Kelly Slater Wins 2006 Rip Curl Pro

Between last month’s win on the Gold Coast and the opening chords ofBells last week, Kelly Slater didn’t ride a wave.

Slater filled the interim traveling a lot, eating irregularly, andphysically running himself down. He made no conscious preparation for theapproaching event – indeed, he was inches from pulling out altogether.

By his own admission, during his first heat at the Rip Curl Pro a week agolast Tuesday, “I was struggling to finish a ride … it didn’t feel good”.

The fact that he got to ring the Bell of Victory yesterday afternoon, afterone of the most physically testing days in recent pro tour history, istestimony to … well, a few things. Fortune, maybe. A 6’1″ Simon Andersonpintail, definitely. Contest savvy, absolutely. Fate? Who knows?

In any case, Kelly will leave Bells Beach today in an extraordinaryposition, with a {{{100}}}% win record for 2006 and a two-event lead on the bestfield in WCT memory.

Surf forecaster Ben Matson will be wiping sweat from his brow. His ten-yearswell finally showed yesterday, opening up the Bells lineup with steadilybuilding power and providing the WCT hell-boys with a big broad canvas onwhich to hack, carve and slide out their outrageously accomplished lines.

The rest of the tour’s top guns will leave Bells with sore muscles, surfstoke and a vague feeling of opportunity lost. How’d they let KS7 get awaywith it again? The answer lies largely in a radically lopsided draw thatpitched almost every contender other than Kelly into a ferocious duel for asingle final spot.

It was like watching two different events. In one, the superstars of themodern tour threw themselves at each other like wild cannibals. Look atthose quarterfinals: Mark Occhilupo versus Andy Irons? Joel Parkinson versusMick Fanning??

Occy was the crowd favorite and AI’s favorite all in one. Fresh from anincredible performance against Taj Burrow in the closing heats of roundfour, he made the spectators scream with a backside tube on his second ride,then rode the wave of the day on a mega-set from outside the Bells Bowl,racking up a 9.9. (Two judges gave it a 10.)

Andy held priority on that wave and might have taken it had he not beencaught inside … yet while he never likes to lose, this loss isn’t onehe’ll carry around. AI was visibly stoked for his spiritual leader on tour;they’ll have had a few dozen last night in memory of this heat.

Parko was the go-to form guy, from his 6:30 am warm-up session to the hugewide set wave he took from his buddy Mick in their semi. To yourcorrespondent, this wave was worthy of a 10 it didn’t get from any judge.Joel slashed out two gorgeous swooping top turns, then hurtled off into NoMan’s Land between Bells and its near neighbor Winkipop. “”Do a floater!”yelped Occ, still dripping from his Andy heat. Instead Parko used hisintimidating wave judgement and rode high into a barrel at a place in thelineup where no human’s EVER been barrelled … and came out clean.

This form got him past Occ, but at a price. “I was cramping,” Joel saidlater. “At the end I said to Occ, if a wave comes I’m probably not gonnacatch it. If I hadda caught it wouldn’t have done anything on it because Iwas trying to conserve energy. He needed a high seven and … he couldbarely paddle and I knew he was just as bad as I was, and I still had a heatto go.”

In the other event, Kelly surfed two contained and sensible heats to shutdown Bede Durbidge and Luke Stedman. The champ carried out his own form ofenergy conservation. “I wanted to try to set the scoring in heats,” he toldSURFING. “I was trying to play the odds a little bit with each guy, see whatthey could get. I saw Bede get a 9.7 the other day, one of the best waves ofthe event, and so I couldn’t hold back on that one. Against Luke I made acouple of mistakes early and struggled to get a pace in that heat, so Iended up having to surf kinda hard at the end of it.”

But “hard” has a different meaning to Slater than to most surfers. Truth totell, he played with his opponents, riding each wave differently and tryinga variety of lines on the large windswept faces. Kelly hadn’t won a Bells inover a decade and he knew he’d have to find something new in the wave shapeto allow it this time.

When the two events became one in the final, he was in the spot for the onlywave that counted, a really big wall that held up long enough for threemassive moves and a score – 9.67 – to match.

Parko tried to find an answer, but couldn’t find the wave or the energy.That tough side of the draw could have worked to his advantage; instead itfried him. Explained Joel: “I thought if maybe it had been level pegging, ifwe hadn’t had to surf our round four heats this morning, it would’ve been areally key thing and whoever woulda been on fire enough to get to the finalmight have taken the final. Because they took the hard road.

“But I think the conditions on the day took their toll on our bodies.”

Slater was even more stoked with this win than he let on – and he wasbeaming. Yet he refused to be drawn on the subject of an eighth worldchampionship. “I’m sure other people are thinking about it a lot more thanme…I haven’t been thinking about it at all, and it seems to be working.”

Yes it bloody is. Fate? Who knows?


Round four
Heat Six: 1 Mark Occhilupo 16.07, 2 Taj Burrow 15.5
Heat Seven: 1 Mick Fanning 15.6, 2 Greg Emslie 11.07
Heat {{{Eight}}}: 1 Joel Parkinson 16.6, Mick Lowe 14.5

1 Luke Stedman 14.67, 2 Shaun Cansdell 14.23
1 Kelly Slater 18.4, 2 Bede Durbidge 12.{{{57}}}
1 Mark Occhilupo 18.83, 2 Andy Irons 11.77
1 Joel Parkinson 17, 2 Mick Fanning 16.4

1 Kelly Slater 14.44, 2 Luke Stedman 12.93
1 Joel Parkinson 15.34, 2 Mark Occhilupo 14.83

1 Kelly Slater 15.84, 2 Joel Parkinson 13.83