Welcome to the Kellydome

Look at those eyes. No, please, just look at those eyes. Look at the frigging eyes!

Look at those eyes. No, please, just look at those eyes. Look at the frigging eyes!


“Let’s face it, your writing isn’t what’s going to sell this book. Kelly’s eyes on the cover are what’s going to sell this book to 12-year-old girls.” These words, flying into my ear at 3800 mph (five times the normal speed of sound) from the mouth of Kelly Slater’s manager across the country in Los Angeles, struck my temporal lobe and knocked me off my chair. He was probably right, and the bargaining technique his ancestors developed through centuries of bullshitting was probably effective, but I wasn’t having it.

“Look,” Mister Hollywood Manager Guy added, “there are three other people on our list, so if you don’t want to do this, we’ll move on to the next guy.” Not that I’d be stupid enough to pass on an opportunity to write the life story of the greatest surfer, arguably the greatest athlete, of forever, just because of a couple grand and some royalties. I would’ve taken the gig pro bono, but I wasn’t going to let some silver-tongued douchebag talk me into a corner. I hung up and called Kelly.

Not that Pipe Dreams.

Not that Pipe Dreams.


Lucky for me, Kelly had been hearing the “your manager is an asshole” line for so long that he knew his manager was…well, if you don’t have anything nice to say. I’d known Kelly since we were ESA groms, and he’d been humbled by a piece I wrote about him for Surfer’s “Most Influential Surfers of the 20th Century.” We weren’t bosom buddies, but the powers that be figured a fellow East Coaster from the same generation could best tell Kelly’s story. Manager Man was bypassed, and royalties were added to the contract. I had a job. A good one.

The timing of the project couldn’t be better for me. I’d recently lost my Surfline position in a final slash of the editorial staff, and had I still worked there I wouldn’t have had six months to dedicate to the book. Oh, and Kelly was in Hawaii for the Pipe Masters, so I had to bail on Va Beach in December and fly to meet him on the North Shore. Duty calls.

Not that Pipe Dreams.

Not that Pipe Dreams.


For two weeks, I slept on a sofa or under my friend Cab Spates’ dining room table, the whole night alternating between battling mutant mosquitos and sweating inside my boardbag. Don’t feel sorry for me. I spent the rest of the trip surfing the seven-mile-miracle, watching the event at Pipe, and swimming through the head of a waveriding genius nonpareil.

I learned a few things about the champ in the process:

He’s late. We set up a time to meet every day, and every day I sat around waiting for Kelly to show up. His tardiness is not due to rudeness but negotiating an endless parade of people asking for his attention. It’s a wonder he makes it anywhere, ever.
-He’s patient. That endlesss parade of hangers on would be enough to break any lesser man. Kelly, lemme get a photo. Kelly, sign my vagina. Kelly, gimme some free clothes. Kelly, tell your manager to stick his offer up his ass. Slater understands that invasions of privacy comes with the territory and never loses his cool.

Not that Pipe Dreams.

Not that Pipe Dreams.


-He’s sensitive. You might think the best water-walker in 2000 years (if you believe the gospels’ accounts) would have thick skin, but the guy is human. I mentioned Kelly’s receding hairline in an article, and he reacted by calling and telling me it was a surf mag, not a hair mag. He was being serious.
-He’s generous. Kelly didn’t hesitate when I asked him to give up a piece of his royalties. When the book was complete, he also offered me two custom boards from Channel Islands. (I didn’t need any boards at the time so I grabbed one of his personal sticks as a raffle prize for a local fundraiser and gave the other to Steve Hawk for helping my career.)
-I wouldn’t want to be in his flip flops. People see Kelly’s magic and think, I’d love to be him. I beg to differ. In addition to being pulled in fifty directions, hounded by fans, and belittled by wannabe journalists, imagine the pressure he faces every time he paddles for a wave. Kinda tough to have fun when every pair of eyes expects you to surf like Kelly Slater. I have mad respect for the way he handles his stardom.
That Pipe Dreams!

That Pipe Dreams!


