Like just about everywhere in the world, Kelly Slater is popular in South Africa, and he has scores of fans in J-Bay. The locals love having him here, after so many years of coming to J-Bay and surfing with the crew with such respect and integrity, and his fan base has just grown exponentially over the years. The local fans are an emotional lot, though, and they were so upset with him today.
It was heat 8 of Round One of theCorona Open J-Bay, and he was facing off against Julian Wilson and Kanoa Igarashi. With 90 seconds to go before the end of heat 7, Kelly was still stumbling around on the low-tide rock shelf at the top gulley, making his way out slowly, while his two competitors were already out back, calmly paddling around just off Boneyards.
The tide was draining, and Kelly was stuck on the shelf, with nowhere to go.
"He always does this," said one local surfer and fan. "We come down here to watch him surf, and he always does something like this!"
"Remember that year he thought the heat was longer and he had his watch set to the wrong time?," said another fan. "He didn't catch that last wave because he thought there was more time on the heat, or something like that!"
"It's so frustrating," said another. "He's the best in the world, and should win every heat and every contest here, but sometimes he just stuffs around too much. What's a bet he knocks a fin out now. Then what?"
With 30 seconds to go before the end of heat 7, Kelly finally got washed out, floating alongside his board, the only way to get out over the shelf. As he was getting sucked out, a big set started stacking up. Kelly climbed onto his board, and started paddling quickly, heading down the point and out to sea. The set was heading down to the Car Park section, and the other two surfers were way too far up the point to catch it.
The siren to begin heat 8 sounded, and the first wave of the set broke on Kelly's head. The second one however, looked like it might head down toward him. He paddled hard and caught the wave. A quick carve, and then a double-up section appeared. He pulled a quick cutback and a fading bottom turn, pulled into a long barrel, to emerge and pull into a second even longer barrel, and even more incredibly, claim the barrel with a below- the-waist, double-fist claim on exiting before kicking his board out in front of him to stop himself from riding over Leonardo Fioravanti, who had been in the previous heat.
"No! I'll have to eat my words," said one fan in the crowd. "He's got this totally under control."
"Maybe he's just more clever than you," was the faceless answer from the crowd, to much laughter from the boys.
While paddling back out, Kelly slipped inside, and picked up a smaller one. It threw some perfect little sections again, and he banked a 7.17 for two little barrels and some big turns. Both rides were banked within the first few minutes of the heat, and with those two scores on the table, Kelly was able to simply go freesurfing for the rest of the heat.
No detraction from Julian's performance. In fact, he is so in form he could easily be a top performer at this event. Slater was just totally dominant in this heat.
People have spoken about Slater's uncanny relationship with the ocean for years, and when he's out of synch, he's not winning heats. To see him turn a last-minute flounder over the rocks to a 9.1-barrel ride literally within seconds, then you know that he's in tune with J-Bay, and with life.