The Flyer: A Win For The Ages
In 1994, Kelly Slater drew Gerry Lopez in his Round 1 heat of the Pipeline Masters.
Slater was 22-years old.
Lopez was 45.
Slater had won one World Title and a Pipe Masters trophy.
Lopez had two Pipe Masters trophies and universal respect at the break.
Despite this, no-one seriously expected Lopez to win. He’d last won the Pipe Masters 21 years earlier and his standing at Pipeline was more as a figurehead from another era than a challenger in the present. Indeed, he’d been parachuted into the draw by way of sponsoring the contest - the Chiemsee / Gerry Lopez Pipe Masters.
The records show that Slater easily accounted for Mr Pipeline and that within 24 hours Slater would claim his second World Title and second Pipe Masters trophy too.
I note this historical moment in an attempt to provide some context to Slater’s incredible evergreen win over Barron Mamiya this week. It was only a heat win, not a final, but the sheer improbability of it, a man many generations older than his young and fearless opponent, set against the backdrop of terrifying, edge-of-control Pipeline.
Mamiya was 22-years old.
Slater was 49 - even older than Lopez.
If you missed it on the webcast, I urge you to ignore the highlights reel and watch the complete heat replay. Feel the tension of a rising swell and the pressure of the clock, appreciate the backstory of Slater’s last tour before retiring and of his impending fiftieth birthday, of the significance of Pipeline and how many times it’s come down to this place, this scenario.
And in that heightened state, watch the next set approach the reef while observing the decision-making that follows.
“It's crazy thinking back on thirty years,” Slater said later on the beach, tears welling in his eyes, “and how many times that’s happened to me. I don’t know what to chalk it up to.”
“No-one can decipher greatness,” wrote Steve Shearer in his recap of the day, “All you can do is increase the chances of so many random elements coming together in beautiful, terrifying symmetry, as they did today, and sit back in awe of the results.”
And sit back in awe we did. Surfers young, old, and middle-aged. It really was a win for the ages.
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