All in all, the experience was invaluable. I wrote the book, convinced the publisher to abandon the kooky sea animal images they wanted at the start of every chapter, and handpicked the title, the cover, and the photos (many of which I plucked from digging through Kelly’s closets). As Slater made the late night TV circuit and signing tour after the release, Pipe Dreams peaked at #29 on the NY Times bestseller list for hardcover non-fiction.

The weirdest thing about the process, which makes perfect sense, was that after six months of writing Kelly’s story in the first person, I felt like I was inside his head looking out. Seeing the world through his eyes made me hyper-aware of my surroundings, especially when I was surfing. Things made more sense, except I couldn’t figure out why so many 12-year-old girls were staring at me.

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Surfin’ USA braces for wipeout

Behold your new king.

Behold your new king.

When Sam Cooke crooned that a change was gonna come, he was talking about today. He sang those words in 1964, years before pro surfing was a thing, but I’m sure that’s what he meant. After belting out his prophetic lyrics, Cooke promptly got drunk, attacked the manager at a $3-a-night motel, and was shot and killed while dressed in nothing but a sport coat and shoes. The outlook, from the perspective of U.S. pro surfing today, is as bleak as Cooke’s in that seedy motel – intoxicated, exposed, and headed for an embarrassing death.

Since Tom Curren’s ascendency in 1986, Americans have won the men’s world title 20 times in 27 years, 11 of those by Kelly Slater. When Kelly steps down at the end of this year, or sooner if he doesn’t remember how to finish a wave, we will awaken from this dream run. Reality won’t be pretty.

The new king won’t be Australian, or South African, or Hawaiian (I know Hawaii is a state, but they consider themselves to be their own entity). In other words, the new king’s English will be broken at best. His native tongue will be Portuguese, and he’ll be hoisting a green sheet made of polyester. That seemingly innocuous show of patriotic pride raises the hackles of U.S. surfers faster than you can spell Rio. The new king will be…ahem, Brazilian.

Kelly can't seem to get his shit straight this year.

Kelly can’t seem to get his shit straight this year.

American surfers seem to have a problem with those other American surfers, so much so that we conveniently forget that those others are Americans too. We don’t like the way they talk, we don’t like the way they surf, and we sure as hell don’t like how the get so damn excited at the end of a ride. We reserve that sort of fervor for important stuff, like Nascar.

I used to be in the same boat (except for the Nascar part). I longed to see the Brazzos fall while shaking my red, white, and blue pom-poms. Now I’m merely a fan of good surfing and a good story. And our neighbors to the south satisfy on both counts. The young Brazilians, namely Gabriel Medina and Felipe Toldeo, are pushing the limits and doing it in a manner that is easy on the eyes. Seeing a kid from the favelas (or anywhere near there) winning a title will be the ultimate Cinderella story.

The young (North) Americans, by contrast, are full of holes. The California kids, Nat Young and Kolohe Andino, look like kids by comparison. Besides, their styles are twitchier than Elaine Benes at a dance party. No one is bothering to fit them for crowns. Hawaiian John Florence has the moves and the style, but not the competitive nature or passion. He’s more at home standing inside a cavernous barrel than atop a victory podium, so it’s just a matter of time before Hawaii calls him home. And unless the tour switches from thirty-minute heats to three-minute video clips, Dane Reynolds has as much chance of a world title as he does of being hired as Kelly’s hairstylist.
http://rebloggy.com/post/gif-dancing-seinfeld-elaine-benes-elaine-the-little-kicks/78225805418
When the Brazilians take over, I suspect we’ll experience a competitive backlash like what happened in the early ’70s. Not only were contests uncool from the U.S. perspective, but surfing itself was counterculture. When we can no longer contend for world domination, we’ll quit caring, and the industry here will shrivel even more than it has in recent years.

If you don’t think The Slater Vacuum will be a big deal, there’s a bigger loss looming for U.S. surfing. There’s only one surfer in the world more popular (check their social media followers) than Kelly, and that’s Alana Blanchard. Beloved not for her surfing prowess, but her smoking hotness, Alana is also making her last run on tour. For some reason, surf competition judges only award points for what you do on a wave, not how smoking hot you look while doing it, leaving Blanchard without a single heat win all season. She isn’t just losing; she’s getting destroyed. It almost makes me not want to watch her heats. Almost.

Now that looks like a 10-point ride to me!

