How can something so exciting be so disappointing?
When Kelly Slater won his (fake) 11th world title, one of the greatest moments in surfing – and sporting – history was diminished by being staged in the equivalent of a lumpy, dried-out suburban footy ground.
Slater supposedly won his 11th world title (before it was recalled a day later due to a mathematical error by the ASP) when he came from behind to beat Australian Dan Ross in the third round of the Rip Curl Pro in San Francisco this morning. The wave with which he won the heat offered him nothing more than a string of carefully executed routine maneuvers. No barrel, no airs, which fans have come to expect from contests at this level, just standard turns. The judges gave him a 7.6 for it – a fair call, given the quality of the waves.
It could have been worse. The event scored conditions that are as good as it gets in San Francisco at this time of year. Such is the nature of holding surf contests. Every one of them is a roll of the dice.
But good luck in San Francisco is not the same as good luck at Teahupoo, where the Billabong Pro this year set a new standard for compelling surf action (Slater won that event, too.)
So what is the tour doing in San Francisco? This event is the Rip Curl Search, a mobile license supposedly meant to put the world’s best surfers in the world’s best waves.
Adhering to the tradition of keeping the locations secret to avoid turning them into overrun surf destinations, the Rip Curl Search has always been dubbed “Somewhere in…”, which in the past has included Mexico, Indonesia, Chile and Puerto Rico. Absurdly, this year’s event has been dubbed “Somewhere in San Francisco”. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone where that is.
Asked why they had taken the event to a city, Rip Curl marketing chairman Neil Ridgway, who was at the event, told The Australian: “For the waves.”
“We wanted to turn the contest on its head,” he said. “In some ways San Francisco is remote, it’s not on anyone’s (surf) map. I was told it could be like Hossegor (France) on steroids. I’m looking at it now and it’s pumping.”
When told the waves didn’t look great on the broadcast, he said: “I guess some people are just hard to please.”
That’s not true. It’s not asking much for the world’s best surfers to be competing in the world’s best waves. The pro tour has been visiting top-quality remote breaks ever since Quiksilver took an event to G-Land, Java, in 1995.
Since then, the technology to predict swells and broadcast the action from even jungle huts has made such events more and more feasible.
Rip Curl’s Search event has at times been the one leading the charge into innovation and quality. But not this year.
If you tuned in to watch Kelly win his 11th world title and wondered why he was surfing a mediocre powerless beachbreak, you weren’t alone. Slater’s huge moment deserved much better.