SURFING Blog: Deep, Fancy Breath Before the Plunge

"Oh boy, this is fabulous."

So Dane Reynolds began his highly anticipated acceptance speech at the 2009 ASP World Champion Crowning Ceremony. Everyone's just flooded their pliable minds with Dane-love in a massive popular swing on par with stateside excitement over our knight in shining armor president. Dane's the biggest thing in surfing right now, as far as the people are concerned, and the hundreds in attendance last night were only too eager to laugh and marvel at Dane's "notorious wit." Thanks in part to the free libations on offer from sponsors Corona, Midori, Jagermeister, and somebody who makes wine, Dane was happy to oblige.

The evening played out a half-hour's drive up the Australian PCH from Snapper Rocks – where the Quiksilver Pro will kick off "probably on Saturday" (tomorrow here), according to {{{Rabbit}}} Bartholomew. Limousines and hire cars arrived to an actual red carpet at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Center, where surfarazzi shot photos and a Polynesian drum-and-dance duo ushered in the festivities. The ASP was good-humored enough to put a joke on the event's $220 invitation ticket: "Black Tie Formal." Hahaha! Priceless. They should write Dane's material.

Many actually did dress to impress, the ladies in particular, but surfers' collective interpretation of formalwear is clean(ish) jeans and a collared(ish) shirt. Bobby Martinez was attired in baggy shorts and an XXL t-shirt like this was his afternoon stroll down Salsipuedes, but most people made some sort of effort to look tidy. A few really relished it. Observe Kai Barger, ASP World Junior Champion, taking his turn on stage:

Kai: "This is the first time I've gotten to wear a suit. It's Calvin Klein, ${{{600}}} if you're wondering."

MC: "That is a sharp suit, Kai, and it goes great with those Nike runners."

The two big stories of the night were the departure of Rabbit from the ASP presidency and the enduring dominance of Kelly Slater. Rabbit was distinctly the more celebrated of the two phenomena. He gave a long and not entirely boring lecture on his love of the sport and how it had grown in accordance with his childhood dream of a real pro surfing tour. He developed the model of companies purchasing naming licenses for each event, and cheered Quiksilver's just-announced commitment to sponsor the Quik Pro at Snapper for another nine years. Rabbit worked for equal ownership of the tour between the surfers and licensees, and implemented the idea of "best surfers, best waves" that now constitutes the global Dream Tour. And, as two WCT riders noted in the bathroom after Rabbit finally left the stage to a standing ovation, "The bloke can go on like all f—k."

"I stared at that $5 note," Rab recalled of his first surfing paycheck for a Jack McCoy contest in the early seventies, "and I said 'I'm on a mission from God and this is a sign.' Hard to relate now, but it's sort of like a rookie today getting his check for $500,000 and going, 'Yeah, I guess this will get me through the first year.'"

Rabbit also made a perfunctory reference to the economic cyclone that's come home drunk and angry and beaten his childhood dream half to death. As money gets scarce, pro surfing seems a more and more frivolous concept by the day – but, in a giant hall of plush tables, each stacked with braised sirloin and decorative risotto or chocolate lava cake with crme reduction, and a harpist in the center wafting tunes over the crowd, and an acrobatic aerial dancer at intermission – nobody felt too damn poor.

They were, however, stingy at times with their applause. Specifically when Kelly Slater was receiving it. The MC, some local Australian TV personality (from your channel 7 morning show!), practically had to stop and ask for claps at the outset when he first praised the accomplishments of Stephanie Gilmore (Yaaaay!) and Robert Kelly Slater (……cough……). Still, when it was time for the 2008 ASP World Champ to make his speech, the crowd thundered to life and got to their feet in his honor.

"{{{Jimmy}}}!" a few Aussies yelled.

"Jimmy is in the house," Kelly laughed in opening. "I'm guessing that was Jake Paterson over there. Thanks for that."

"There's a lot of reasons I do this," he went on, "the first being that I just love to surf. Also, I'm a competitive bastard, and all the other things people say about me."

Kelly then really got the women in the audience on his side with a heartfelt appeal to his lady, saying, "I want to dedicate this to my girlfriend, Kalani." The aaawwwwwww's were deafening.

He promptly spent the after party sitting a foot from the DJ's speakers, where no one could comfortably talk to him for fear of hearing loss, and watched Kalani dance. Whatever Kelly, that's fine, I didn't want to talk to you anyway! I wanted to talk to Dustin Barca (he didn't come). I really just wanted to talk to Luke Stedman (he's in Hawaii having a baby with Malia Jones). But I REALLY only wanted to talk to Andy Irons (he…dammit). So I went home.

The ASP has wisely left a day of decompression between last night and the start of the waiting period for the Snapper contest. The waves are underhead but splendid and we could potentially see an early start. The way beers were disappearing last night, it seems that perhaps 2008's training/abstinence ferocity crashed alongside the stock market – but then again, maybe that's just the tour's way of messing with Kelly. Making him too comfortable, lazy and all that. John Lennon's "Mind Games" came on in Steve Sherman's rental car on the way home last night. As of tomorrow, the games begin.

This gallery is brought to you by