Tell me that isn’t a 10-point ride.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that a backlash to competition and commercialism in surfing is a bad thing. Remove those aspects, and we’re left with the reasons we started surfing – the adventure, the camaraderie, and most importantly, the fun. I say bring on the Dark Ages.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Southern California

The scene at Oceanside for the contest. I suppose there are worse camping spots out there.

The scene at Oceanside for the contest. I suppose there are worse camping spots out there.


I’m not a poor planner, because I don’t plan at all. Without a pre-established itinerary, every day is an adventure, Indiana Jones style. I realize that, as a parent, teacher, and business owner, this approach is a bad idea. I can’t help it. I blame surfing. You can’t plan what you’re gonna do on a wave. You drop in, see what’s happening around you, and react. That’s my life. I’m a reactor. Sometimes this gets me in a pickle.

I used to go to California every summer. I’d surf my brains out, stock up on free shit from my sponsors, and surf some more. By 1990, I thought I was ready to quit being a spectator at big pro events and become a player. That summer, I flew out for the Life’s A Beach Klassic in Oceanside.

The event happened to be Kelly Slater’s first as a pro. He probably had fifty people lined up to greet him at the airport, all fighting to give him a place to stay. My arrival was slightly less heralded. I landed at LAX, retrieved my surfboards and duffel, and wondered why I hadn’t done a better job of planning. A rental car wasn’t in my budget, and after a few dollars worth of quarters wasted on potential rides, I realized I was on my own. With the contest starting the next morning, I had to go Greyhound.

"Ooh, Kelly, will you please stay at my house?"

“Ooh, Kelly, will you please stay at my house?”


I took a city bus to the Greyhound station and quickly saw I’d made a huge mistake. The Greyhound drivers were on strike. A few busses were operating, but with 80% of all routes cancelled there was a line of customers stretching around the block. I figured that standing around in perfect California weather was still better than being in humid VB, so I dragged my belongings to the back of the line. What other choice did I have?

“Escuse me, where you trying go?” It was a Mexican dude, middle-aged, decently dressed and looking only a little friendlier than a villain from a Clint Eastwood spaghetti western. I looked around and realized he was talking to me.

“Oceanside,” I said. I’d mailed my hundred-and-fifty dollar entry fee, so one way or another I was going to show up for my heat.

Hombre smiled and fingered the toothpick between his teeth. “I take you. Ten bucks.” I looked back at the line in front of me. It was longer than the one for Space Mountain at Disneyland up the road. Not only was he offering me a ride, but he was appealing to my thrifty nature.

A fairly close replica of The Bean Machine.

A fairly close replica of The Bean Machine.


Sold. He helped lug my boards to a nearby parking lot, while I considered how much smarter I was than all those bozos still standing in line. We finally stopped at a dull gray van, not a passenger van with rows and rows of seats like your typical airport shuttle, but a bonafide molester mobile.

“The back door no open,” he said. Sure enough, they appeared to be welded shut. He opened the side doors and told me, “We put boards troo here.” Whatever, I thought. At least I could sit up front and we’d be on our way, or so I thought. He pointed to a seat at the very back of the van. “You wait couple minute. I go get few more people.”

It wasn’t too late for me to run, or at least walk considering my heavy load. On the other hand, if he was going to harvest my organs or make me a sex slave he probably wouldn’t be going back for more victims. Silence of the Lambs wouldn’t come out until the following year, so the image of a dumb girl getting conked in the head and taken to an underground lair in a van much like this one wasn’t yet seared in my brain.

"Would you mind giving me a hand with this couch? What are you, about a size 14?"

“Would you mind giving me a hand with this couch? What are you, about a size 14?”


Sure enough, mi amigo returned, not with a few others but roughly a dozen, all Mexicans. They piled in through the side, gradually enclosing me in the way back beside the welded doors. Then, once we packed in like…well, like a van full of Mexicans, we were gone. I don’t know if the circus was in town, but if we’d pulled up in the middle of it and started to unload to raucous applause I wouldn’t have been surprised.

