OUTSIDE MAGAZINE, JANUARY 2015
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2014
By: MICHAEL ROBERTS
The Empowering Team found this inspiring article on Kelly Slater, a professional surfer that still is at the top of his game.
Last October 17 was a mixed day for surfing on the west coast of Portugal. On the south side of Peniche, a small oval-shaped rocky peninsula poking out into the Atlantic, winds were gusting onshore at about 25 knots, leading organizers of the Moche Rip Curl Pro Portugal, the penultimate event in the 11-contest Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour, to call for the fifth lay day in a row as they waited for conditions to improve. Things were better on the north side, so many of the pro surfers who had come to town for the event went to a beach there to chase down the occasional barreling swells. Among them, Kelly Slater, at age 42 the oldest competitor on the tour by six years, was probably the least enthusiastic.
“I had it in my head space that I was going to go golfing,” Slater told me a few weeks later. “It looked really hard to find a good wave.” A friend encouraged Slater to at least get in the water, telling him that they would just catch a couple and then come in if it wasn’t any fun. So they pulled on their wetsuits and paddled out into the head-high sets. After a few minutes, Slater scored a little tube. A couple of minutes later, he dropped into his second wave, turning to face it as he raced under the folding crest. In front of him, the wave began to crumble. It was going to be a short ride. Back on the beach, Kolohe Andino, a 20-year-old California pro known for aerial acrobatics, had told Slater that the strong offshore winds made it possible to catch huge air if you launched off the top of a wave. Slater figured this was a chance to try something new.
He was surfing at a high speed, and as he approached the tumbling whitewater, Slater crouched low and spread out his arms, coiling his upper body and aiming for the lip. He shot skyward and began spinning, his board now higher than his head. He went around once, then kept going, completing another half-rotation and landing backward in a sea of froth with his board pointing toward the shore. Then he spun another 180 degrees in the water and stood up.
Shortly after, the first clip was posted to Instagram. Four hours later, a professionally shot video that included commentary by Slater and other pros who were on hand in Portugal was on YouTube. The surf world erupted. Comments sections on surf websites lit up with a debate over whether the trick was a 540 or 720. A few younger pros had come close to landing something similar over the past year, but none had pulled it off. Nobody would have predicted that Slater would be the one to do it—especially not on his first try.
Slater was barraged with dozens of texts from pros expressing admiration or indignation. Industry pundits contemplated whether it was the greatest aerial in the history of the sport. A technical breakdown of the maneuver by skating legend Tony Hawk circulated. Mainstream media outlets like The Washington Post, USA Today, and Slate reported on the “mind-blowing” stunt. With a single stunning move on an unremarkable wave, Kelly Slater had shown the world that the bald geezer of competitive surfing was still its undisputed king. For the next month, nothing else that happened in the sport really mattered.