Business and Culture of Surfing: The Kelly Question

Kelly's harder to read than Proust in Farsi. Photo: Steve Sherman

Kelly's harder to read than Proust in Farsi. Photo: Steve Sherman

Business and Culture of Surfing is a collection of insights, ideas and trends from Stuart Cornuelle.

Just before the Rip Curl Pro Search started in Puerto Rico, a reporter from the Associated Press called to interview me about Kelly Slater. She asked softball questions, fishing for sound bytes tailored to a village idiot. In Topeka.

How significant is it that Kelly’s going for a 10th world title?

Blah blah.

Just how has he been able to dominate for so long?

Blah blah.

Based on your personal interactions with Kelly, how do you think he's changed over the course of his career?

Blah. I think I lost credibility on this question when I replied that, having been in diapers when Kelly won his first title, I was unqualified to comment.

But the reporter did ask one penetrating question: Was there any truth to speculation that Kelly would take the title race to Hawaii on purpose? Postpone his victory to claim No. 10 in his adopted/future home?

I gave a verbose response to the tune of "Yeah f--cking right, ma'am." Yes, Kelly has a special relationship with the waves and people of Hawaii. He'd probably prefer to win there. But say he twists his ankle boarding a flight to HNL, or say the event is canceled due to hurricane, or say Kelly just plain loses -- all still possibilities going into Puerto Rico. He'd be the most maligned, tragic nine-time world champion ever. So no. Kelly wouldn't wait. So I declared.

But after news of Andy Irons' death circulated on November 2nd, in between the second and third rounds of the Rip Curl Pro, we started to wonder. Would winning now be inappropriate in light of what happened in that Dallas hotel room? Would Kelly not want his historic moment tainted by the death of a friend?

It seemed unlikely but not impossible that Kelly would pull out, and as magazine makers with deadlines trying to decide which stories to push to press, we took a special interest in Kelly's decision. Specifically, we wished he'd win already so we could get some work done.

Ultimately I think he decided not to pull out of the contest. Not sure. Maybe Surfline posted something about it. But for a few tense days, it was fun to ponder -- though unnecessary. Kelly’s own death is probably the only one that would keep him from the title, and maybe not even that. --Stuart Cornuelle