Young Mozart.
Young Mozart.

On childhood, loss and growing up in the shadow of surfing’s Mozart

"Kelly Slater, even as a kid, was legendary..."

My world in the 1980s was a roughly 100 mile Atlantic oceanfront strip, stretching from Stuart Rocks in the south to Cocoa Beach in the north, with a few discrete landing points in between, spots like Tiger Shores (named for the shark, not the mammal), Power Plant, Ft. Pierce North Jetty, Sebastian Inlet, Spanish House, First and Second Light, and, most importantly, the beach breaks in Indialantic down the street from my buddy Steve’s house (for those unfamiliar with Florida geography, Indialantic is a little hovel situated a few miles south of Cocoa Beach and a bit north of Sebastian). I lived at the southern end of this strip, in Stuart, about an hour and a half south down I-95 from Steve’s house.

Steve and I met at a church summer camp in Ocala, which is a seemingly picturesque central Florida town dotted by freshwater lakes, the picturesque part masking the fact that alligators outnumbered humans by a factor of about 5 to 1. Ocala was located about 60-70 miles straight inland from Ormond Beach, which itself had a fun little beach break where I rode my first ever real wave, a clean waist high runner on a borrowed 6-8 red G&S single fin.

But I digress. Back to Steve. Steve was cool, but even he admitted that he wasn’t as cool as his friend Danny. Steve and Danny spent time at a small Christian school together, which in that part of Florida in the 80s basically meant you were co-members of the same tiny cult. And since I also attended a tiny Florida Christian school, I kind of felt like I was in their cult too.

Every once in a while a cult member would break through and make a name for themselves in the outside world. And the reason Danny was so cool is that he was one such break out star. His last name was Melhado, and he was a terror in the ESA menehune contests.

Just being good buddies with Steve, who knew Danny, was like being one step removed from Florida surf royalty. I don’t even remember ever being introduced to Danny, but in the internet / social media deprived world of the 80s, one degree of separation was practically inside the club, or at least that’s what I told my grom self.

But actually that summary skips an important fact – Melhado was indeed an ESA contest terror who genuinely ripped. But like Soliari, fate cursed him. Because while Melhado would have ruled the ESA in any other era, in the era in which he lived there was a real life surf Mozart, the one grom king of the entire global surf universe, and unfortunately for Melhado that kid also happened to live in Central Florida, in fact right there in Cocoa Beach, and that kid was also cutting his competitive teeth in the ESA.

Kelly Slater, even as a kid, was legendary. He absolutely, undeniably, fucking ripped. And that wasn’t all. He surfed Kechele’s boards, and Kechele himself was one of the most progressive surfers on earth, routinely pulling big punts off the wedgy peaks at Sebastian Inlet. And Kelly was sponsored by Sundek, which in the 80s made incredibly cool trunks. Or maybe they sucked, but Kelly wore them so who cared.

At the time, Sebastian Inlet was a scintillating surf amphitheater. This was back before First Peak was ruined by the Army Corps of Engineers, back when there was a miraculous wedge that would refract off the jetty and form a wave at least a couple of feet bigger than anywhere else on the Florida coast at the moment.

You can walk on the Sebastian Inlet jetty, so you could stand right up above the action and watch as the local crew shredded the peaks below. Standing on the jetty in the mid to late 80s on a sunny Florida day with a decent little swell running and watching Kechele and Kelly and John Futch and the rest blister every inch of breaking water – that was a grom surfer’s dream (right behind actually getting in the water and trying to score a couple waves at Second Peak, or more likely at Spanish House a bit north of the inlet where the waves were not quite as good but the lineup far less packed). I’ll never forget those moments.

But back to Danny and Steve. Danny got some results, Kelly didn’t get him every time. In our little crew we held out hope that Danny would be the next one, that Steve’s buddy would one day grace all the mag covers, be featured in full page ads wearing tweaked out boardies, that Steve would get invited to cool ASP parties – and most importantly that Steve would invite a couple of us, and maybe just a little surf fairy dust would fall from the stars and land on our sunburnt shoulders.

