What a day. Nineteen grueling heats. Umpteen brutal wipeouts. An uncharacteristically shape-shifting Teahupoo lineup. A grade 1 shoulder tear (and a runner-up finish) for Kelly Slater. A stylish double barrel perfect 10 from John John Florence to earn the Andy Irons Most Committed Award. The first Aussie goofyfoot win on the ASP World Championship Tour since Owen Wilson took Kelly to the house in New York back in 2011. Air attempts and righthand risks at one of the most perfect left tubes in the world. And a major realignment of the 2013 ASP World Title race.
All of this went down in one 24-hour period on Sunday. And with the Billabong Pro Tahiti running like clockwork in three of the first four days of its 11-day waiting period, the lackadaisical surf fan will be forgiven for saying “Wait, what?” Of course, anyone who didn’t watch the contest would also be forgiven for assuming that Kelly Slater’s 2nd-place result was a triumphant one. He got thrashed every which way to Friday in nearly every heat he surfed; pinned on the reef under a jet-ski sled in Round Four (during the only jet-ski pick-up of the entire contest, no less); slightly chuffed by a priority ruling that went eventual champion Adrian “Ace” Buchan’s way in the opening salvo of the final; and barreled going right to nearly steal the final in its dying minutes.
“I just never felt like this was my event to win,” he told Surfline.com. To the ASP, he added, “The waves were really fun today and Ace just happened to get those two gems at the start of the heat. Those two were the ones and I would have preferred a win, but Ace has been in really good form all day and he’s a deserving winner.” Of his shoulder, which he mauled in the quarterfinals against Fred Patacchia, Kelly said, “I took a few poundings out there today for sure. I felt like I dislocated [it] at one point but it feels OK now… One beer! One beer and adrenaline, that’s all you need.”
Maybe so. But before we East Coasters get all up in arms about Kelly being robbed, let’s remember that Ace got properly shafted back in Brazil when a priority disk operator forgot to change the color and he got hosed by Gabriel Medina. If his balls-to-the-wall, hold-nothing-back approach was any indication, this hard-fought win was clearly his to savor. “I’m stoked to win it as a goofy,” he said. “We kinda stick together on tour and we’re always rooting for each other when we get knocked out… It’s just an incredible feeling.”
Ace jumped up to #10 in the rankings, but Tahiti had even broader implications on the 2013 ASP World Title race, which has been tighter than a Speedo since the beginning of the year. Kelly catapulted into the #1 spot, with two-time world champ Mick Fanning trailing him by only 1,050 points, 38,950 – 37,900. The Top 5 is rounded out by Joel Parkinson (30,700), Jordy Smith (29,200), and Taj Burrow (25,400), which means that, barring a late-season charge by any one of those three men, we’re probably looking at a back-half battle of Mr. Consistents between Kelly and Mick. Mick hasn’t finished lower than 5th-place all season, but he also hasn’t won an event; Kelly’s won two but is also sitting on a 13th and a 9th as his two lowest results, which means it’s gotta be semis or better from here on out.
But you know Kelly, always keeping his possible 12th world title cards as close to his chest as possible: “Trestles, Europe, and Pipe is a pretty strong leg for me historically. It’s pretty close at the top right now so it will be an interesting finish to the season.” Indeed.