, but I don’t think this is too much to ask.

Tyler may have sold the judges on her layback, but Caity also made it easy for her. Caity’s inconsistency as a heat surfer is her weakness — and maybe her only weakness. In her quarterfinal against Tyler she fell on two scoring waves and left points on the table.

On her opening ride, Caity’s extra carves and wiggles made her look indecisive rather than stylish. The judges like smooth polish and Caity didn’t convince them. Despite her loss to Tyler, Caity’s still world number one. And she has plenty of time to shapeshift her dynamic, expressive surfing to fit what the judges want to see. I just hope that procees doesn’t kill the spark that gives Caity’s best surfing its magic.

In fact, Caity’s not alone in this dilemma, and the heat between Brisa and Molly had a similar quality. Brisa brought a fairly straightforward approach to the table, and she looked steady and controlled. The judges liked it. Her power and her tidy, carving turns have kept Brisa above the cut line this season and vaulted her into the top five. It’s a notable shift from last year when she missed the cut.

By contrast, Molly desperately wanted a big section to bash. That’s where she thrives. Out on the face at Margarets, she looked ragged around the edges. The thing about Molly is, she’s figured out the hard stuff in surfing first. She got a frickin’ 10 at Pipe. She can smash the hell out of giant sections at Sunset. Now she has to perfect the nitty-gritty details.

My favorite surfer of the day had to be Sawyer. She ripped it out there. Her solid backhand is doing an excellent job of memoryholing that bobble-headed paddle interference she had at Sunset. She’s animated and feisty. Who the heck wears a springy at Margs? Sawyer does. During her semi against Tyler, she nailed a legit hammer on the end section.

After beating Tyler, Sawyer made her first ever CT final. At Bells, she made the quarters for the first time. The San Clemente girl is starting to find her rhythm with this whole CT thing, and she flung herself over the cut line. In the process, she sent 12-year CT veteran Lakey Peterson to the Challenger Series.

In the final, Gabriela went on two waves early, but couldn’t find a score. Sawyer came out swinging and took an early lead with a mid-six on her opening ride. Gabriela could only find a five to answer, and it wasn’t until around the twenty-minute mark that she began to swing the heat.

Dancing with dolphins, Gabriela turned a two-turn wonder into a 7.83. Her first turn hooked deep into the pocket. An arcing bottom turn set her up perfectly for a closeout bash. Gabriela’s strength and short-legged stance allow her to pull her turns in tightly. At a time when the judge’s have fallen back in love with power turns, her surfing’s like catnip to them.

With ten minutes to go, Sawyer came close to retaking the lead. She needed a 7.44, a tall order with the onshore building. On a mid-sized set wave, she bashed out two solid hits and rode out some weird Margs double-up shit on the inside. The score, a 7.27 came heartbreakingly close. Not enough.

Inside the final minutes, Gabriela slammed it shut with an 8.10. The score mostly came from a heavy closeout hit, but it felt like the judges had painted themselves into a corner on this one. They’d been paying two-turn waves all heat. They’d already thrown high 7’s. There was nowhere left to go but up. Gabriela rightly won this one, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sawyer get hers soon.

We’ve got about a month until the tiny post-cut women’s field heads to Tahiti. You have already heard my views on the cut and how bad it is for women’s surfing.

I will not bore you with that sort of thing again here.

Ten women. That’s fucking absurd.

I like to be optimistic, sometimes.

And in that mode, I would like to hope that the new CEO takes a hard look at the product his little sports league is offering. It is, I would argue, not the showcase the athletes’ talent deserves nor is it especially entertaining to watch most of the time. If people who actually like surfing get bored and wander off, maybe it’s time to rethink the thing.

In the meantime, I’ll just be over here trying to stay awake in traffic.

Geoff McCoy and Barry Kanaiaupuni
Geoff McCoy and Hawaiian great Barry Kanaiaupuni.

Legendary surfboard designer Geoff McCoy, “creative, intense, cocksure”, dead at seventy-nine

“The most dominant force in surfing around the world…”

They sure don’t make ‘em like ol Geoff McCoy anymore and maybe there’ll never be another like him. A child of the fifties and sixties, a man of the seventies and eighties, unsullied by the viruses of the modern world.

The legendary surfboard shaper and designer whose no-nose concept paved the way, at least partly, for the modern thruster outline has died in Tasmania, aged seventy-six.

