Maybe the most telling moment of this whole Hurley Pro hootenanny came on the way up the trail when it was over. Back on the point the corks were popping, high-fives were being shared, and Kelly Slater was celebrating his 48th world tour victory. All was right in the surf world.
SAN ONOFRE STATE PARK, Calif. -- Walking back up from the beach, the Gudauskas brothers were in awe. "He just gets better and better," kept being uttered over and over again in reference to the reigning world champ, followed by extensive befuddlement. Then brother Dane mentioned the Fiji sessions, and Slater's moment of reckoning this year. On hand in the South Pacific to see the champ squirm a little, Dane related how Slater was at a loss about missing the Billabong Pro J-Bay for epic freesurfing at Cloudbreak.
"We talked in the water," Dane said, "he just didn't know what he was going to do for the rest of the year. He thought he was done."
Figuring himself to be properly out of the title race, Slater wasn't sure what direction he was going. Even with a win at the first event of the year at the Quiksilver Pro, he apparently didn't think he could contend. But Slater, of all people, should have known: Never count out Slater.
If we can digress for a moment, a month ago the Billabong Pro Tahiti arrived with much aplomb, and Slater's second win of 2011 came with it. You could be forgiven for thinking that could be the perfect coda to the most legendary career in the sport's history, but that's not how Slater thinks. Slater thought, after two weeks of death-defying barrels, a perfect hurricane swell at the first World Tour event in New York sounded kind of nice.
When Slater and Wright met again in the final of the Quiksilver Pro New York, things started to get interesting. Wright would even the series, but all of a sudden Slater found himself atop the ratings lead and with an entirely new rival upon which to focus his energies. He made no bones about it, "Owen Wright's the man to beat," he would say.
Then came Trestles and the Hurley Pro. Slater's career and the famed cobblestone point are intertwined, and the statistics speak for themselves. As of today he's won there five times, he's made the finals in each of his past four world title bids, and won more than 90 percent of his heats. In other words, if Slater has a good result at Lowers a world title is probably not far behind.
Adding to the history today was the fact that for the first time the same two surfers (Slater and Wright) met in their third consecutive final. It must be pointed out that Wright was lucky to squeak out of the semis. Facing an amped up Julian Wilson, who was in the midst of the best contest of his young career, the crowd -- both online and on the beach -- was buzzing with the prospect of seeing two of the three best aerial surfers currently on tour (Josh Kerr is the third) go head-to-head. But Wilson got a little overaggressive on the opening wave, dropping right after Wilson had committed to the left, and earned himself an interference that halved his low-scoring wave. What should have been a dogfight turned into a blowout for Wright. The Slater/Wright final was a back-and-forth affair with a few lead changes and some last-minute heroics by Mr. Heroic himself. In the waning moments, Slater found himself in the lead and with priority. But Wright needed only a small score to move ahead, and that's when a two-wave set moved into the lineup. Slater gave Wright the first wave. Wright unloaded and got the score he needed, momentarily taking control of the heat. But Slater, being Slater, caught the next wave and did Wright one better, earning himself a 9 and the Hurley Pro title for the effort.
"We've had some great heats and the last three finals have been great," said Wright of Slater when it was over. "I'm glad the sets came through at the end. It was a bit of a dud final but I'm glad that last exchange came though at the end. It made it exciting."
"There really are no weak points to his surfing," Slater responded of Wright, "and he's going to be a standout in every spot. A lot of the guys tried to get him this week and I got lucky in that last exchange.
An 11th world title seems a foregone conclusion at this point (even if people tell you there's still a lot of surfing left this year). But flashing back on Slater's career, it's truly amazing how many generations he's conquered. He arrived when Martin Potter and Tom Curren and Occy were at the pinnacles of their power. Then came the New School generation, his generation. Rob Machado, Shane Dorian and Shane Beschen. He thoroughly dominated them. By the turn of the century he was bored and retired, only to return to stick it to Andy Irons, Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. A couple of years ago the talk was all about Jordy Smith and Dane Reynolds, but he's done them in too. And now it's Owen Wright's and Julian Wilson's turn. Simply put, there's never been anybody better ... and he proved that yet again today.
HURLEY PRO AT TRESTLES FINAL RESULT:
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 17.50
2. Owen Wright (AUS) 16.74
HURLEY PRO AT TRESTLES SEMIFINALS RESULTS:
SF 1: Kelly Slater (USA) 18.40 def. Heitor Alves (BRA) 16.57
SF 2: Owen Wright (AUS) 14.74 def. Julian Wilson (AUS) 10.04
HURLEY PRO AT TRESTLES QUARTERFINALS RESULTS:
QF 1: Heitor Alves (BRA) 12.77 def. Adriano de Souza (BRA) 12.50
QF 2: Kelly Slater (USA) 17.60 def. Josh Kerr (AUS) 11.07
QF 3: Owen Wright (AUS) 15.67 def. Mick Fanning (AUS) 15.67
QF 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) 18.23 def. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 14.93
HURLEY PRO AT TRESTLES ROUND 5 RESULTS:
Heat 1: Heitor Alves (BRA) 12.74 def. Taj Burrow (AUS) 9.80
Heat 2: Josh Kerr (AUS) 15.27 def. Jeremy Flores (FRA) 12.97
Heat 3: Mick Fanning (AUS) 18.23 def. Damien Hobgood (USA) 10.27
Heat 4: Julian Wilson (AUS) 15.67 def. Adrian Buchan (AUS) 12.37
Current Top 10 on the ASP WORLD TITLE RANKINGS AFTER HURLEY PRO AT TRESTLES:
1. Kelly Slater (USA) 44,950 pts.
2. Owen Wright (AUS) 39,900
3. Joel Parkinson (AUS) 35,400
4. Adriano de Souza (BRA)31950
5. Josh Kerr (AUS)30,800
6. Taj Burrow (AUS) 29,250
7. Mick Fanning (AUS)28,200
8. Jordy Smith (ZAF)27,500
9. Jeremy Flores (FRA)23,700
10. Michel Bourez (PYF) 22,250