Slater outsmarts the tube savant at the spiritual home of hollow waves
It was the most hyped heat in recent history, complete with three days of lay day anticipation. Kelly Slater vs Jack Robinson at Pipe. It was almost like Kelly stepping into the ring against a 23-year-old version of his barrel-riding self.
Unfortunately, it was baby Pipe for a big occasion; the view of the drama obscured by rain squalls and rainbows.
Kelly opened with a cute pit followed by two, clean backside snaps, instantly demonstrating he was ready to throw down with more than just tubes. Two years off 50 and Kelly was willing to take on a 23-year-old with turns at Pipe. The 6.5 allowed him to take early control of the heat.
“Jack Robinson looks a little nervous,” observed Barton as Jack twisted through an awkward landing on a floater.” There was no doubting Jack's ability but had the occasion gotten to him?
On Kelly’s second wave of consequence, he ghosted through a long, Backdoor drainer, hit the lip in six inches of water, and snapped his Tokoro clean in front of the fins. The breakage didn’t matter, the job had been done as Kelly locked in a 7.17. His limp up the beach was noticeable. Strider let us know that Kelly had gone down on a heavy one a few days earlier at Pipe. Ross told us that Kelly and Jack had enjoyed a day of bromance before they knew they would be surfing against one another. Barton suggested the mind games had begun right there.
As Kelly returned to the lineup on a wild-looking Greg Webber shape, Robbo dodged foam chandeliers at Backdoor and got himself back in the heat with a 7.5. A clean carve on exit adding a meaningful point of difference on a day when the judges had officially stated they would be factoring turns into the equation. Suddenly Kelly’s post tube dismount seemed like a more critical error.
Chasing a 6.17 with around ten to go Robbo utilized priority and failed to complete the barrel ride. It seemed like an over-anxious wave choice from the young tube maestro. However, Jack hustled Kelly into a lesser wave and reclaimed priority for the final five minutes. All he needed was a wave? Watching the clock tick was excruciating.
With two minutes to go Jack hit the trigger on a bumpy one and failed to make the doggy door exit. The wave probably wouldn’t have been enough and Barton said it best.
“Kelly has managed this heat well from the outset. “
We all (competitors included) certainly might have wished for bigger, throatier barrels but ultimately it was Kelly who dealt best with the reality of the situation. Perhaps they will meet again in a spectacular setting but if not it will go down in the history books - and Slater's memory- as the day Kelly dusted the most talked about tube rider in pro surfing at Pipeline, the spiritual home of hollow waves. Another accolade for Kelly , a missed opportunity and maybe a haunting memory for Robbo.
Post heat Kelly was obviously jazzed and delivered one of his super-analytical recaps on what had transpired, pointing out Jack’s mistakes just in case he didn’t know about them. It was Kelly’s 80th career heat win at Pipe, a statistic which only further reaffirms the existence of Kelly’s irrepressible competitive spirit.