New Jersey surfers just saw a unicorn. That unicorn was none other than 11-time World Champ, the GOAT himself, Kelly Slater. So, why did Slater pop-up on a New Jersey sandbank the day before Halloween in 2017? According to Instagram, Kelly was in New York visiting family when Jersey legend, Sam Hammer, gave Slater the heads up about the pristine conditions.
It was an all-time day here on the East Coast: overhead, hard offshore winds, and bluebird skies made a recipe for some of the best barrels of the year. I happened to be at the beach when Slater showed up, and I can tell you the crowd started to buzz from the moment he walked up to check the surf.
“Is that really him?”
“Does he have a doppelganger?”
Within a few minutes, a handful of New Jersey’s best surf photographers dressed in neoprene with camera equipment in hand came scurrying down to the beach like a pack of sea otters. Each and every one of them was in awe, and from what I saw, determined to get the shot. Most of them have never had a chance to photograph Slater, and for those who have, they hadn’t yet done it in their own backyard.
The vibe on the beach at this point was boiling. The word had spread that Kelly Slater was in town as more and more people started to cover the beach and seawall. He paddled out and dialed the takeoff zone almost immediately. Half the beach was still in disbelief at what they were seeing while the other half anxiously waited to see what he’d do on his first wave. For many, it was the first and only time we’d seen a surfer of this level on one of our waves.
In Jersey, everyone in the lineup looks the same thanks to all the black neoprene, but Slater was the only one in the lineup wearing a hood so he was easy to spot. Once a set rolled through, the surfers in the lineup cleared a path and Kelly dug into his first wave. He pulled under the lip, got brown-barreled, and disappeared into closeout section. The beach burst into another frenzy.
Kelly’s next wave was one of the largest ones of the day and quite possibly the biggest wave ridden. He took the high line, pulled directly into a massive barrel, and completely disappeared for a few grueling seconds behind a brown, frothy curtain of water. Eventually, our beloved Atlantic spit him out of the barrel. At this point, the beach lost it altogether. Even some of the spectators who weren’t familiar with surfing could appreciate what they’d just witnessed. For the rest of us in attendance, it felt like something out of a ‘CT event, and Slater had just scored a perfect ten.
As the day started to lose its light, the wind began to diminish and Kelly got more familiar with the break. Hammer and Slater went back-to-back on multiple sets towards the end of session, chumming it up like poetry in motion. Sam would start by taking off on the largest waves, pumping from the deepest sections, and giving the beach an amazing show. Slater would inevitably follow. They’d both finish their rides then paddle back out side-by-side for more. We were watching a local hometown hero in his backyard with the greatest ever. October 30th, 2017 will go down in history books for the Mid-Atlantic faithful. The modern day Willy Wonka of our time, the man who created our version of the chocolate factory via The Surf Ranch, gave us the best Halloween treat we could’ve asked for.