We dropped a few passengers off in a shady area of Santa Ana, but the rest I assumed were heading for Mexico. I started to doze off amid thoughts of waking up across the border and being forced to sell Chiclets to tourists when the van pulled up at Oceanside Pier. I handed the driver a ten, threw in a “Muchas gracias,” and hauled my stuff down the steps to the beach.

The sun was like a big Winchell’s donut on its way to dipping into the Pacific, and I plopped onto the bleachers that were freshly set up for the contest. Some fellow contestants were getting some waves before dark, but I didn’t feel safe leaving my posessions unattended. It was likely that I’d be snuggling inside my board bag in a few hours, so I didn’t want to risk someone making off with my accommodations.

I was beginning to scope out a camping spot when a familiar face came bobbing past. “Hey Jason, what are you up to?” It was an older guy from home who’d relocated here with his girlfriend.

“Aww you know, just hanging out.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Umm, not really sure.” (Feign puppy dog eyes here.)

“Well, we’re running down to the harbor and back. If you’re still here when we get back, we’ll see what we can do.”

If I’m still here. If they were coming back for me, not even Pamela Anderson bouncing up the sand in slow motion wearing her red Baywatch suit could’ve lured me from my position. For the next week, I surfed though a few heats, watched a lot of Wimbledon from the comfy futon at my friend’s house, and enjoyed many breakfasts cooked by his girlfriend. Through each delicious bite of omelet and Stefan Edberg serve-and-volley, I was learning a valuable lesson: Planning can ruin a great trip.

Before being attacked by plastic surgeons, C.J. Parker was among the top lifeguards in Orange County.

Before being attacked by plastic surgeons, C.J. Parker was among the top lifeguards in Orange County.

*Special thanks to Rich and Mary Brown for rescuing me. I still owe you.

Get in the van

One of my favorite photos of myself, taken in 1989.

One of my favorite photos of myself, taken in 1989.


One by one we arrived in the parking lot, each giddy with dreams of walking in OMG Wes Laine’s footsteps. The 1989 Association of Surfing Professionals East Coast Tour was kicking off the next day in New Smyrna Beach, Florida. Ten of us piled inside the WRV van comandeered by OMG himself. We had no clue where we were staying when we got there, but trivial details didn’t matter. We were pro surfers* heading into battle.

The trip went something like this:

Wes: “Gimme your gas money.”
One of us: “I gotta pee.”
Wes: “We don’t stop.”
One of us: “I’m hungry.”
Wes: “We eat at the Georgia Pig.”
One of us: “But that’s three states away.”
Wes: “Sit back and shut up.”

Twelve hours later, we pulled up at the home of the Rip Curl sales rep in Smyrna. “I’m staying here,” OMG announced. “I don’t know where you guys are staying.” In half a day, he’d gone from being our hero to Sergeant Dick**.

He got out and grabbed his bag, and we all looked at each other and considered our options. We could sleep in the van, which would be a sardine tin sauna full of sausage and no-see-ums, or… The van emptied in a flash and we stood behind Sarge like a pitiful gang of orphans from a Dickens novel. Luckily, the guy who opened the door, Larry Glenn, happened to be the nicest guy in the world. Maybe he couldn’t see all of us hiding behind Sarge, but he said, “Come on in,” a line he’d later regret.

A typical day at New Smyrna, where you can get a speeding ticket for going 15 mph.

A typical day at New Smyrna, where you can get a speeding ticket for going 15 mph.


The waves were knee high at best, and the Floridians were in their element. They looked like an army of crispy gymnasts with sun-bleached mops, skipping and snapping across the ankle biters. We were pale and doughy after a winter stuffed inside thick wetsuits. We felt like Katniss Everdeen showing up for training in The Capitol and being thrown into heats with “Careers” like Kechele, Rudolph, Kuhn, and McCranels. Oh, and a kid named Slater. We hid behind Sergeant Dick.

Needless to say, other than Sarge, we got slaughtered. None of us survived the first day of competition. The only thing I remember was an incident during the morning freesurf. I knew Kelly from Easterns and a trip to California with the ESA All-Stars. Anyway, I caught a tiny right, and Kelly thought it’d be funny to belly ride in front of me. I thought it’d be funny to jump on his back, feet first.

