In the middle of the South Pacific, there's an island chain gilded with reefs known by a select few surfers to sculpt big northern hemisphere swells into beautiful, rifling barrels. Along these perfectly situated isles, there's a specific wave that very few have ever glimpsed in person.
As far as surf trips go, it's the kind of ultra-perfect, ultra-exclusive, ultra-expensive escape that we all fantasize over, but know fully well isn't in the cards. Well, unless you're the greatest surfer of all time and his rock star friend, that is.
Right before the 2017 Quik Pro Gold Coast, Kelly Slater saw a swell pop up on the charts, spiraling towards this far-flung paradise. The combination of swell angle and wind direction looked promising, but the window was tight—if everything went as planned, they'd take multiple flights and boat rides to the island chain for one day of waves, maybe two. Slater called one of the few surfers able to jump on such a strike, his long-time friend and world-famous musician Jack Johnson.
Johnson was game for a little wave-fueled jet-setting, and they booked their trip to the remote island. The pair soon found themselves in the most enviable of positions: trading world-class barrels by themselves in a tropical dreamscape. Most surfers would probably call it an extravagant trip, but if you'd asked Slater and Johnson in that moment, they'd tell you it was worth every penny.
"Kelly's whole life is scoring good waves," says Johnson, pictured next to his longtime pal Kelly Slater. "Seems like he's always figuring out where the best waves are, whether they're up the coast a few hours or a flight away."
In a rare sighting outside the barrel, Slater lays down a hammer on the open face.
Johnson and Slater, sitting, waiting, wishing.
Having grown up surfing Backdoor on a consistent basis, Johnson is no slouch in heaving, right-hand tubes.
“This particular wave is super dangerous," says Slater, pictured above holding what's left of his board. "Jack got hurt and the other guys on the boat weren't really prepared for what the wave was dishing out. I ended up surfing by myself most of the day, which is what I dream about on crowded days."
"The wave reminded me of Backdoor mixed with something in Tahiti going below sea level,” says an injured Johnson, above. “When you pull in, you lock in and race down the line. Sometimes there was no exit."
The epitome of paradise.
Running a wave pool company, a clothing brand and a surfboard business (not to mention competing on the World Tour) have kept Slater plenty occupied over the past few years. "Strike missions are too few and far between for me even more so for Jack," says Slater. "I've been busy these past couple of years, so it's been hard to really find the freedom for all the swells I want to chase. I'd like to free up my schedule to allow for more of this kind of thing."