Bathed in his glory, but not yet ready to retire body or brain, Kelly enjoying the moment (number 11). Pic: ASP/KirstinKelly Slater is driving back towards San Francisco, it's not yet a week since he secured his historic eleventh ASP world title [twice]. Hands (and stress) free, Kelly unloads his thoughts on the year that was. The bulk of this important interview is featured in the latest issue of Tracks magazine, but we have saved this tour specific portion for online purposes. Alone in the car, Kelly sounds invigorated, alert, but not at all like a man that has finished all he wants to accomplish in life (or surfing). When confronted with a question about the current ASP ranking systems and it's protocol he unloads a train of thought both thought-out in it's depth, and spontaneous in its delivery. If you have no interest in the future of professional surfing? Look away now. If you're a professional surfing fan, competitor or official, and want to know what the champ really thinks of the current state of play? Then read on and learn.
Kelly Slater calls time in France, 10 to 12 it is. Pic: ASP/Cestari
Tracksmag.com: Okay, the one world ranking, rotations, what is working? What’s not? Is it a good system?
Kelly: I think in theory it is, but working on the actual numbers, it is and it isn’t. I actually put forward a proposal that I personally thought would make it fairer. I’ll give you a brief description of it; basically the contests [World Qualifying Series events] should be weighted based on who’s entered in the event, for example the US Open had more top 32 surfers in it than any other ASP six star prime event this year. You had something like 27 of the top 32 in that contest, so in my eyes that contest should almost be worth as much as a World Tour event. A second on a WT event is worth 8000 points, Yadin [Nicol] got second at the US Open and you could easily argue he should have got like 7000 points [he got 5200]. If you’re able to, based on who’s entered, allocate a certain number of points, for example ninety percent of the top guys turn up, so weight it as being worth ninety percent of what a world tour event’s worth – points wise. Then if you have a six star prime that’s in some country that’s not really worked into the schedule effectively for everyone, efficiently for travel etc, like some events in Brazil, that are out of the way and hard for most of the guys to get to. Say only four guys from the World Tour turn up, those events should be worth less points. So, if you’re able to find a way to weight these events based on who has entered and what the average rating is of the guy that is in the contest – obviously all the world tour events are going to be worth the maximum points… but you could, in theory, have a six star prime that’s worth as many points as a world tour event if all those guys turn up! – Why not! It should be based on the level of difficulty of surfing not the money a sponsor puts on. If you’ve got ninety percent of the world tour surfers at an event it should be worth ninety percent of the points, and visa versa, if there’s only 20, it should be worth twenty percent of the points, or at least 20% above the standard – there’s a way to work it to be fairer is my point.
So, Bobby Martinez has a point? Comparing of the current ASP system to the ATP tennis tour?
Take or leave it, in one way, Bobby has a point. If you’re not surfing against the best guys, it’s a little bit tough to allocate points for that. But if world tour surfers are surfing against those guys and losing or winning – the points should reflect.
Sounds like the old saying “if you want to be the best, you gotta be the best” needs to be applied. Challenge yourself and you'll get more points?
What galvanised your resolve to win the title this year and did you pour over the new ratings system after every event?
I was really happy to win the Gold Coast. It’s really weird when you finish the year number one and then get, lets say a ninth, at the first event, and all of a sudden you go from first in the world to ninth in the world. It’s a really strange thing. The one world system works really well in that way – I guess we could get into the mid-year cut off and all that kinda stuff – cause the mid year cut off isn’t a six moth cut off it’s a 12 month cut off twice a year. There’s a twelve-month cut off in August and there’s a twelve-month cut off in December or January or whatever (when the tours starts). So your going got that12 months to lock in 10 results. My opinion o the half-year cut, I’m not sure? Is it fair that you make the tour and don’t get to go all the way through the back half? Potentially? And surf at Pipeline, and France and Spain and Portugal, I don’t know, you had the first have to win a few heats, if you didn’t maybe you were nervous? Or maybe you didn’t belong there? I don’t know? The one place where it is unfair is where I guys is starting out the first half of the year and not doing well if he has to go surf a bunch of QS events to try keep his rating up, you know it’s a lot of travel and it’s not really fair on the rest of your life. But also on saying that, you had the six months prior to that to do well also, but you get into the tricky situation where the back half of the season doesn’t have as many six star primes as the front half of the season. You know there’s a whole bunch of tricky little things to work out with it. I’m not sure how I feel about the midyear cut off, I like the idea of having fresh blood at each event if possible, and that happens through wildcards. But, you know, wildcards always end up being a sponsor’s gift. It doesn’t go to the next best guy in the world; it goes to the best, sponsored guy of that company. Maybe the ASP needs to kinda take that back and say, ‘that’s not the way it’s going to happen.’ We’re going to start allocating some of the wildcard spots to… there’s a whole bunch of ideas about that, you could have a 12 man trials surf down, you could have a trials at every single event and have 12 guys who make it through those trials meet the top 24. Or make those winning trialist number six, or four. You wouldn’t necessarily need to be on that tour to surf your way in to the event but you would have to be rated somewhat highly to get into the trials. There’s’ a few ideas, I just try to let my brain think abut it a little bit, going backs not the right thing, there’s been talk about going back to 44 guys again, and It’s unfair – I totally disagree with that, I feel if you surf good enough no matter what the system is you’re going to make it.
Kolohe Adino’s about to prove that?
And Gabriel Medina, Miguel Pupo and John John Florence have already proved that this past year! And you can argue all you want, but in a way the system is working. Now the four best young guys in the world are going to be on the tour. I don’t think we have to say the tour needs four, or six new guys on tour each year, maybe those same guys are going to be the best guys again the next year that are already on tour.
In the full interview featured in Tracks, Kelly refers to this San Fran bomb-drop-floater. Heavy, right? Pic: ASP/Cestari
Despite some major hiccups it's actually been a good year for surfing. There’s been great waves, plenty of barrels and progressive surfing at almost every event?
I think it’s been a good year, I’ve seen a lot of good surfing, a lot of new approaches… Still, I’ve heard more bitching about everything from so many people... Yet, at the same time, I’ve never seen the surfing at a higher level.
I spoke with Ross Williams recently and he talked about not just competing with the best guys in the world, but also free surfing with them, as a reason for not being able to surf at peak levels. What are your thoughts performance intensity levels in competition sphere and the free surfing world?
There’s some truth to that, in my eyes, free surfing and trips and all that are for experimenting and getting better. The competition is kinda putting it together for the performance – the practice and the performance. I think the competition environment can be a healthy thing. It doesn’t necessarily have to be seen as a negative thing or a bad thing. It’s weird when your trying to be pure to yourself, and who’s to say who’s style is better or who links things better or does a better this or that it really is a strange thing. One of the biggest rules we’re taught in life is don’t judge others – yet here we are doing a thing that’s completely judged.
Robert Kelly Slater celebrates and his first pro win – The Body Glove Pro, Trestles, 1990. Pic: Quiksilver/Mike Balzer
So, is it a concentrated form of surfing for the masses or a watered down version for the converted?
The hard thing for some people is how it gets all tied up with this whole idea of marketing and selling things and shoving it down peoples throats, for some people that’s the worst thing in the world – to feel like you’re part of that system. And in certain times in my life I’ve felt it too.
For the complete in-depth interview grab a copy of Tracks' January '12 Issue, OUT NOW.
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