Why the defeat at Trestles may have more consequences for the 11-time world champion.
The sweet spot – that perfect intersection of risk and reward, new and old, known and unknown – eluded Kelly Slater at WSL stop number 8 in Trestles California. Whilst the 43 year old unleashed one of the most impressive maneuvers in professional surfing history, Slater left empty handed. And sadly, the Floridian may never return to competitive surfing, at least not Europe anyway.
Up against Australia’s Mick Fanning in his fifth round matchup, Slater knew he had to manufacture something big to propel his title hopes forward in 2015.
“This would be a really important one [to win] I think at this point. It’s just that point in the year where, somebody has to strike right now and give themselves an opportunity,” Slater highlighted. “I’m just going to go out and channel all the fun I’ve had all these years”.
Slater didn’t disappoint. Less than 4 minutes into the heat, the surf legend took to the sky like some fizzed up rocket as he attempted a 360 backside air-reverse. The beach crowd erupted, displaying both their shock and approval at what they had just witnessed. After a few more hacks, surely there was going to be a bomb of a score coming his way. But when the score finally came back, the crowd looked stunned – 4.17. WTF?? Perhaps Slater thought so too.
The 11-time world champion looked visibly jolted, struggling to secure any high scoring waves for the majority of the heat. Posting an 8.57 in the dying seconds of the clash, it wasn’t enough to outclass Fanning, who powered through with his precise yet predictable high speed surfing.
Slater’s score remains highly contentious. At a time when both people entrenched in the sport and spectators alike are starting to question the validity and accuracy of competitive judging, WSL’s own commentators were left confused as much as those on the beach and around the globe.
“I thought it was more like a 6-5 range, something that kinda put him in the game,” revealed Strider Wasilewski on the WSL morning after show. “And with that mentally you’re going to be in a different place. It’s going to change your game when you’re in the heat and then you’re just going to go after different scores and not be on the fence for a 9.”
Ironically, fellow commentator Peter Mel distanced himself from Wasilewski’s view, arguing the score was legit. But his initial on-air reaction said it all - “I can’t believe that was a 4.17!”
So, when did high risk no longer equal high reward? Right now, many are deliberating whether the scoring system truly reflects those revolutionary individuals that push boundaries beyond the norm.
A 10 by today’s standards is the ability to ride a wave as it ‘should’ be ridden. It values replicating what others have done, obviously at a high level, but not necessarily what others have not done. Slater’s effort embodied the ideal combination of commitment, speed, power, flow, and an exceptional degree of difficulty. Was the progressive nature overlooked and understated? Whilst the answer may never be universally agreed, it is clear that innovation is not always the bottom line.
“To be honest I’m really going to think about if I’m going to go to Europe now,” revealed Kelly in his post heat interview. “Because that (loss) puts me out of a title shot.”
We share in Slater’s disappointment, a disheartenment that extends beyond the current moment into the bigger picture of the world tour and larger arena of professional surfing. With Slater stating his intent to take a leave of absence, where does that leave us? How do we react and what hope to accomplish in going forward? Let us strive to maintain our mavericks, leaders in the surfing world, by never losing sight of the value and entertainment they bring to the stage.