On This Day: Kelly Slater wins the Pipe Masters on the Deep Six
Ten years ago, on the 12th December 2008, Kelly Slater won his sixth Pipe Masters and was awarded his ninth world title. