Kelly knows how to snuff out double digits on any continent.
Rio has always been a bit of a sub-standard Championship Tour venue despite the WSL trying valiantly to manufacture more value than what it is every year. It has moments of glory here and there, but it really is hard to garner much excitement from the wobbly beach-break conditions it seems to throw out, no matter how far up or down the beach the contest goes, made even worse by the fact that it comes after Lemoore.
It filters through subconsciously as well, with so many people bunking this venue because it is the one contest that no one cares about. Kelly is a well-documented ‘injury’ no-shower, as is a tired Parko, a bored Blakey, an exhausted Kieren Perrow and a few others from behind the scenes who are missing. It’s not a very good look.
Then again, when our current world champion scores a near ten-point ride, a 9.10, the entire perspective shifts, and you can’t help but think, well, maybe Rio isn’t that bad at all.
Years ago something similar happened at the then called Billabong Pro Rio, but it was also fleeting. There was a moment when the world thought that the venue – Barra Du Tijuca – was actually a world-class and heaving barrel, but the moment was short-lived. It was none other than Kelly Slater who managed to shift the negativity with an incredible backhand tube ride that scored tens across the board. It was a great moment and it stuck around with me as a favourite competitive moment because it was so fucked. Let’s unpack.
Kelly was up against Adriano De Souza, and the conditions at Barra were looking decidedly iffy in the chilly early morning. Eventually former head judge Richie Porta made the call, and after a few terse words with Belly, Kelly headed out to face off against De Souza.
The first wave of the heat appeared out of nowhere, and it was a big, solid left. Most of the waves seen all morning had been lurching over a super shallow sandbank, with the vast majority of them shutting down, with a coupe of rare shoulders in between that showed some scoring potential. It was obviously these ones that Kelly and Adriano were after. Kelly’s wave happened fast. It was in the first minute of the first heat of the day that the bomb came through.
He took off and got to the bottom, just as the wave hit the shallow sandbank. Kelly rode below sea level, and instinctively pulled into a thick and sandy backhand tube no-hands. It had total close-out, broken board, sinus-flush, bruised coccyx and possible head injury written all over it (..small writing, crammed together..), and for a split-second everything went dark.
Kelly somehow found a doggy-door exit through the white-water and raised his hands slightly to show that he was through to the other side, and deserved some accolades. He got them in the form of a ten, Porta gleefully smiled an ‘I told ya so,’ smile to the rest of the competitors, and the tone was set for the day. Check it out at the 7min 40 mark.
Unfortunately, it was the wrong tone, because being Kelly, he had picked up the one magical wave on a day that was actually producing waves that were three colours of dog shit out there. Slater picked off another little corner or two for a very respectable heat total of 15.50. Adriano, facing off against the initial ten, couldn’t buy a wave out there and got swept around in a rip for the next 29 minutes of a 30 minute heat before picking up a little left barrel to fall, with 20 seconds to go in the heat, for a total heat score of 3.73 and rank embarrassment in front of his peers.
It was most definitely a case of the first wave setting the standard for the day, but that damn freak wave, with a freak riding it, screwed it up for everyone. The rest of the mortals hacked around in typical junky Rio surf for abysmal scores and a resetting of the judging standard that had been so terribly skewed after that first crazy wave, sent by God, to Kelly, via their secret pact.