Yeah, umm, not that funny. He came up screaming and clutching his back in agony. He limped up the beach and I thought, Great, I’ve killed Kelly. Turns out he was fine and would’ve won the contest if not for an interference call in the quarterfinals.

Kelly needed one of his fans to hold him up after our incident in the water.

Kelly needed one of his fans to hold him up after our incident in the water.


That night, our whole crew went to a Mexican joint in town, Clancy’s Cantina. After several pitchers, we yanked sombreros and guitars off the walls and formed our own impromptu mariachi band. When the bill came, we each tossed a wad of ones on the table, leaving the saintly Larry Glenn to cover the deficit.

Pulling up to Larry’s house afterwards, we found there was nowhere to park. Cars were everywhere, reminding us that we’d been telling people all day at the beach, “Party at Larry Glenn’s tonight.” We’d forgotten, and we’d forgotten to tell Larry. People were inside the house, outside the house, in the hot tub, and hanging from chandeliers. Even kid Kelly was there, not so much to party but to crash on the sofa. Larry should have kicked our asses to the curb, but I think he liked the excitement.

We all felt like crap the next day, partly from drinking and partly for how we’d treated Larry. We sat in the van the entire day to avoid the sun and to wait for Sargeant Dick to lose, which he finally did just prior to the final. We pulled off the sand and onto I-95 for another 12-hour drive.

On the way home, one of our gang, Jeff Hunter, had to pee, and since Sarge wasn’t stopping, Jeff hung it out the vent window at 80 mph. A carload of girls riding alongside us got a heckuva show. To top it off, we later stopped at Stuckey’s for a treat (Wes claimed, “See, I’m not a dick anymore”) and those same girls were sitting inside eating ice cream. To Jeff’s credit, he proudly waved to them and took his place in line.

That was the start of a string of weekend dashes down I-95, each with similar results. We’d lose and sit around waiting for Wes to follow. For some reason, we never stayed at Larry’s again.

Toppling the OMG Wes statue that once stood at 1st Street.

Toppling the OMG Wes statue that once stood at 1st Street.


*Technically I was a pro. My total earnings: $36 from a local contest, $11 if you deduct the $25 entry fee.

**In Wes’ defense, he’d just fallen off the world tour after a stellar career, relegated from planes to Australia for the Bells Easter Classic to a fart-filled van to Florida for the inaugural Platts Spring Surfari. It’s easy to see why the tall guy was short on patience. I still respected his surfing, especially his unmatched Hatteras tuberiding, but he’d fallen hard off his pedestal. He eventually mellowed out, and now we get along great. That might change when he reads this.

Balls of Fury, aka Golfensux

ball
When I began searching for a pursuit to fill the void left by surfing this year, the first thing that came to mind was golf, probably because it requires a level of fitness somewhere between curling and poker. After completing my first round of the year (I usually play two rounds annually), I’m extremely confident. That is, in my ability to become a scratch golfer. That is, if being a scratch golfer means scratching golf off my short list of pursuits to fill the void left by surfing.

Golf sucks. I’m not sure how much of that sentiment stems from the fact that I suck at golf, but it has to be a factor. After all, I think aerials suck, mostly because I cannot do them. I wouldn’t say I’ve given myself a decent chance to learn how to do aerials, roughly the same chance I’ve given golf, twice annually. But this isn’t about aerials sucking, because golf sucks a thousand times worse than aerials.

I’ve got some hand-me-down clubs from my father-in-law (who is more than half-a-foot taller than me, so they’re way too big). These clubs reside in a moldy bag that, as you know, only sees the light of day twice annually. These two outings are mostly enjoyable, not because I’m drawing pleasure from shooting a ball in every direction except the one in which I want it to go but 99% because I’m hanging out with my friends and drinking or gambling, or sometimes both.

I know how to hit a golf ball. Unfortunately, I don’t look good doing it. One friend told me I hit the ball like Travis Logie surfs. Logie is a professional, ranked among the world’s elite, but his style is jerky and hard on the eyes. My friend suggested I try to swing more like Joel Parkinson surfs, buttery smooth and visually pleasing. A brilliant idea, but when I do so, I strike the ball with all the force of a jab from a T-Rex.

