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On Falling, Part II

How wipeouts have helped shape the evolution of surfing. A five part series.

In 1998, Australians Mick Campbell and Danny Wills each held a lead over Kelly Slater in the title race heading into Pipeline. This scenario was widely seen as sweet comeuppance to U.S. domination at the hands of the "Momentum Generation." A number of young Aussies had even coalesced and trained around an antagonistic moniker, "LMB," or Lick My Balls—an epithet squarely pointed at the one they called "Jimmy Slade."

Wills dropped in backside with ease, carved into a classic bottom turn—the photos of him at this stage show the epitome of form—and then, inexplicably, he just fell.

And the united front worked—to an extent. Wills had won back-to-back contests in Japan and led the title race mid-year. But Campbell's sure-footed consistency throughout the season pulled him slightly ahead before the Hawaiian leg. If Campbell secured better than a 17th finish at Pipe—past the second round—he would win the title. Barring that outcome, Wills need only crack the quarterfinals. Slater required both men to lose early and to finish third himself to win the title. They were met with long Backdoor tubes and shorter, wider Pipe lefts. In his second-round heat, Campbell botched the drop on not one, but two critical waves—either of which would have handed him the title. Wills, on the other hand, looked solid, having defeated local boy Pancho Sullivan, garnering a 10 and advancing to the fourth round. There he met another local, Momentum Generation stalwart Ross Williams. Wills led early, but then Williams scored two impressive Backdoor barrels. Still, in the final minutes of the heat, Wills required only a middling 6-something to win the title. Then a gorgeous Pipe bomb came in. Wills dropped in backside with ease, carved into a classic bottom turn—the photos of him at this stage show the epitome of form—and then, inexplicably, he just fell.

Slater bettered Rob Machado in the quarters and subsequently won his sixth ASP World Championship. In the American media, Slater's win was never in doubt. But to the Aussies and the rest of the field, that glory within grasp now clanged around in their hearts like nails in an empty tin can. In terms of his career, Slater didn't do anything out of the ordinary that day. But Campbell and Wills certainly did.


Part I: Mike Hynson
Part III: Greg Noll

THURSDAY | PART IV: Mike Parsons
FRIDAY | PART V: Shane Dorian