MICK FAN­NING

WHAT KELLY SLATER AND THE TEAM HAVE CRE­ATED IS TRULY IN­CRED­I­BLE

Carve - - FILE -

The only time it got weird for me was at the end of the ses­sion. I was to­tally un­sat­is­fied, I needed more waves, and when the surf guides pointed me in and ush­ered the next crew out – a group of flail­ing Ja­panese surfers – it felt weird. It’s a dif­fi­cult con­cept to swal­low at first that some­one owns the pool, and has strict rules about it. They have to, in or­der to make money, but for a surfer who has never been out the ocean, it’s such an alien ide­ol­ogy.

Me: Why can’t I just catch one more? Took me a long time and good money to get here?

Surf guide: Your time’s up mate.

Me: What about if the Ja­panese surfers fluff their take­offs? Can’t I sit on the shoul­der, just in case?

Surf guide: Sorry mate, your time’s up. Please get out of the pool.

Me: Can I buy into an­other ses­sion later?

Surf Guide: We’re fully booked un­til 9 o’clock tonight. Sorry buddy.

Therein lies the di­chotomy. It takes a dif­fer­ent ap­proach, a re­cal­i­bra­tion of ev­ery­thing we be­lieve in and know about the sport, to ac­cept wave­pool struc­tures and pay-for-wave ide­ol­ogy. I was truly grate­ful to get those few waves, and that was enough for me to be stoked. If one is ap­pre­cia­tive, then a wave­pool is def­i­nitely the win.

In 1985 the ASP lurched into Al­len­town, Penn­syl­va­nia, for their first ever wave pool event. In one-foot waves, be­ing pumped out ev­ery three sec­onds Tom Car­roll took the win and pro surfers turned their backs on ar­ti­fi­cial waves for a good time to come. Much was writ­ten about this event, and there were ques­tions raised about the essence of surf­ing. Is it sim­ply rid­ing waves, or is it an in­ter­ac­tion with the ocean? Does surf­ing im­ply more than a surfer, a board and a pulse of en­ergy rip­pling through wa­ter, chlo­ri­nated or salty? The sta­tus that arose from this event was that it was some­how de­mean­ing to see the best surfers grov­el­ling in th­ese tiny gut­less waves. The fi­nal was be­tween Tom Car­roll and Derek Ho – both fear­less Pipe Mas­ters, and it didn't seem right.

Ja­pan’s Ocean Dome, how­ever, was the world’s best wave­pool for many years. It was part of the Sher­a­ton Sea­gaia Re­sort in Miyaza, Ja­pan, and they got some­thing right with the wave. It was shal­low enough for the lump of wa­ter that was pro­duced to fall over the bot­tom, and to bar­rel on the take-off spot, and then still run­ning a lit­tle into the in­side, al­low­ing a few sec­tions and some funky ramps. It was more a shore dump than a peel­ing wall, but it did have enough size and sec­tions for surfers to pull off a few tricks and airs.

While there was much talk and spec­u­la­tion about the im­pend­ing Kelly Slater Wave Co. and Greg Web­ber’s Web­ber Wave Pools, sud­denly there was a new ad­di­tion to the party with the Wave Gar­den. A perfect wave, peel­ing for­ever, sud­denly ap­peared in a for­est in the Basque Coun­try. This was a wave that looked great, al­beit a bit small, but perfect waves and plenty of them. This soon mor­phed into The Cove, and be­fore long there was a Red Bull event at the wave­pool in Snow­do­nia. It was won by Al­bee Layer, and while the surf­ing world was reel­ing from the pro­gres­sion, from the con­cept and where it was all go­ing, Kelly Slater un­veiled the coup de grace a few weeks later.

First glimpse of Kelly’s wave drew mixed re­views from pun­dits the world over. It was a mind-blow­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

to watch, but no one could have dreamed of where it was headed.

After many glimpses, and after a num­ber of pro surfer vis­i­tors and stoked re­sponses from the lead­ers in our sport, it was time for Kelly to un­veil the big­gie. He did – and he did it with aplomb by hav­ing an event, the Fu­ture Clas­sic, and invit­ing ev­ery­one im­por­tant to the event. It was a mas­sive suc­cess, and there were enough mind-blow­ingly perfect waves rid­den that the col­lec­tive surf­ing con­scious of the world was blown away.

At first.

Slowly, as the dust started to set­tle and as the pub­lic started tak­ing stock of this very pri­vate event and ex­pe­ri­ence, so the peo­ple started talk­ing. De­spite Slater do­ing ev­ery­thing cor­rectly, bring­ing out the leg­ends to the sport, it still seemed that the grass­roots surfers were not sold. It was elit­ist, it was bor­ing, it wasn't for the bour­geoisie, and some surfers would never, ever, pay for a wave.

The surfers who were stoked with the con­cept, and with the wave, were the few surfers in­vited to at­tend the event, while ev­ery­one else who had watched it on the videos and on Kelly’s web­site were se­ri­ously ques­tion­ing it’s authen­tic­ity and po­si­tion it played in the big pic­ture.

We live in crowded times. Re­mem­ber that ses­sion at Snap­per Rocks dur­ing the 2014 Quiksilver Pro? The ses­sion after the ladies surfed perfect Snap­per for their Roxy Pro? Six hun­dred surfers counted in the wa­ter, give or take a few. Or how about any of the ses­sions at Su­pers around the Corona Open J-bay this year? While the surf did pump for nine days straight, it was still hard to get a bomb out there with so many peo­ple want­ing their un­fair share of waves. Why would the ad­di­tion of waves, man-made or oth­er­wise, be a bad thing for our sport?

Surfers slated the leg-rope when it came into ex­is­tence, slam­ming it as a ‘kook-cord’ and only for surfers who couldn't look after their own boards. Those very same cords are pretty com­mon th­ese days. Shaun Tom­son balked at the very idea of a twin fin when Mark Richards un­veiled them in 1977, the very year Tom­son won his world ti­tle. Tom­son has since men­tioned that by re­fus­ing to adopt the twin fin prob­a­bly was his big­gest mis­take in com­pet­i­tive surf­ing, and when the Thruster came around in 1981, Tom­son opened his mind and got onto them im­me­di­ately.

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