Kelly Slater was down on the rocks at Lowers this morning, photo-bombing Fred P’s big moment as the Hawaiian tagged out with a perfect 10 during his Round One heat. I watched and wondered—was Slater maybe just a tiny bit jealous? Was there perhaps a slightly mocking voice, somewhere in the back of that flawless chestnut-brown dome (Kelly’s, not Freddy’s), whispering “You should have done that!” Two weeks ago I had an crystal-clear premonition that Slater was going to win Teahupoo, climb onto the boat afterwards and spontaneously announce his retirement to Rosy Hodge, effective immediately. It would be moving and joyous and sad, and the number of live WSL viewers would for once be in the same realm as the bullshit numbers WSL likes to claim, and strong men would look into their computer screens and cry in synch with Kelly. I really, honestly thought this was going to happen. Of course, I had the exact same thought about Pipe in 2013. Kelly makes fools of all of us.
But back to Freddy. Best pro tour exit ever? There’s only one other contender: Mark Richards gliding into the sunset after banking his 4th world championship. Now that is REALLY going out on top. If Slater had taken to motocross or tennis or bass fishing or whatever, we’d be praising MR as the ultimate competitive surfer to this day. Four straight! And done! With double cherries on top for his back-to-back post-retirement Billabong Pro wins.
On the other hand, MR’s actual retirement moment—well, there wasn’t one. Nothing public, anyway. Richards just didn’t send in entry forms for the ’83 season, and a few months later he told SURFER he had “no desire to bust any doors down,” and apart from those two Billabong wins that was pretty much that. Makes sense. Take away those Fisher-Price color schemes on his boards and wetsuits, and MR was one of the the least flamboyant men in game.
Freddy Patacchia just signed off on a much smaller career, but in a much bigger way. Okay maybe the judges juiced his score a bit. Twitter pundits had Patacchia’s knockout wave in the mid-9 range. But fuck that. Fred took that score and mic dropped it into the sublime. Jordan couldn’t do it. Woods couldn’t do it. Slater . . . well, not yet, anyway. Freddy just pulled off the hardest sporting feat of all. We’ll see a half-dozen more perfect 10s before the Trestles contest is over. But the perfect career exit? We’re talking every 30 years, give or take. Thank you Fred Patacchia! You’re a champ.