Surf nerds around the world are probably still drooling over Kelly Slater’s performance at the Volcom Fiji Pro yesterday. The King bagged his 53rd career ASP World Championship Tour victory — and rocketed back to #1 in this year’s rankings — with one of the most impressive scorelines in comp history: a perfect 20 (only the fifth in ASP history) in his Quarterfinal heat against Hawaiian froth-farmer Sebastian Zietz; an 18.17 against young-gun world title threat John John Florence; and a 19.80 to hammer the nail shut on Aussie automaton Mick Fanning’s cool, calculated run.
And that doesn't even take into account Kelly’s 19.30 in Round 4, which ran on Monday. But the real star over the back two days of this Dream-Tour-event-to-justify-all-Dream-Tour-claims, according to Kelly? The waves themselves. “What a day,” Kelly sighed in the safety of Cloudbreak’s channel while still eyeing eight- to ten-foot mackers grinding across the reef. “That was insane. To get really good Cloudbreak is a whole different level than Restaurants. More power. This thing’s a man’s wave out there. You don’t know when it’s going to smack you around.”
Perhaps it was the karma flowing from the arrival of Slater’s new nephew, Van Carter Slater, born to little bro Stephen and his wife Tischa on Monday, that elevated Kelly to perform at such heroic levels. (The Champ even promised to bring home the handcrafted Fijian club trophy just for lil’ Van). Perhaps, as some online commentators speculated, Kelly had enrolled at Adriano de Souza’s School Of Claims, too, as our normally humble Champ threw down several waterborne boasts and brags — including a standing-tall, arms-outstretched pose on his first wave in the final that was one or two pumps away from going down as the greatest ride in ASP history.
“When we started the final, I had position but was a little deep,” Kelly said of the unmade barrel that still netted him a 5.67. “But the next one was unbelievable — all I could think was, ‘Oh my God! Look at this thing!’ I felt like I was in a dream, to be honest. It was one of those waves where I couldn’t believe my luck to be on it. Even though I didn’t make the wave, it didn’t really matter to me. It was like a celebration of my trip. I decided to stand there and enjoy the view for a minute.”
Kelly rightly admitted that there was a “vibe” working in his favor, as there seems to be at World Tour stop after World Tour stop. Mick Fanning, who pipped CJ Hobgood at Semifinal #2’s buzzer with a questionable 9.07 that sent East Coast surf fans into an uproar, could only muster a 9.2 and a 6.67 in the final. In Semifinal #1, none other than John John Florence exhibited an uncharacteristic overabundance of patience, not stroking into a keeper score until more than halfway through the heat and ceding most ground to Kelly. And the Quarterfinal against Sebastian Zietz? Final score line: Kelly’s 20 to Seabass’ 4.10. Nothing more to say there. Except “the waves were the stars today,” which was Kelly’s psychologically disorienting retort to Zietz’s good-natured ribbing.
With Mick Fanning’s heat effectively over in the final, Aussie announcer Ronnie Blakey started parsing hairs between Kelly’s 9.80 and fourth perfect 10 of the event (something that Kelly backed up later on: “I think you should be at your threshold [to earn a perfect 10]. It should be questionable whether you’re going to make it.”) But after Slater's victory speech, Blakey was in awe, effusing that he hadn’t seen Slater that stoked to win an event in a long time: “He seems genuinely, absolutely thrilled to get the victory here in Fiji.” And why not? Kelly’s been coming to Tavarua for years; as Marcus Sanders argued over on Surfline.com, the place could arguably be more of a homebreak these days than Sebastian Inlet, Santa Barbara, or Snapper Rocks. “I have a 20-year relationship with these people and this place,” Kelly said of his Tavarua cheering squad. “They’re like a family. They’ve always treated me like a son. When I won the first time, all the girls in the kitchen were crying and hugging me.”
Slater earned a lot more hugs and tears yesterday, along with the beaming pride of every East Coaster who secretly prayed that King Kelly would eviscerate Mick after White Lightning stole that semifinal from CJ Hobgood. But Kelly won’t get an inch of emotion from the rest of the World Tour Top 5 — Mick Fanning, Jordy Smith, Taj Burrow, and Adriano De Souza — who all know their respective reigns (and world title rings) will forever be overshadowed by Kelly’s own three-decade-plus rule over the sport of surfing.
Many have speculated that Slater’s full-bore approach to 2013 has plenty to do with whatever secret ties he maintains to ZoSea, which will take over management of the ASP World Tour in 2014. But at the Volcom Fiji Pro, we just witnessed the continuing domination of the best surfer to ever walk the earth. Here’s hoping we get a few more event wins, a few more years, and a few more titles out of King Kelly.