Surfing has two definitions.
One is simple. It is the act of riding a wave.
The other is more complex. It is the act of riding a wave plus all the subsequent ideas, beliefs and philosophies that have developed from centuries (but mostly decades) of people riding waves and often going to great lengths in order to do so. It is a culture.
In December, Kelly Slater unveiled an invention that could dramatically change the first definition of surfing.
Today, he surfed in a way that made the second definition feel a lot more important.
Surfing, the culture, thrives on spontaneity. Man knows few things more spontaneous than the expressions of the ocean, so our culture is seeded in the interpretation of obscure rhythms. From there, it blossoms into major decisions -- like going to some Third World nation where you could get stabbed or stranded all for the remote chance that maybe, if you’re in the right place at the right time, an incredibly rare combination of elements will come together and provide you with a unique opportunity that could translate into a form of bliss that will only ever be experienced by very few people that have ever lived. That’s the second definition of surfing.
And that’s what Kelly experienced today.
He only surfed one heat. He got a 19.77 point total in that heat.
It was everything that surfing, the culture, is supposed to be. Stars aligned and Old Man Slates read them as if he were an astronomer. Or at least some acid-rotted astrologer that wears an aggressive necklace made of opal and only makes major decisions (like buying a Kia) when Neptune’s seventh moon is in its fifth cycle. Intricate, in other words.
Cloudbreak is often referred to as perfect, but that description seems inaccurate when you consider Kelly’s deep end. And his pool is great, sure, but watching it almost feels like watching a FlowRider. There is no surprise. No holy shit is he going to make it? Just boring, engineered perfection.
It’s the imperfections of Cloudbreak -- the spontaneity, the actions of the earth and reactions of men -- that make surfing worth the hassle. I can’t yet conceive an idea of what a 19.77 heat total at Kelly’s wave pool would look like, but I can’t imagine it feeling much like what Kelly showed us today.
The good news is that both meanings of surfing can coexist in peace. One will allow a great many more people to engage with the sport and all the distractive joy it offers.
The other will forever remain on the outskirts. And all you need to do is stay weird enough to keep finding it.