But really we knew the truth. Because even then, Kelly was faster, more creative, threw more spray, did more everything – he was him, as the kids say.

The years passed. Kelly became Kelly. Danny moved to San Clemente for his senior year of high school, and as far as I can tell continued to shred. Steve and I went on surf trips together. The two of us helped hoist board bags up to Rabbit Kekai on the second floor balcony of Rabbit’s hotel. Steve stood next to the table and watched as I was annihilated by Miki Dora in ping pong. He was sitting next to me in a Pacific lineup when I paddled into a set wave big enough that a guy on the beach later described it to me as watching an ant go up and down a hill.

Then in the 90s, Steve moved to a landlocked town for a better job and met a girl. I moved away from our Florida roots too, still surfing, but almost always alone. Steve eventually married the girl. He got an even better job as a sales rep for a well-known farm equipment manufacturer. He wasn’t surfing but he was happy, or so I heard, because we didn’t really talk anymore after about 1996 or 97. I even missed Steve’s wedding, because in the late 90s I was often a selfish douchebag who let other things take priority over shit that matters.

So missing Steve’s wedding was the first thing I thought of when I got the call a couple years ago from a mutual friend telling me that Steve had passed away. Came home from work one day, sat down in his recliner, and never opened his eyes again.

When I got that call, all the memories with Steve flashed through. How he seemed to secretly enjoy skimboarding more than surfing. How he kept a throwaway tire from a 24 Hours of Daytona race in his bedroom because he loved cars. How we paddled out together in the dark one night when an overhead swell was running off the central Florida coast, but we couldn’t see much of anything other than the phosphorescent lines of whitewater pounding us – and it was still a blast.

Then my mind drifted to Danny. I wondered if he had heard about Steve passing. I thought about trips to Sebastian with Steve and watching Kelly and Steve always hyping Danny over Kelly. I wondered whether Danny still wonders what might have been if he weren’t born at the same time and in the same place as surf Mozart. (Things worked out ok for Danny, he was even inducted into the East Coast Surfing Hall of Fame in 2022, in the same induction class as CJ Hobgood. But still.) And then, of course, I thought about Kelly.

That was a couple years ago. Fast forward to this past week. I sat on my couch, in the same living room where I got the call that Steve was gone, and I watched Kelly being chaired up the beach at Margaret River. I thought about Danny, wondered if he was watching the moment too, wondered if he could have predicted this future back when he was bashing lips in ESA menehunes with Kelly.

And then I thought about Steve. And wished I had made it to the damn wedding.

Brazilian champ Adriano De Souza showcases enlarged heart with hatchet-burying praise of Kelly Slater!

"He is insane, everything is done for surfing is next level."

Now that Kelly Slater has pretend retired, all-comers are flooding, praising the greatest surfer of all time for his years of servitude. But a heretofore unforeseen question has suddenly arisen. Is there actually a greater-est surfer? Oh but we must turn our eyes south, to the proud nation of Brazil where impoverished* Americans and Australians are no longer welcome.** Chris Cote, Devon Howard, Jack Freestone, Adriano De Souza…


Adriano de Souza?

Though who could forget eight years ago when Kelly Slater unleashed his wave tank hours after De Souza won his gorgeous, and hard fought, first and only Occy-esque surf championship?

Not me.

Champagne not yet dry on Mineirinho’s hair, Slater showed his Kelly barrel in Lemoore, California on Instagram and then proceeded to make this face.

The entire world following that gaze toward the cow stink, away from the new champ.

Or, years before when Slater and De Souza had an in-surf interaction in which the former “likens Adriano’s intemperance to a chemical imbalance due to his “passion.”

The most ancient of blood feuds.

It should be assumed, then, that De Souza harbors injustice like Indigo Montoya. Counting the days until vengeance is his.

