Right Now, Said Fred

Fred Patacchia takes a bow, but the World Tour stands tall at Lowers

Say goodbye to one of the best backhands in the biz. Photo: Craig

Say goodbye to one of the best backhands in the biz. Photo: Craig

Of all the events on tour, the freesurfs around the Trestles event are hands down the worst. They're simply awful things.

Okay, sure, Snapper might be seven circles of hell on the morning before the contest starts, but at least there's a large rock sitting there to do some regulating and turn anyone who shouldn't be out there into crab food. Lowers is just fun and fluffy and the only barrier to entry is finding a car park, and that being the case, Lowers has been lawless this week.

The entire men's field, the entire women's field, a Brazilian stormfront, three quarters of Southern California, a Labor Day weekend and the long overdue long-range swell was a recipe for chaos. It's resembled a UN food drop out there, and they've been surfing five-to-a-wave all this week. Mick Fanning burning John John. Kai Otton burning Tatiana Weston-Webb, Kai Otton burning Carissa Moore, Adam Melling burning Carissa Moore, Carissa Moore burning the Kook of the Day. The waves have been great but the vibe has been downright eggy. So tightly packed has the crowd been they've at times seemed fused together, a giant abominable creature at war with itself.

There was an irony in Kelly Slater's return to form in the first heat of the morning. On the same day that Quiksilver—the company he'd been joined at the hip with until last year—had filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, Kelly rode his white, stickerless board with an authority that's been missing recently. Both Quiksilver and Kelly have seemed to be teetering this year, but as one fell today, another rose. Most figured that if Kelly was going to make a run at a 12th world title, it would have happened during the Fiji/J-Bay/Tahiti leg that's been the cornerstone of all his late-career titles.

Coming into Trestles rated sixth, Kelly's far enough out of the world title picture for those guys above him to be supremely uncomfortable, and he showed today why they should be. Coiled drive, crisp rails, on all the right waves. He looked as good as he has during any of the 40 occasions he's won here previously at Lowers. Put a wig on him and he was surfing in Black and White again.

Slater, aging to perfection at the Hurley Pro. Photo: Ellis

Slater, aging to perfection at the Hurley Pro. Photo: Ellis

But Kelly wasn't the story of the day. That honor belonged to Fred Patacchia.

Fred paddled out for his round one heat with an idea lodged firmly in his mind: After 10 years on tour he was going to paddle out, drop a perfect 10, ride to the beach and announce his retirement. It was great theater, although of course there was no guarantee that he wasn't going to paddle out there, score two fours, and trudge across the train tracks and through the bulrushes to the car park with no cameras following and his career barely acknowledged.

But no, Fred has Karmic credit in the bank, and the universe duly looked after him today. He dropped the 10, aced the heat, and came in across the cobblestones with five minutes still on the clock to his wife and daughter and a scrum of tour friends. Why Fred chose round one here at Trestles to retire, well only Fred knows. Pro surfers are often accused of a certain detachment from reality, but watching Fred today holding his daughter you caught a look in his eye that said there'd been a reshuffling of his life priorities and Freddy was ready right then and there to go with it. If he'd dropped the 10 in the first heat of the year instead of running his board straight into the rocks at Snapper, well, who knows what might have happened, but Fred went out today a winner.

It was the exit he deserved. Fred's one of those guys whose presence is the glue that holds the tour together, and you saw that in the send off he received today. And while he's had to fight hard for most of that decade on tour, coming close a couple of times to winning an event but seemingly locked in a perennial battle with the ratings, the establishment, or both, you almost wouldn't want it any other way. That's Freddy at his best, Freddy the fighter, and the tour will miss his color in much the same way the commentators at Bells miss Owen Wright's testicles.

While it might create chaos in the freesurfs, Trestles is however the best event on tour to run both guys and girls together. Placed side by side–as the respective first rounds were today–their surfing looks closer than it's ever been. Trestles is a good showcase wave for the girls and they didn't disappoint today. That was a totally entertaining afternoon, helped of course by the fact the surf pumped into the setting sun.

The addition of Chris Cote to the commentary team was also a breath of fresh air, although early in the day he appeared to be connected to some kind of electrode that kept him on script. I'm praying he slips those things by the end of the contest, is paired up with Freddy P, and we get some off-reservation commentary for what's shaping up to be a plenty interesting contest.