Whether you were glued to the Quik Pro webcast, on location, or simply indulged in a spot of social media voyeurism, it was hard not to notice some legit care factor from Kelly Slater, the man surfing his twenty-something season opener. The 11x World Champ appeared to be all-in.
Not the chest thumping all-in, á la Adriano de Souza in 2015, perhaps. But in in his own Slater-like way. From comment takedowns on those second-guessing his surfboard choice, to fixed gazes from those green lasers, the optical embodiment of passive aggressive.
Green soothes, even settles. Lasers cut you half.
While it's easy to amplify interest with a couple of well-versed platitudes, it's hard to hide an emotional investment, especially under our modern, multi-screen glare, or at a zillion frames per second in Ultra HD.
And the more into it he got, the more into it we all got, right?
Because to us, the fans, what could be more spine-chilling than the notion that, mid-event, the Champ of Champs' cerebral cortex is leisurely toggling between the 12th at Augusta and Outerknown chino cuts for spring/summer 2019?
We needn't have fretted.
Tournotes caught a candid locker room exchange between Slater and Fanning. If it wasn't quite toe-curler awkward, it was still a rewind and turn the volume up-er.
"Say what?," said Kelly in response to Mick's "Shoulda put the pie in the oven" comment, light goading that Kelly could've stalled more to get deeper on an inside tube in his heat. Behind every half joke, after all, lies a half truth.
At that point only one of the pair, 14 World Titles between them, was still in the event. As Fanning turned to leave Slater took the opportunity to remind the camera who exactly that was.
Then there was the incident at the very beginning of heat that would be Slater's final moment in the event. The Slater/Medina Quarter, aka Collapse-gate.
Slater pulls in deep behind the section in the opening encounter. Medina has a semi-interested paddle down the line, prematurely foaming an otherwise smooth lip line. Slater fails to emerge.
Anyone watching a replay could see the incident tested positive for correlation. But causation? A visit to the judges' chambers from Slater failed to secure a conviction, through lack of evidence. But the case for Slater's competitive edge was by now overwhelming.
They say news is what people don't want you to know, and everything else is advertising.
To that end, Slater's Round One heat at Margaret River (which is slated for North Point) should kick in his care-factor again. In the very first heat of the event he'll join Fanning and rookie Leonardo Fioravanti in the lineup. Oh yeah, let's not forget Fioravanti is the one who eliminated him in Western Australia last year.
In terms of bums on seats, or more likely eyeballs on screens, money couldn't buy better advertising than surfing's 11-time World Champion in the role of the poked bear.