Most of my shots, if they clear the ladies’ tee, turn sharply to the left and usually land out of bounds. I understand this is because I lift my head to see where the ball is going before I even hit it. I am well aware of how stupid this is, but I can’t help it. I tell myself not to lift my head, then I lift my head. You see, there are a million other critical things to remember all at the same time in order to hit a decent golf shot. And as we know, thinking while doing results in doing poorly.

Notice that my five-year-old son has already hit the ball, and his head is still down. Little brat.

Notice that my five-year-old son has already hit the ball, and his head is still down. Little brat.


Occasionally, around once every fifty shots, I hit one that resembles that of a middling pro. Afterwards, I have no clue what I did differently than the previous 49 that landed in the woods, or the sand, or the water. Maybe I remembered not to think. I know that this shot is a pro-level shot because, for some reason, I sometimes watch golf on television. I love watching the final round of a big golf tournament on a Sunday afternoon. I also love taking a nap on the sofa on a Sunday afternoon. Not coincidentally, one inevitably leads to the other. Golf, I’ve found, is the cure for insomnia.

After four hours of surfing I feel sore and tired, but mostly I feel satiated. 18 holes on the links is more akin to the Bataan Death March, and that’s with a golf cart. Afterwards, I feel dirty and disoriented, unsure if the atrocities I’ve witnessed (my shots, the outfits, the dishonesty of some players) can ever be forgotten. If the weather was beautiful, like it was this time, I’m left thinking I just wasted half-a-day of beautiful weather.

So as I reach the fifth month of my quest, the search for surfing’s temporary replacement continues. I’m faced with eight more long months without riding waves. Perhaps worse than that, I still have one more round of golf to get through.

Laird pitching the golf board, a motorized skateboard that carries your clubs.

Laird pitching the golf board, a motorized skateboard that carries your clubs.

Dude conveniently forgot his clubs. Now this is making good use of a golf course!

Dude conveniently forgot his clubs. Now this is making good use of a golf course!


*To my friends and family who have told me that their passion for golf is equal to mine for surfing, I want to apologize. I’m sorry, not for ranting about how golf sucks, But because you fell in love with something that really sucks. That’s unfortunate. I can only hope that after reading this, you come to your senses.

The Immaculate Perception

The Bald Menace is in there somewhere, maniacally plotting world domination

The Bald Menace is in there somewhere, maniacally plotting world domination


As I watched 42-year-old Kelly Slater pull off another incomprehensible maneuver in competition last week, I was reminded of something I read recently about what makes great athletes great. If you missed it, in the quarterfinals of the Drug Aware Margaret River Pro, the ageless, hairless wonder flew out of a tube and was already on his way toward banking off the top of the wave, which was rapidly cascading. Other elite surfers might have escaped the barrel with enough time to straighten out towards the shore, but none would have dared such a cheeky combination. As surf encyclopedist Matt Warshaw tweeted afterwards, “Nobody else would of even thought of it.” I’m gonna tell you how he did it.

I’ve been researching the factors that influence athletic prowess for years and have recently come across some interesting findings. Nature and nurture seem to be fairly equal contributors, as evidenced by Kelly’s ideal build and flexibility coupled with his insatiable hunger for improvement and a wicked competitive streak. The 10,000 hour concept is pretty reliable, give or take a few thousand hours and assuming that the hours represent deliberate practice. Regardless, there are plenty of masterful surfers, but none of them would have considered trying what Kelly did on that wave. The key to his freakishness, I believe, lies neither in his creativity or his quick reaction time. It’s all about perception.

Kelly's track illustrates his unlikely route out of the tube and straight to the top

Kelly’s track illustrates his unlikely route out of the tube and straight to the top

David Epstein, in his 2013 book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance, spends a great deal of words explaining how an elite athlete perceives his or her playing field as compared to others. “Where the novice is overwhelmed by new information and randomness,” Epstein writes, “the master sees familiar order and structure that allows him to home in on information that is critical for the decision at hand.” The ability to mentally slow a situation in order to come up with the perfect move is apparent in listening to Kelly talk about surfing. He can spend three years dissecting one instant of wave riding.

Epstein cites multiple studies measuring elite athletes’ perceptual superiority, be it in volleyball, tennis, field hockey, cricket, boxing, or chess. Across the board, the masters are able to look at an image of their playing field for mere milliseconds and glean all sorts of information. For less skilled participants, this isn’t the case.

