Competing (Vicariously) With Kelly Slater

I started thinking about why I root for someone who has won more major surfing competitions than anyone else some time before the Hurley Pro at Trestles. I’m not sure Maybe it’s because I’m well over 42, his age at the moment, and he represents… Maybe it’s… still thinking…

But, now the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP, soon to be something else) tour has moved on to France, and I just tried (and failed) to stay up late enough to watch the first heat of round two; Kelly relegated to the loser-goes-home heat by not winning in round one as the current wunderkind, Gabriel Medina, did.

Kelly Slater is probably the only other surfer on tour, and, even at that, he’d need help (as in other surfers who can beat Medina in a heat) who can catch the Brazilian, now the same age Mr. Slater was when he won his first of twelve world titles.

Oh, did I say twelve?

Maybe that’s the magic number; the one Slater, so close the past several years, is looking for. Or, maybe, maybe he just loves to compete, loves to win. It’s hard not to love competing when the water is cleared of other surfers during the best conditions (often questioned) during a waiting period lined-up with the optimum swell window for a given spot; not to mention the other perks.

Let’s count up a few: Fame, reserved parking spot, private dressing rooms, clamoring and adoring fans around the world, fame, contest winnings, sponsorships, fame, the true life drama of surfer-to-surfer competition, and, I almost forgot, money.

Fame should probably be broken down to the components; the part that includes those adoring fans who know you’re one of the world’s best, and the part that includes the respect of peers (well, wannabe peers), the fellow surfers who can’t devote their lives to being THAT good; those of us who compete whenever we’re in the water, those who seem to have other reasons for surfing (Yeah, yeah; spiritual, sensual; hard to think of those aspects scrambling for a wave in choppy, crowded, sub-epic waves).

There is the PEER RESPECT portion of what makes up ‘fame,’ proper respect from those surfers WHO HAVE devoted large chunks of their lives to getting as good as they can get at surfing, and, placed in a situation where their best two waves over thirty or so minutes, at any surf spot anywhere in the world, would be measured against Kelly’s best two waves at that same spot, with priority and wave selection and ability to pull off a move factored-in, and with the nerves associated with any competitive activity, and with judges and online viewers and a crowd on the beach… and just the worry that Kelly might (and probably doesn’t have to) give you a look, maybe just a nod, that completes the mind f___k, well…

Okay, sign me up. I’ll do my best.

Mr. Slater has been at the game so long, had the fame and respect so long; with the knowledge that so much of fame is so ridiculous, just has to be ignored, washed or dusted off, pushed aside; that he is casual about it. So casual. That’s style.

One must remember that he brashly said, and this was years ago now, that, when he got into professional competition, he was surprised at the level of the surfing. “At how good it was?” “No, at how bad it was.” Shocking; now that everyone says, and it’s true, that the surfers on the world tour, men and women, are some of the best in the world.

This elite surfer list doesn’t count, of course, the guy you see every time you go to any certain spot; just lighting it up.

So, I got up early, tuned in the ASP feed, just in time to catch Freddy P. in a heat, needing a score in the last few minutes of the last heat to be run today, late afternoon in France. I opened another screen to get the results from earlier. Kelly against Dane Reynolds, the very embodiment of the guy who lights it up without a jersey, sometimes when wearing one. Most surfers can relate so much better with Dane; a seemingly regular guy with freakish abilities (I don’t really believe the regular guy part). Kelly needed the points to maintain position in the world title race. Dane… well, Dane also has sponsors. Despite this being the 14th (out of 14) time he’d beaten Dane in a heat, Kelly was generous in his post-heat statements, saying that didn’t matter, we all know what Dane is capable of. Stylish, again.

Clicking back to the live feed, I caught Freddy get the score he needed. Buzzer beater. Yes, Mr. P said in his interview, after too many close heats that didn’t go his way, he was starting to get some confidence back.

I’d like to believe Kelly is a little more like most of the rest of us; maybe the respect he most wants is his own. I have to believe that each of us wants to surf up to the limits of our ability on any given day. That’s how we judge ourselves. If contest judges did the same, I could, occasionally, score a 9.5 without ever cracking through the lip.

Of course Mr. Robert Kelly Slater would, for the same moves, get a 2.35. Or less. So, and this isn’t just trash talk; “bring it on!”

Meanwhile, still a fan. In my neighborhood, Seattle Seahawks fans call ourselves some part of “The Twelve.” 12. 12. 12.

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