Here’s a wild and unfounded conspiracy theory for you: Kelly Slater lost his heat against Stu Kennedy at Snapper on purpose.
Let’s break it down. The world watches as a relatively unknown surfer, heralded as a salt-of-the-earth, blue collar hero, a ‘QS grinder, turns up and blows up at the first CT of the year. En-route to the semi final, he demolishes the veteran field, including the 11-time World Champ. Ironically (or perhaps not so), he is riding the champ’s soon-to-be-released board design. This design is unlike any other in the field, and as much of a departure from the status-quo as we’ve ever seen in competition. The board allowed Stuart Kennedy to surf faster than everyone else, turn harder than anyone else, and make it look like the primary variable that separated him from the top pros in the world was simply equipment choice.
Can you imagine a better advert for a fledgling board brand with a radical new design concept?
It’s a tried and true blueprint to sell a shit load of surfboards. Ask the Haydenshapes team about their Hypto Krypto. The Hypto Krypto was disruptive board design, but it’s also accessible. Such is the case with the Daniel Thompson-designed Sci-Fi model for Slater Designs. Had anyone outside of Australia heard of Haydenshapes before the perfect marriage of Craig Anderson and the Hypto and a few choice edits and images that soon became ubiquitous? The shape intuitively coincided with the launch of Craig Anderson as a brand – the perfect fusion of unorthodox design and aspirational surfing. The Hypto Krypto continues to smash board sales records largely on the strength of a few well-publicized waves.
Why so popular? Because we all want to surf like Craig Anderson, of course. But even if we can’t actually surf like Ando, the design of the Hypto makes us feel like we can. “It goes in everything! One board quiver!” That’s what the marketing would have you believe. In the eyes of the moneyed, board-buying public this translates to: easy to paddle and catch more waves; easy to surf if you’re fat, unfit, old, can’t do turns; and easy to hide the fact that you’re just plain shit.
It boils down to a very simple formula, a bit like the Golden Ratio for board companies:
Average Surfer + Average Waves + Unorthodox Board Choice = Excellent Surfing
Isn’t this the dream? Turn up at your local with a unique board and miraculously outsurf everyone, just like Stu Kennedy did at Snapper.
Surfers are forever obsessed with the concept of the “magic board.” To a pro this means nuances of dimension that perfectly complement the skills of the athlete; but to the everyday surfer it means a board that will magically transform his or her surfing with minimal effort.
The myth of the magic board is the surfboard industry’s greatest coup. The magic board may not actually exist, but the concept certainly does. If you can sell the dream; you can sell the product.
Slater is savvy enough to know this, just as he must surely know that the Sci-Fi flies in waves like they had at Snapper and the Banana is utterly shit. So why did he take the wrong board in the comp and let Stu Kennedy outsurf him with the right one?
Only Kelly knows, and perhaps he also knows that the Stuart Kennedy x Sci-Fi partnership might just be as symbiotic as Ando and the Hypto. Kennedy is the poster boy for the everyday surfer. He’s an icon for the frustrated gardener or construction worker; young men who live to tear the lips of the local beachy a new arsehole. Hello Sci-Fi, goodbye money worries and work stress. Stuart Kennedy is the perfect torchbearer to push product.
If we know anything about Kelly Slater, we know he has a burning desire to be number one, no matter what the challenge may be. Slater has no interest in churning out a few half-baked board designs; he wants to be the biggest surfboard manufacturer in the world.
You can put your pitchforks down, though. I’m not really suggesting that Kelly would be so unprofessional as to lose on purpose (I don’t think it’s in his make-up, anyway). And I don’t intend to do a disservice to Stuart Kennedy’s world-class performance at Snapper. I just think that this is another example of things falling into place for Kelly Slater, albeit in a roundabout way.
I predict that by this time next year the Slater Designs Sci-Fi will be the biggest selling surfboard model worldwide. It’s probable that it will also be voted Surfboard Of The Year, or whatever accolades are available for pretty pieces of foam. We’ll look back on Stuart Kennedy’s Snapper performance as the touch paper, and, as always, we’ll look at Kelly Slater through narrowed eyes and wonder what on earth he might do next.