Why would surfing be any different? If anything, given the moving surface we deal with, perceptual skills gain a larger importance. Surfers are essentially making predictions about how a wave will act, and Kelly’s insane perceptiveness of the playing field separates him from us as well as from his competition.

This latest instance of Slateriority took place at Margaret River, a spot he was having a hard time figuring out, a slow, wonky wave that rewards restraint over an all-out assault. Kelly surfed (for his standards) like a kook in the first few rounds, then spent a day riding Margie’s much more intense neighbor, the Box. Back at Margie’s for the final day, Kelly experienced the main break in slow motion.

He easily lands what others cannot even imagine

He easily lands what others cannot even imagine


Guys like Kelly, according to Epstein, “Need less time and less visual information to know what will happen in the future.” In other words, Kelly feels what will happen on a wave and is able to put himself in places the rest of us cannot imagine. Honed on tiny East Coast waves that required him to find and extract any semblance of power, he is now afforded a much larger field to work with. As a result, he sees the future.

Kelly once explained to me his “Parallel Planes” theory of proper surfing technique. Imagine a plane extending out from your shoulders and another extending out from your surfboard. Those two planes, he said, should always remain parallel to maintain perfect form. In order to keep them parallel, you must know what the wave is going to do before it happens. Kelly doesn’t react to situations on waves; he makes predictions and acts accordingly.

If perceptual ability is such a difference maker, and I believe it is, can we all acquire it? Sure, with heaps of time spent in the water while your brain is still developing, so probably not as an adult. Too much conceptualizing about surfing, while doing it, is counterproductive. Thinking while engaged in activity, Epstein confirms, “is the sign of a novice in sports, or a key to transforming an expert back into an amateur.” So no, you’re not going to learn how to see a wave through Kelly’s baby blues. We’ll have to settle for our own boring old eyes, but at least we get to use them to watch him.

And the gold for chlorinated curl dancing goes to…

20140216-093517.jpg
As I watched the snowboarding elite struggle to show their stuff on a jimmy-janked halfpipe in Sochi, I scratched my head trying to find a reason to want surfing to become part of the Olympic circus, aside from the obvious humor in seeing which team rocks the dorkiest sweatsuits.

Then, I got it. The soonest that Olympic surfing could happen is well into the next decade, so there you have Kelly Slater’s motivation to stay on top into his fifties. Wouldn’t it be great to see a geriatric Slater claim one for the U.S. while sporting a pair of trunks from Depends? Grab the gold and drop the brown simultaneously.

Aside from that intriguing spectacle, I’m stumped. I don’t see what surfing could gain alongside the likes of badminton, trampolining, and synchronized swimming. Turn on the TV, an you’re bound to catch a commercial that uses surfing to sell products. Last I checked, there was no such thing as a badminton lifestyle that people wanted a part of. And let’s be honest, who among us wouldn’t totally upchuck when we hear Bob Costas say, “Cowabunga dude, next up, we hang ten with the surfing event?”

Advocates for surfing in the Olympics point to the 1920 plea from the “moke” who put surfing on the map, gold medal swimmer Duke Kahanamoku. I applaud Duke’s achievements as loudly as anybody, but no one ever accused this human fish of being a rocket scientist. After all, his post-swimming career peaked as Hawaii’s official greeter. He had a heckuva handshake, but he may not have known what was best for the sport.

For surfing to be a part of the games, an artificial wave is a must. Then, what we’re left with isn’t really surfing. Maybe Pool Boarding? Faux Wave Skating? Or my fave, Chlorinated Curl Dancing.

So much for the spontaneity bred from dealing with the whims of nature. Runs will be predetermined and robotic, and therefore dominated by a crew of pint-sized punters.

The Olympic games would undoubtedly put surfing on a larger stage. Shoot, I’m watching the games right now, probably because there’s nothing else on and I’m still going through football withdrawals. A lot of other people are watching, too. Eyeballs, ultimately, equate to money.

And there you have the reason some are fighting to see surfing join the party. The surf industry’s velcro pockets would fill, but is that helping surfing?