Bar­rel Envy

Surfer - - Contents - Words by ASHTYN DOU­GLAS Pho­tos by TODD GLASER

Kelly Slater, Jack John­son and the elite strike mis­sion we’d kill to ride shot­gun on

In the mid­dle of the South Pa­cific, there’s an is­land chain gilded with reefs known by a se­lect few surfers to sculpt big north­ern hemi­sphere swells into beau­ti­ful, ri­fling bar­rels. Along these per­fectly sit­u­ated isles, there’s a spe­cific wave that very few have ever glimpsed in per­son.

As far as surf trips go, it’s the kind of ul­tra-per­fect, ul­tra-ex­clu­sive, ul­tra-ex­pen­sive es­cape that we all fan­ta­size over, but know fully well isn’t in the cards. Well, un­less you’re the great­est surfer of all time and his rock star friend, that is.

Right be­fore the 2017 Quik Pro Gold Coast, Kelly Slater saw a swell pop up on the charts, spi­ral­ing to­wards this far-flung par­adise. The com­bi­na­tion of swell an­gle and wind di­rec­tion looked promis­ing, but the win­dow was tight—if ev­ery­thing went as planned, they’d take mul­ti­ple flights and boat rides to the is­land chain for one day of waves, maybe two. Slater called one of the few surfers able to jump on such a strike, his long-time friend and world-fa­mous mu­si­cian Jack John­son.

John­son was game for a lit­tle wave-fu­eled jet set­ting, and they booked their trip to the re­mote is­land. The pair soon found them­selves in the most en­vi­able of po­si­tions: trad­ing world-class bar­rels by them­selves in a trop­i­cal dream­scape. Most surfers would prob­a­bly call it an ex­trav­a­gant trip, but if you’d asked Slater and John­son in that mo­ment, they’d tell you it was worth ev­ery penny.

Kelly Slater, Jack John­son and the elite strike mis­sion we’d all kill to ride shot­gun on

(Op­po­site)“kelly’s whole life is scor­ing good waves,” says John­son, pic­tured next to his long­time pal Kelly Slater. “Seems like he’s al­ways fig­ur­ing out where the best waves are, whether they’re up the coast a few hours or a flight away.”

(This page) Slater, put­ting all those years of fore­cast­ing know-how to good use.

(This page) In a rare sight­ing out­side the bar­rel, Slater lays down a ham­mer on the open face.

(Op­po­site, top) John­son and Slater, sit­ting, wait­ing, wish­ing.

(Op­po­site, bot­tom) Hav­ing grown up surf­ing Back­door on a con­sis­tent ba­sis, John­son is no slouch in heav­ing, right-hand tubes.

“This trip was great be­cause there was no hoopla in­volved. We just surfed our brains out.”

– Kelly Slater

“I get calls from Kelly all the time say­ing, ‘Hey, I’m go­ing to this spot next week, you should come.’ Usu­ally I turn it down be­cause life gets in the way,” says John­son. “This came at a point where spend­ing time with a good friend and surf­ing some of the best waves of my life, even for a cou­ple of days, was worth the cost.”

“The wave re­minded me of Back­door mixed with some­thing in Tahiti go­ing be­low sea level. When you pull in, you lock in and race down the line. Some­times there was no exit.” – Jack John­son

Run­ning a wave pool com­pany, a cloth­ing brand and a surf­board busi­ness (not to men­tion com­pet­ing on the World Tour) have kept Slater plenty oc­cu­pied over the past few years. “Strike mis­sions are too few and far be­tween for me—even more so for Jack,” says Slater. “I’ve been busy these past cou­ple of years, so it’s been hard to re­ally find the free­dom for all the swells I want to chase. I’d like to free up my sched­ule to al­low for more of this kind of thing.”

(Top) “This par­tic­u­lar wave is su­per dan­ger­ous,” says Slater, pic­tured above hold­ing what’s left of his board. “Jack got hurt and the other guys on the boat weren’t re­ally pre­pared for what the wave was dish­ing out. I ended up surf­ing by my­self most of the day, which is what I dream about on crowded days.”

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