“It’s is a strange feeling, to be totally transparent, to surf in a competition that you are sponsoring,” Kelly Slater said this week.

He’s right. I mean if he wins on just what frigging spreadsheet will Outerknown allocate his prizemoney? Pressing accountancy issues aside, Kelly had more to say. “It is fitting though, I’ve had a sort of had a home here for ages and first came in 1990. Most of the guys on tour will tell you it’s their favorite place and favourite competition. There’s no fanfare, it’s surfing and we are just here to surf as good as we can and put everything on the line.” 

For 27 years Kelly has “put everything on the line” at Cloudbreak. And while his four event wins here speak of unparalleled competitive success, it is the days and days of freesurfing that has made his name, and his surfing, synonymous with the wave. Despite three decades of sexy talk, their Cloudbreak love affair isn’t over. With a few lay days stacking up, we thought we’d take a look at some of the pivotal moments in their relationship.  

Merkel calls Kelly a pussy

In a recent interview looking back at his seminal bio Kelly In Black and White, Kelly talked through his first trip to Tavarua aged 18. “Early in the trip we were having breakfast and Restaurants was pumping. It was the best wave I’d ever seen, so I just ran out there and surfed it. The boat came by with Jeff Booth, Wooly (Richard Woolcott) and (legendary photographer Dan) Merkel who were going to Cloudbreak. I was like, ‘I’m staying here. There is no way it can be better than this.’ It was 4 to 5 feet and perfect with four of us out, so I stayed. Merkel was pissed I didn’t go and shoot, because there was light winds and great light. Anyway we went back out in the afternoon and it was macking and I was pretty scared because I didn’t know the reef, but the cloud had also come over and Merkel didn’t want to shoot. A month later I went to Hawaii and Brock Little goes to me, ‘What happened? Merkel said you completely pussed out in Fiji, that you wouldn’t paddle out and that you’ll never amount to anything.’ That winter it became my personal thing to prove Merkel wrong. I was like, ‘Fuck it, I’m gonna charge some big waves and shut him up.’” It’s fair to say he has done that.  

Click to the 4:00 min mark to hear Kelly’s take:

Kelly’s First Win 

Cloudbreak was first added to the tour in 1999 (won by Occy), but it took another six years before Kelly claimed the title he most craved ironically, given the story above, at six foot Restaurants. “It’s the one place I’ve never been able to win before and to finally do it was something pretty special,” Slater said afterwards. “I wanted to move to this place last year and I almost did.” It was also crucial in the second phase of Kelly’s comeback. The win propelled him to No 1 in the world for the first time since Andy Irons had wrestled control in 2002. He would go on to win his seventh world title that year, having not claimed one since 1998, and kick start his run to the 11 he has today. Oh and he did make that move the very next year. 

Kelly Slater riding Restaurants to victory in 2005. Photo: WSL/Tostee

Gets Experimental in 2012 and pays the price 

Kelly was on hand for the macking swell that smashed Fiji in the middle of the Volcom Pro in 2012, when the comp was called off and resulted what might be the greatest ever big-wave freesurfing session of all time. While waves ridden by Kohl Christensen, Dave Wassel, Reef McIntosh, Ramon Navarro and Danny Fuller et all were beamed live around the globe, there wasn’t much footage of Kelly, and for good reason. “That big day I rode a 5’11”, a kind of experimental thing,” he told the WSL. By experimental, we think he means suicidal. “I had to straighten out on a nice-sized wave (again this translates as a 15-footer) and I was underwater for ever, my worst ever wipeout at Cloudbreak, and was stuck on the reef for 45 minutes.”

After the flogging Kelly jumped in the booth to commentate one of the most seminal sessions in surf history. 

The 2013 masterclass

In 2013 the then Volcom Pro featured back-to-back swells with the waves for the final day described by Kelly as “the best waves I’ve ever surfed in competition.” Kelly put on a masterclass, scoring a perfect heat total in the quarterfinal win over Seabass and 19.80 in the final victory over Fanning. No one could touch his knowledge of the reef or his mastery backhand tuberiding. It was also probably the last event that Kelly has totally dominated a competition. 

.... and 2017?

With the comp about to kick off again and Kelly in his happy place, could the Outerknown Pro Fiji provide another sexy moment in the Kelly Cloudbreak love affair? Stay tuned folks.