Geoff McCoy, described so poetically by Matt Warshaw as “creative, intense, cocksure” is best-known for his Lazor Zap design, a tear-drop shaped surfboard with a big ass and a needle dick that Cheyne Horan rode to consecutive world title runner-up finishes in 1981 and 1982.

Again, from Warshaw:

Geoff McCoy’s Lazor Zap surfboard design—generically called the “no-nose—looked incredibly sexy and futuristic, but was skittish and high-floating and drive-free and more or less impossible to ride unless you were Cheyne Horan. Harder to surf than a twin-fin? Difficult to say. Pick your poison. The twin-fin was like riding a bar of soap, the Lazor Zap was like riding an air-mattress pumped up to 75 PSI. Anyway, it didn’t matter. Saint Simon of Narrabeen mooted this no-win choice in 1981 by introducing the Thruster, and in its protean glory the tri-fin remains the sport’s board of choice. We were saved. 

Through the late seventies and early eighties, McCoy surfboards was killing it, a Lost, a Channel Islands, selling his boards worldwide.

In 1984, McCoy lost everything when a biz manager split leaving him with almost half-a-million dollars in debt.

“He then retreated to Byron Bay, his faith in humanity deeply dented. At that time it seemed to him that many people were happy to see this great man fall; maybe they could gain a foothold now that he was down.”

McCoy never recovered from the setback, at least financially, and drew a narrative that he was being crushed by the “industry”, although he continued to shape in his little factory there in Tweed Heads. 

Apart from the Lazor Zap, you could buy a  Quazor Zip, an Astron Hot or a Nugget. 

John John Florence perfect ten at Margaret River.
10! 10! 10! 10! 10! for John John Florence!

Snot and piss and tears fly in World Surf League judging booth as epic Margaret River final evaporates drudgery that brought us here!

Or wait... did it?

Good waves cure most ills, as we well know.

But historic low level trauma is hard to cut through. That’s what this Margaret River comp felt like. On again, off again. Insufficient waves. Achingly long lulls. Hanging on to the vain hope of something good on the final day. Watching compelling narratives spool out, then sag.

No-one within the WSL will understand this, of course. All they will see is a successful finals day and believe it evaporates memories of the drudgery that brought us there.

The final, between the enigmatic John Florence and Jack Robinson, a man forever hovering between psychopathy and transcendence, was valid. Both traded in numbers deemed to be excellent on the arbitrary, fluid, and oft controversial scale set by the WSL. But there was no controversy this time.

Florence gave a good account, and will still lay claim in the minds of many to the title of best surfer at Margaret River.

But Jack Robinson won, and he would stand vehemently against this. He did so in the final by mainlining uncut panache, leaving his best performance til last in tantric mastery of heat strategy.

His 9.10 was unquestionably the best wave of the heat. It was only two turns, but the opener was the best of the whole competition. It was a turn worthy of a poster, whipping him back into the pocket with such ferocity that he momentarily disappeared behind the falling lip.

Yet he emerged, as he always does, to connect with the end section and add exclamation to ecstasy. The resulting finger wagging claim was well-warranted.

Not so justified was the hard sell on the final wave of his quarter final against Imaikalani deVault. There was doubtful conjecture in the booth about whether he’d got the 7.17 he needed to turn the heat, yet the score came in at 8.33, perhaps owing mostly to his vigorous reaction.

Judges are prone to this sort of emotional response, especially in the final moments of heats or from surfers who use claims sparingly. They latch onto narratives like the rest of us, and this can skew the scores into the highly subjective region of objectivity.

They’d been dying to give John a ten, as they eventually did in his semi final match with wildcard George Pittar.

How many excellent scores has Florence had now at Margaret River? How good is he here?

And, oh, what’s that board he’s riding!

Please, sir, won’t you tell me again?

When Florence blew out the tail in a layback no-one should’ve recovered from, the judging tower squealed with the collective glee of middle-aged men watching bias confirmed.

In the booth, Taj Burrow, ageless as a woodland sprite, assessed the score at a 9.63. Both wonderfully precise and highly agreeable.

Yet in the judges tower chubby digits had been poised for John, just waiting to punch in perfection. Snot and piss and tears flew.

Unanimous tens!

Somewhere, Clay Marzo peered at his phone and furrowed his brow.

It was a great wave, a spectacular wave, but did it really deserve a premium insulated tub?

