Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a title race. In one week of surfing Kelly Slater has once again proven he, to poach a line from Tina Turner, is simply the best. Yes, he in fact is better than all the rest. As with pretty much every other spot around the world Slater possesses a storied relationship with Trestles. He celebrated his coming out as a professional here 17 years ago (yes, you're that old!), and now after winning the 2007 Boost Mobile Pro, in quite possibly one of his best performances in the last couple of years, he's moved ahead of Tom Curren as the winningest ASP surfer of all time. Which is essentially like Barry Bonds breaking Hank Aaron's record, just without the steroid scandal. The only scandal that swirls around Kelly is what super model he's dating, but then again, it's safe to say most of us wouldn't mind a little of that scandal in our mundane lives. But seriously, with Mick Fanning getting being upset by young Dane Reynolds in Round Three—the first time Fanning failed to make the quarterfinals or better since last year at J-Bay—the door swung wide open for Slater, and being the competitive fella that he is, he stepped right through it.
The morning started off on the slow and feeble side, which is too bad because there were several good match ups. To this point, Reynolds and wildcard in crime Jordy Smith had decimated almost everybody in the hunt for a title, but neither would make it out of their Round Four heats. Reynolds faced C.J. Hobgood, who had looked confident and consistent throughout the event, and Smith was up against rookie Ben Dunn. In not so many words, Reynolds let his imagination get the better of him. Going for varials and rodeo flips is a tough way to win when your opponent's beaching every wave. And while the crowd seemed to enjoy the show, next year when Reynolds is on tour he may need to tweak his heat strategy a bit. For Hobgood it was a much need result after nary making a heat all year. Smith had a shocker of a different sort. In the first 20 minutes of his heat only one wave came through, and he didn't get it. In reality, it was no fault of the big South African kid, the waves just never came.
But let's be honest, everybody came to the beach to watch Kelly. He just won the SURFER Poll for the 13th time, and more than anybody else is the world people want to see him. It's amazing how mobbed he gets after every heat. "It is a total nightmare," testified one 12-year-old girl trying to get his autograph. Then you watch him surf and it's no wonder he's been able to inspire so many. For example, his semifinal match up against Taylor Knox was hand's down the most jaw-dropping heat of the entire contest. By mid afternoon it was sheet glass, maybe a slight puff of offshore breeze, the tide had dropped out and a new south swell pulsed down the cobblestone point. Between Knox's 10-point power hacks, and Kelly Slater's freakish ability to surf faster than anybody while at the same time being equally spontaneous, the crowd of thousands on the beach stood the entire time. A shoot out to the end, Kelly just got the nudge over his good friend.
And on the other side of the draw was the ultimate sleeping giant, Pancho Sullivan. Who would have thought, at a wave known as one of the world's best surfing "skateparks," the power game would dominate. When you think of Pancho you think of Hawaii, of the North Shore, of big Sunset and even bigger forehand gaffs, but throw the guy on his backhand in three-foot lefts and he's amazingly light on his feet. In those kind of conditions one wouldn't think he'd be able to blow-out a little guy like Jeremy Flores, but he did, and because of it he found himself in the first world tour final of his life.
It would be great to tell you that the final was an epic battle, "one for the ages," as the beach commentator kept saying before the start of the Kelly/Pancho duel, but in reality the waves just didn't come. Southern Hemi swells are an inconsistent breed, and the final proved more of a demonstration of how calculating Kelly can be when he starts building a heat score than a clash of the titans. The thing that Kelly does that most others don't, especially when the waves are spotty, is that he stays active. He keeps paddling. He catches a heap of waves. He'll take a small insider and turn it into a decent score, then he gets one a little bigger and a little better, and before you know it, he's sitting out the back with his opponent in a stranglehold, needing some ridiculous score while he continues to better what he already has. In every sense, the guy is simply the best. And now that he's well within striking distance of his ninth world title, he might just prove it to us all over again.
Kelly Slater def. Pancho Sullivan
COMPLETE SEMIFINAL RESULTS:
(1st advances to Final; 2nd finishes =3rd)
Heat # 1: Pancho Sullivan def. Jeremy Flores
Heat # 2: Kelly Slater def. Tom Whitaker
COMPLETE QUARTERFINAL RESULTS:
(1st advances to Semis; 2nd finishes =5th)
Heat # 1: Pancho Sullivan def. Troy Brooks
Heat # 2: Jeremy Flores def. CJ Hobgood
Heat # 3: Kelly Slater def. Taylor Knox
Heat # 4: Tom Whitaker def. Ben Dunn