We won’t spend too much time hacking through the luxuriant jungle of what transpired today. We all saw it. The time for sober analysis will come in the next couple of days as we sort through the material and hold it up to the lens of what actually transpired.
Lets just riff on the few of the important points from today and see if it gels with what you observed on the webby or live. Dropping all philosophical objections to pro surfing today was a day to put sportswriters into ecstasy.
First, Kirra is not back, despite what Slater says. The ratio of makable waves to closeouts is still way too low. That point was graphically illustrated in the disappointing crowds call “free-surfing” session. Barely a barrel was made by a collection of the worlds best. Highlights were Steph Gilmore’s stylish charging and tube threading and a clean make from Rabbitt on a Gunter Rohn pintail.
That Expression Session was also a stunning endorsement of Pro surfing’s claim to legitimacy as a showcase of the world’s best. The efforts of Dane, Jordy, Craig Anderson, Steph Gilmore et al at challenging Kirra looked amateurish and bush league compared to Slater and Parko. If the reverse had occurred a mountain of internet commentary would have been vindicated. It was not.
Second, anyone suggesting Parko’s world Title was somehow a “consolation Prize” or that having climbed that mountain he would back off or suffer some kind of Post-title defense jitters is, in the words of Captain Willard from Apocalypse Now: “quite clearly insane”. Parko’s surfing was bristling with aggression, intent and a brutal, stylish efficiency which was staggering to witness live. He was only beaten by the cold blooded vengeance of Kelly Slater who seems to have taken personally the fact that despite three victories last year he didn’t get to face off against Parko in the Final at Pipeline.
It always looked like Parko and Slater to me. Parko was smiling/grimacing after the Final shaking with a mix of cold fury and awe over the magnitude of the contest. ”Coming second fires me up so much. I’m fucking pumped, the monkey is off my back. I wish Bells was tomorrow, I just want to go out there and get at him again”.
His rebuild after savage setbacks and crushing defeat is now producing a sporting rivalry and peak performances analogous to the great middleweight battles of the 80′s. That sounds like hyperbole but will make perfect sense to those who witnessed the extent of his mastery and the genius of Slaters strategic response to it.
I was on the beach for Slater’s first title victory at Pipeline, high as a kite on San Francisco’s finest LSD, and entertained by running commentary from Owl Chapman. He called the kid a “genius from another planet”. Since then I’ve seen plenty more of his victories. Some achieved through superior equipment choice, some through strategy, pure surfing skill, clutch decision making, psychological warfare, tube-riding , aerials etc etc etc. This one bridged all those differing disciplines and taken as a whole has to count amongst the finest and most comprehensive of his career.
Late last night Kelly Slater sat on the rocks at Kirra. He watched and he took careful notes. He watched where the best waves were, the exact position he would need to be in (he referred to this as his “Honey Box”) to catch them and he determined in advance exactly what would be required to achieve victory. That was the plan. He then needed the mental toughness and surfing skill to carry it out. The accuracy of his mental map against reality can be judged by the efficacy of his peers Jordy Smith and Dane who barely registered a made tube-ride in the expression session. The average surfer would have been lucky to make a single wave today. They are just facts against which the achievements of Slater/Parko/Fanning should be assessed. The fact he has now committed wholeheartedly to this years tour has liberated all the latent intelligence which had heretofore expended itself on conspiracy theories and concentrated it into a lazer like focus on surfing. Thats something fans will be grateful for. Finally, we rid ourselves of the curse of the half-arsed champion.
But back to the strategy, which looked like chasing fools gold against Fanning in the second semi after Parko easily accounted for Bourez, who was clearly outclassed by local knowledge. Slater was in a world of hurt at the halfway mark and beyond. He looked lost and forlorn paddling continuously against the rip in his honey box while Fanning threaded tube after tube.
“It was a challenge to sit there and stick to my strategy watching Mick get those tubes but I had total confidence there were ten point rides down where I was sitting”.
It was eight minutes left on the clock when Slater dropped super late into a concaved bomb and threaded a long, long deep throaty one. It had to be a ten. The pro fishermen from Evans head I was watching it with were over the moon. ”How the fuck did he do that?” These aren’t men normally given to displays of emotion.
Did you notice in the Final the only time the two men came together? It was at the 23 minute mark after Slats had just posted his winning 9.83 ride (should have been a ten). Parko paddled up to him with intent and for a few long seconds the two men were shoulder to shoulder. No words seemed to be exchanged but Kelly sold him on a small shitty wave.
He’s got him. He’s got the juju on him.
That was the crucial moment. Parko needed a ten, or thereabouts. He caught the ski back out and inside Slater, effectively snaking him. The wave came and Parko took off deep. We all saw him flip Slater the bird from inside the tube but Slater had both the moral right to catch the wave and the technical right. There should be no dissent on the call. Slater verballed Belly after the Final : “He was too deep, right? No way he woulda made that”.
He might’ve but that’s a meaningless if now.
Last words: This event took the focus off marketing hype on teenagers expected to shift truckloads of units and put it back on pure surfing performance. Slater stands with a small cadre at the top of a pyramid that can support those willing to breath a rarefied air accessible to very few. Roll on Bells.
* The re-establishment of the monarchy in France after the Napoleonic Empire.