Stu Kennedy's raw approach will be sorely missed on the WSL
North Shore – in my recent column here I spoke about the Australian surfers who will be departing the hallowed grounds of the Championship Tour, and what implications this will have on the 2018 season. Yet there was no mention of how the departure of these surfers will actually affect the spectators and fans.
Going through the list again, I realised that I’m actually not going to miss any of them at all, and that new faces on the Championship Tour is always going to be a great thing. Deep in thought, maybe Leo Fioravanti’s demise was going to be a bit of a bummer because he is an amazing talent who should have found a permanent home on the CT, but his release is not going to give many people sleepless nights.
Then I realised that Stu Kennedy would be gone next year. Just like that. A wild and reckless run in early 2016, official recognition during the second half of the year by the WSL, and a feel good story all round was going to come to a grinding halt at the end of the season, and it occurred to me that this is a huge disappointment.
I’ve barely met Stu on a social level, and our interactions have been nothing less than me sticking an iPhone in his pie-hole and trying to extract pearls of wisdom from him by asking him highbrow questions such as ‘how was it out there?’ and ‘that first one was the bomb, hey?’ and ‘board’s looking so good, innit?’ Yet still, his parting from the tour feels a bit out of whack.
The start of 2016 was awesome for the WCT, but a lot of that awesomeness came from the fact that a once-jaded competitor had found something new, and laid it on the line, and had been recognized for it. Stu arrived guns blazing at the Quiksilver Pro, Gold Coast and proceeded to destroy Slater on one of his Slater Designs – the SCI-PHI TOMO model. When he went on to blow Gabriel out of the water, as well as trounce John John, it felt like there was revolution in the air. How did a world-weary competitor get to turn it around and smash three of the most jazzed-up surfers at that event, and what was he doing that was so different?
Through the eyes of the judges, when something new starts happening, and it is done within the parameters of the judging criteria, and doesn’t look ugly, it is going to get the thumbs up. It has to. At that event Stu was surfing very fast, his approach was innovative and varied, and he oozed, reeked and pinged of confidence. It might have been a self-assurance borne out of desperation, but it was there for all to see along with his heart on the sleeve of his WSL singlet. Here was a man who was all in.
The sport of surfing has its share of haters, and it’s mainly due to the technological advances that the new WSL has ushered in. It gives everyone a voice, and so many people, mainly nameless typists, like to shout about what they don’t like, but rarely give praise when they do like something. The judging takes its fair share of beatings, and that narrative sometimes expands into an alternate reality where the WSL is rigged, that certain people are going to win no matter what, that sponsors’ money plays a part in heat results and title consequences. Stu put a wrecking ball through that conspiratorial storyline, and properly.
He demonstrated that anything is possible, and his fresh and frank interviews, where he was breathlessly stoked over and over again, showed his almost naïve exuberance, and it was great to see. From an injury replacement (for Owen Wright) to a fully-fledged competitor on the CT, it was an amazing sub-plot of success, running parallel to the main John John narrative.
Stu Kennedy proved that literally anyone could get a break in pro surfing, and for that very reason we will miss him.