That, friends, would make an ass out of you and me.

The boy from São Paulo, hours ago, took to Freestone’s sonnet and wrote, “i don’t know how to say to him, this is your last or not and yes 🤨 probably we don’t know tomorrow and what we can say is today right @jackfreestone he is insane, everything is done for surfing is next level 👏 @kellyslater”

Very polite dig at the start chased with a crystalline good nature.

Gorgeous and what a jolly good fellow.

Though, what do you think De Souza meant by “insane?”

More as the story develops.

Joel Tudor and Matt Biolos, fighting
Longboard champ Joel Tudor and, right, the shaper with the sad liquid brown eyes, Matt Biolos.

Wild war of words erupts between surfing titans Matt Biolos and Joel Tudor in online blood feud

“So all the worlds best surfers and the worlds most dialled-in designers are all dorks?”

The surfing world was drenched in terror sweat yesterday when the world’s most successful surfboard shaper Matt Biolos and three-time longboard champ Joel Tudor, two of the sport’s most hallowed names, thundered repeated salvos at each other on Instagram. 

Joel Tudor, a forty-seven-year-old father of two but who still has the ethereal and angelic face of a child, opened with a post featuring a vintage technical drawing of a surfboard.

Crucially, there was no mention of the surfboard’s volume, a common and popular measurement in modern surfboards. Regular BeachGrit readers will know the story of how Firewire was the first company to introduce the measurement to surfers, writing it on their stock boards.

“No mention of dorkass liters in this conversation! All the OG’s kept it real!” wrote Joel, regarded as the father of modern old-fashioned long boarding. 

Joel Tudor on surfboard volume
Joel Tudor don’t like the volume measurement on surfboards.

Cool Mom lookalike Matt Biolos, who won last year’s inaugural shaper CT shaper rankings, quickly threw a dish back at Joel Tudor. 

“So all the worlds best surfers and the worlds most dialed in designers are all dorks? Sure, anyone who worries about liters on a log, is not getting the point, but fine tuned minutia of performance competitive surfboards,are universally being made more exacting by adding a “4th dimension” to the mix. It’s a very function method of measurement, when used the correct way.”

Joel Tudor quickly plunged the knife, forgetting even the rule for possessive apostrophes. 

“Every one of you who cave to this trendy language are a bunch of Barney’s!”

A follower called purr_monster writes, “Joel’s a barn.” 

Joel Tudor roars, “I will out surf all of you and fold you in your own clothes.”

Later, Joel Tudor writes to Matt Biolos, “Brewer , takayama & frye will laugh in your face if you say liters on any surfboard whatsoever……they’ve dropped more weed than you’ve smoked in regards to surfboards of all shapes and sizes …..also in the words of Donald to all small board shapers …don’t tell me anything until you can shape a longboard that doesn’t look like it’s been shaped my a axe awoooooooooo…”

Shortly after, “by a axe …sorry my autocorrect just took a bong hit.”

Biolos: “With all due respect to you and those other icons, none ever laughed in my face, when I met them. Skip was forever curious, Like Ekstrom and Brewer all forever inquisitive. If its a tool that gave them, or their test pilots an edge, they would prob use the tool. We use the tool to build refined racing machines, for the most astute surfers on earth. It’s that simple. Donald sold more Asian made SurfTechs than anyone. He laughed in all our faces. Then threatened me, physically, on voice mail, for trying to protect domestic board builder’s from his cheap imports and impose import duties on Asian built boards. Called me every name in the book. So I respectfully laughed in his face. Rest his beautiful soul.”

And so on. 

Joel Tudor, of course, is a well-known star of blood feuds, the ultra-purist angle skewering all-comers.

