Kelly Slater is standing in front of a hushed adoring crowd, hanging on his every utterance, at the Sun Theatre, in Anaheim, CA. It’s the ’02 Surfer Poll Awards night, and for the first time in 10 years Slater hasn’t won first place — occasion for a deep, heartfelt, reflective pronouncement from the Wonder Boy to 2000 or so of the heaviest hitters in the US surf industry. Suddenly, Mick Fanning wanders on stage, pissed to the eyeballs, like it’s a Kirra Boardriders club meeting or something, and starts calling the speaker “{{{Jimmy}}} Slade” — Kelly’s old “Baywatch” character. Kelly stops his speech and allows Mick to come up and share the podium, throws a friendly arm around him and asks what would happen if Kelly showed up in Australia and acted like that.

“You’d get laid!” Mick retorts. In the serious world of US surf commerce — where surf stars don’t just surf; they’re seamless, flawless icons for a multi-billion dollar business — this was considered a serious black mark against Mick’s career. “It was an interesting turning point that’ll have historical relevance down the track,” observed one surf journo on the scene. “Kelly’s speech, essentially a commemoration of the New School era and their clean living and respectfulness, was cut short by a newer school that doesn’t embrace all of those ethics.”

“Made the biggest dickhead of myself. Dick of the year goes to me,” Mick concedes. “There was free drinks. Everything goes wrong with that shit — vodka and Red Bull. I think a lot of people were blown out with what I did. Whatever I could have done wrong I did wrong . . .Cory and {{{CJ}}} and myself tackled Andy when he won the Poll. Some people were just so freaked out, like, ‘You can’t do that at these things.'”

Mick ended up getting thrown out, despite finishing eighth in the Poll himself, and collecting the “Best Male Performance in a Video” for Fanning the Fire.

For some in the US, this was proof enough that the celebrated Coolie Kid was somehow unworthy of his sudden new status as surfing’s breakthrough performance pacesetter. Whatever his talent, he was too rough-edged and crude-mannered to be taken seriously as the next great surf hero.

This, dear readers, is precisely the kind of sanitized Seppo bleating that threatens to kill surfing’s maverick spirit. We are not, after all, running a Mr. Congeniality pageant here. That magnificently fiery bloodnut Mick Campbell reportedly had his contract cut at least partly for expressing anti-American sentiments — and this is merely the thin edge of the wedge. It is time to take a stand, before our surfing heroes are rendered a bunch of blemish-free, manicured choirboys.

Thus, in his defense, I have assembled a case that paints a much different picture than the plastered, irreverent Aussie we saw at the illustrious Poll. Sure, this picture has its rough-edges — and thank God for that. But it’s also a picture that shows an eloquent, deep-thinking sage for our times who cloaks his profundities beneath a veil of disarming simplicity. — Tim Baker