Fox, conversely, sprung for a gorgeous house at Rockpiles, and they were very generous with their hospitality. You can buy a fair amount of goodwill on the North Shore with just a few cases of cold, domestic beer. But when your bbq has beautiful women passing out brimming platters of sashimi and tempura, your brand has officially arrived. At sunset, chilled sake was unveiled. Damien Hobgood, adept in his Japanese etiquette, understood that it was gauche for guests to pour their own shots. With the deft hands of a ninja, he quickly tended to the needs of his thirsty associates. Minutes later, he was rewarded handsomely with an enthusiastic kiss on the cheek from his adorable daughter. Southern hospitality at its best from Florida’s second-most famous surfer.
At dusk, two silhouetted figures could be seen at the property’s edge manning a remote-controlled GoPro drone. As they filmed the surfers at Rockpiles, their focus remained solely on their high-tech device. The pair was completely oblivious to the DJ, catered food and the revelers behind them. They were utterly consumed with childlike fascination by their gadget. Who were these guests, I wondered to myself? Upon closer inspection, it became apparent this duo weren’t in fact children of pro surfers or industry insiders. It was Joel Parkinson and the venerable Kauai charger, Bruce Irons. They were utterly engrossed with their toy. Their singularly focused concentration on the drone reminded me of two children on Christmas morning or perhaps two soldiers fighting Al Qaeda with a joystick. Either way, their airborne camera soon returned to the party and so did their attention. Bruce later told me that he had been flying the drone over Nathan Fletcher’s house each morning to see if his buddy was awake yet.
The anticipation for the title battle between Mick and Kelly the following afternoon was at a fever pitch. All day long, Mick had been surrounded by camera crews, journalists, fans and fellow team riders. I didn’t want to add to the mayhem. I had been waiting for an opportune moment to drop off a gift print that I had for Mick that I’d taken the year before. In the late afternoon, I happened to see him sitting alone on his balcony at the Rip Curl house staring out at the surf. I’ve learned that finding a one-on-one moment with anyone of notoriety can be very elusive. I’ve “met” plenty of celebrities in my career, but shaking hands in a club or sharing a drink at crowded party hardly qualifies as spending quality time. Under the right circumstances, however, a simple five minute encounter can be a surprisingly intimate experience. Timing is everything. My window of opportunity had presented itself and I climbed the stairs to the house. Mick was remarkably calm and relaxed considering how much was at stake the following day. I gave him my print and we cracked a few jokes. A few years earlier, I had dinner with Mick and Taylor Knox in New York City. After our meal, we all decided to walk to another bar. Halfway there, both of them grew tired and became adamant about jumping in a cab. I reminded Mick of this story and goaded him at the notion of two professional athletes not being able to endure a 15-block walk in Manhattan. Mick erupted with his hardy Aussie laugh and I nabbed my shot. I remember thinking at the time how bizarre it was that no matter how rich or powerful or talented you are, the future is always a mystery. Sitting there on his deck watching the massive swell rolling in, neither one of us knew whether I was talking to the next world champion or not. History was still unwritten. Less than 24 hours later, he would win his third world title.