You’ll remember his role as the protagonist in these classics, Blood Feud: Joel Tudor and Noa Deane in creative battle royale! Blood Feud: Joel Tudor vs The World, and Blood Feud: Kelly Slater vs Kelly Slater (part one), Blood Feud: Joel Tudor vs Kelly Slater, part two and Blood feud; Joel Tudor squares off with shaping icon Richard Kenvin.

Joel Tudor was last seen on those pages four months ago when he described the hot-dogging longboarder Phil Rajzman, famous for his trademark chop-hops, as having “the worst style in long boarding.” 

Volcom golf. True to this.

Once-rebellious Volcom releases “punk lite” golf collection!

Establishment against youth.

Surfing and golf have had a long and weird relationship mostly reflecting the long and weird Kelly Slater. The greatest to ever do it has enjoyed a decades old affair with the greens which, thereby, gave coverage to other nerds who enjoy whacking the little white ball. Really, surfing and golf have nothing in common. No shared history, no common pedigree, nothing but Kelly Slater, though that did not stop the once-rebellious Volcom for releasing a new punk lite golf collection.

The iconic stone, hewn in gritty early-90s Costa Mesa, was anti-authority, anti-old, anti-staid. The youth, you see, were against establishment.

Well, thirty-three years on it appears the upper-middle age are for Saudi-backed boredom.

Now owned by Authentic Brands Group, along with Quiksilver, Billabong, RVCA, DC Shoes, et. al., Volcom’s new golf offering features “polos, shorts and pants to keep you feeling and looking cool from the tee to green.”

It is showcased by Balaram Stack, Jack Robinson, Thor Larson and Sierra Kerr who are not wearing golf shoes in the photo shoot bringing much doubt onto their level of play/desire.

The new tagline is “Volcom not just FORE! surfing.”


Here’s a music video to make you feel better.

True to this.

Also, thanks again, Kelly Slater. Look at what you made Jack Robinson do.

Do you really believe Kelly Slater just retired from pro surfing?

There's been so many iterations of the Kelly Slater retirement that he has made it an art form, dear friends.

Several months heretofore, the world’s second oldest active pro athlete Kelly Slater threatened to call it quits for the twenty-sixth consecutive year after being eliminated from the Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach. 

The just-turned fifty-two-year-old Kelly Slater, who is four years younger than the still-competing pro soccer player Kazuyoshi Miura, was narrowly beaten by Australia’s golden girl Ethan Ewing, a baby-faced twenty-five-year-old Australian with the “plumpest and most spankable bottom in surfing”.

Following the loss, Kelly Slater said he was “questioning competing to be honest with you… My confidence isn’t super high.

Yesterday, after losing in the round of 32 to world number one Griffin Colapinto, Kelly Slater again quit. 

The first time Kelly Slater retired was in 1998, the then six-time world champ having just-turned twenty-six. He competed sporadically over the next few years, winning Pipe in 1999 and the Eddie in 2002, before re-joining the tour to take on Andy Irons head-on, hinting at retirement every year thereafter.

In 2018, and piggybacking Joel Parkinson’s retirement announcement at J-Bay, he said he’d officially quit by the end of the following year at age forty-seven. 

Other retirement announcements can be found here, here, here and here. 

Is this the end? 

Chas Smith says non!

“You actually think hat Kelly Slater is retiring? You think somehow that this year, this time, was the time that he decided to hang it up? Do you forget the 26 other times that he said he was gonna hang it up? Do you somehow not remember when Joel Parkinson was retiring? Oh, what was Kelly Slater gonna do too? Retire. Do you not remember? When he actually did retire during the Andy Irons years, that was a long time ago. There’s been so many iterations of the Kelly Slater retirement that he has made it an art form, dear friends. And this latest gambit, this latest show, we’ll say, is a bit of acting, theatre. 

“He will certainly continue to surf. That is a far-forgone conclusion. He will surf in Tahiti, he will surf in Fiji, he will surf and he will surf and he will surf again. But how does he beat this retirement? I don’t know. This was… the Oscar award-winning retirement.”

Thoughts? Opinions?