Today, February 11, 2022, is a day that calls for a good bottle of bubbles to be uncorked and enjoyed, and at some point in the proceedings that is exactly what will happen with us.
First, it’s Kelly Slater’s 50th birthday, and what an amazing week he’s had before. Second, Life of Brine is celebrating its 500th anniversary. Yes, dear readers, this column was modestly born on April 27, 2012, at the behest of the founding editor of a lively new local newspaper called Noosa Today.
Although it was supposed to revolve mostly around surfing life, editor Izzy Coleman allowed me to riff on other topics, funny or sad, spice it up with hot gossip, and just generally have fun. Some 500 columns later, I’m still having fun with it, and I hope its generally cheerful and cheeky tone still amuses readers.
Now back to the GOAT. A few weeks ago, I gave the greatest of all time a little raspberry on this page for meeting a surfer on a perfect Backdoor Pipe wave. (For which Kelly had apologized before we went to print.) Last Sunday I had to wipe away my tears as an emotionally charged Slater threw it all away during his Billabong Pipe Pro final against a surfer under half his age who is already recognized as the new and fearless master of Pipe.
It was something extraordinary, and for Kelly’s fans and friends, it was an emotional roller coaster, as is often the case with the GOAT. If you questioned the spirit of an almost fabricated interference against Miguel Pupo in Kelly’s semi-final (and I did), you could only put that aside and watch in awe as Slater and Hawaii’s Seth Moniz huddled together like gladiators before setting off, already exhausted, to fight to the death – at least figuratively – in a big, gnarled, wind-affected pipeline in its most dangerous and unpredictable.
Kelly was as excited as I’ve ever seen her. Even his great friend, channel-reporting Strider Wasilewski, couldn’t believe how much Kelly had invested in that 40-minute heat, mumbling mantras to himself, splashing water and giving status reports to the Waz as he paddled ahead at full throttle. Then he let it rip, scoring a nine for a technically perfect deep backdoor barrel (after which he buzzed the beach on jet ski assist and pumped the crowd like Medina on steroids) and took it backed up with a solid seven to combine his young opponent in the opening 20 minutes.
Seth Moniz isn’t easy to beat at Pipe – at 24 he’s already one of the greats – but it took him until the last minute to show it, when these two incredible athletes, to a generation away, traded near-perfect scores for deep tubes, giving the big crowd a glorious finish to one of the greatest surfing contests I’ve ever seen.
Think about the circumstances of the day of the final. To get there, he had to settle for a second run in the first round behind 23-year-old Australian Jack Robinson. In the third round, he crushed rookie Jake Marshall, 23, then won a close battle against rising Hawaiian star Barron Mamiya. Last weekend, he first faced 24-year-old Japanese Kanoa Igarashi, a silver medalist at the last Olympics, in the quarter-finals and beat him easily. Then he met 30-year-old Brazilian Miguel Pupo in the semi-finals and, despite the unfortunate interference call that cost Pupo half of his second score, Kelly would still win.
After two previous 35-minute runs in harsh and grueling conditions, just six days shy of his 50th birthday, wearing just a hint of a spare tire around his middle, the greatest surfer of all time rowed and kicked ass . Can you imagine being one of those talented young men who became collateral damage and being told your next move is against a 50-year-old. In all other circumstances you would be grinning from ear to ear knowing you have a free pass to the next round. Not when we’re talking about a raging Kelly Slater, quite possibly the greatest athlete of all time in ours or any other sport.
It’s been 30 years since he won his first world title, 30 years since he won the first Pipe. The GOAT only gave tears of joy during beach presentations, but could he go all the way to his 12th world title in 2022? You cannot exclude it.
As we go to press, the women’s Pipe Pro finals were held in slightly smaller but still challenging conditions. Hawaiian joker Moana Jones Young dispatched our Tyler Wright in the semifinals and defeated world champion Carissa Moore in the final. More next week.
FOOTNOTE: Craig McGregor, one of Australia’s top journalists and authors, and an avid surfer in his day, died in Byron Bay at the end of January, aged 88. In the 50 years since I first met him in the back bar of Hotel Canberra in 1972, he was a friend, mentor and inspiration. Besides his many invaluable contributions to the cultural and political history of Australia, Craig is the only person to have co-authored books with Midget Farrelly (This Surfing Life, 1965) and Nat Young (The History of Surfing, 1983) .
I treasure all my signed copies of Craig’s books, and especially his entry in Soundtrack For The Eighties (1983) when he advised, “Don’t look back, Bobbie said.” Craig was a tragic Dylan, so perhaps the last word should go to the Nobel laureate, who referenced Craig’s sweet, avuncular style in a cover of Left Hand Drive (2013): “Craig is hip to the hip but not really hip. RIP Craig, gone but never forgotten.