Does any?

Worthy of note were the performances of Seth Moniz, who looked better than he ever has. According to commentary, the strategy in the Moniz camp was a code word to encapsulate his approach. That word was “Moledo”, a neologic mash-up of Moniz and Toledo.

The approach worked. Not only did Moniz notch his best finish in a long time, but he vaulted eleven places in the rankings and far away from the cut line he’d been hovering round.

It was a valid strategy, for surely Filipe would’ve made mincemeat of Margaret River over the past couple of weeks. No Box to worry about, just mediocre Mainbreak walls to eke power and speed where others would find none.

Moniz had clearly been watching lots of tape, and in the glare of a midday sun you’d have been forgiven for mistaking him for Toledo. His rails were incisive, his surfing faster and more torquey than usual. And his arm placement, those high elbows so emblematic of Toledo’s style, was picture perfect.

But performances like this, the entertaining finals, the solid waves, all of it was too long coming.

Was the waiting period for this competition really only ten days? It felt double that.

We need these things done in two.

Put simply: we need fewer surfers and better waves.

The first thing is easy, and from this point forward will be somewhat addressed.

The second is a little more complex. You can’t script the weather, but you can give yourself a better shot at aligning with it.

Overlapping heats should be standard. This format speeds progress through rounds, maximises good waves, and alleviates lapses in action.

On days like this, a lot might happen in a short space of time, and I’m sure judges hate it when a flurry of waves leads to a backlog of scores. But it’s not about them, it’s about the viewing experience.

This is the mistake made relentlessly by the WSL. They remain ignorant of the end user experience, the fans that might make or break them.

I’m sure ten days of trawling wineries in Western Australia or scoring waves around the Peniche peninsula (everywhere but the contest site) suits the WSL employees just fine. If I was part of that bubble I’d love it, too. Maybe I would even grin inanely and happily spruik milk substitutes and ladder companies.

Of course there’s a wall of positive noise. Why would you challenge such a cushy gig? And of course they’re pumped on a final day of good waves. It’s the climax of a ten day holiday!

Whether it’s wilful or blinkered ignorance of their failures hardly matters.

To its detriment, the World Surf League is still largely an insular, jobs-for-the-boys, cottage industry. It is resistant to change and ignorant of simple truths.

They might think that one day of good waves cures all, but it’s a handjob without eye contact.

How many days of glaring mediocrity is that really worth? How much time and sustained interest can we really give?

It’s hard to love pro surfing when it doesn’t love you back.

The WSL wants to be a serious sports league. Its existence depends on it. But no amount of brand activations or gushing superlatives can compensate for the fact that competitions can only muster a few hours of genuine entertainment among days of mush.

And that, quite simply, will be the death of it.

Kelly Slater back on top?
Kelly Slater back on top?

Earthquake cracks pro surfing’s foundation after revelation beheaded Kelly Slater has actual path to requalification!

"Let’s assume he gets wildcards to Tahiti and Cloudbreak..."

We, many of us here, have all been pretending that the world’s greatest historical surfer Kelly Slater is done. Goose cooked. Bun firmly in oven. That his retirement announcement after failing to advance at the just-wrapped Margaret River Pro, thereby dropping him below the cut line and off tour, was real twice over. First, in that he wanted to “step back” with baby boy on the way. Second, that he simply could not continue due not being on tour.

Now, last year the World Surf League fixed it by gifting the 11 x champion a special season long wildcard. This year, the “global home of surfing” has not offered a similar golden ticket miffing Slater’s most diehard fans. These Slateries want to see him in a competition singlet come hell or high water and they just might get their sinful wish.

For an eagle-eye’d surf fan has run the numbers and… well here.

Hey Chas,

I was just thinking about the GOAT’s retirement.

Let’s assume he gets wildcards to Tahiti and Cloudbreak. He can definitely win one if not both those if it’s pumping.

Now, according to WSL rules. Ex champions accrue points towards the ranking post cut even if they are wildcards.

If Kelly was to win one and do ok in the other, make 2 semis for example, he would probably have enough points to secure a place for next year right? If he places above the 22nd surfer.

Could we see Kelly rising from the ashes back from retirement in three months?

He now sits with 3990 pints. 1 win and a semi would add 16085 points taking him to 20000. With only 2 more events besides these it would be hard for the bottom surfers to secure more than that.


Interesting is right.


More as the story develops.