“Use your words.” I used to say it to my two-year-old son all the time, and if he had a sense of payback, he’d be standing here right now telling me the same thing. But I’ve got no words left to describe Kelly Slater, not after watching him, at age 41, cheerfully dance his way to yet another first-place finish at Pipeline.
But two thoughts are stuck in my mind this morning.
First, the rest of us don’t see, feel or process the sport the way Slater does. I wanted to say that Slater is impossibly comfortable surfing on the outermost edge of his ability, and that’s certainly true. But the penny finally dropped yesterday, that what the rest of us perceive as the outermost edge of Slater’s ability is in fact kind of an illusion. It looks like the edge, but there are degrees and shadings there that we can’t even pick up. The 10-pointer he got in Round Four, for example.
Ridiculous, right? And sure, Kelly no doubt reached deep to pull it out. But not to a point where he felt it necessary to grab rail. He’s within himself, contained, start to finish. He’s in the red zone, but Slater’s red zone has its own red zone, and I don’t think he was quite there. That’s why we’re all dumbfounded at the end of that ride, while Slater himself is calmly brushing a drop of water off his nose.
Second, my Pipeline viewing experience yesterday got warped to the point where pretty much everything got run through a Slaterized filter. Slater would have made that last-second barrel Mason Ho got in the final. God above, please, someday, give unto us a Kelly Slater-level web commentator. Poor Ola Eleogram just fucked his ankle—how crazy that Slater’s never been seriously hurt at Pipe. On and on like that.
Right after the final, one of those nameless cranky anti-surf-establishment guys I follow on Twitter just buckled and admitted, publicly, that its going to be a black day indeed when Slater finally does hang up his competition jersey.
That’s a third notion, in fact. Slater is the only surfer in the world who can, temporarily at least, crush irony and cynicism.
Thank you, Kelly Slater. Just…thank you.
This article was originally published on The Encyclopedia of Surfing.