The most-loved man in surfing is a hoary old phrase that gets thrown around, but in this case it's true!
A sort of melancholy falls over the latest episode of Lost Tapes, the 11-part series that documents Kelly Slater’s 2019 year.
It is Autumn and we are in Hossegor, France, as Slater wrestles with a series of ninth place finishes, catastrophic by his standards.
It is lovely in the Aquitaine this time of year, tourists mostly gone, the little summer wind swells giving way to Atlantic muscle, but the sky is greyer, the days shorter.
It’s a time when even the most optimistic soul feels a little malaise.
The episode focusses on his thirty-three relationships with Stephen “Belly” Bell, an ex-pat Australian glasser who’s been living in France since 1989, and who became the step-daddy to Leo Fioravanti after finding love with the Italian’s spectacularly assembled mama Serena.
“It feels like the end of an era for me,” Slater says, as he stays at Belly’s gorgeous cubist beach house. “Belly now has only one event left in his tour managing career… he’s been there for every world title I’ve won. I love Belly. He’s my best friend. He’s a consistent person and a good guy. I can trust him with anything and everything. Everyone should have a Belly in his life. I’m a lucky guy to’ve had him in my life all these years!”
I know the feeling.
Belly also owns a piece of my heart.
For the two years I lived in Hossegor, through the grey cloak of the long winters and the saturated golds of the too-short summers, he was kinder than he ever needed to be.
Maybe it was our mutual love of titties, short trips to Spain and whistling sand-bottom tubes that clapped like thunder across the town’s sandbanks, but it felt real.
Belly moved from Victoria to France in the mid-nineteen eighties and set up a glassing shop called Euroglass. He had the contract to build all the Quiksilver boards for Europe which, in the honey surf industry days at the turn of the century, meant everyone was coming to Belly for boards, Kelly Slater and the sixties icon Miki Dora included.
Because he was Australian, and more Australian than anyone I’d ever met (although fluent in French), Belly was the hub around which that country’s surfers revolved during the European leg of the tour.
Once Belly asked me to affix a tail-pad onto a board that was bound for Quicksilver’s flagship store in Paris. It was, ostensibly, an ex-Slater board, but it wasn’t.
I put the K-Grip pad on a crooked angle and while it would’ve been justified for him to be agitated and cruel he gave me a fatherly smile and said, “you fucking idiot.”
“Loved by all” is a hoary old phrase to throw around, but it really is true.
Stephen Bell, a little man with a bald head and baggy pants, is all heart, no ego.
Did you know he also rips?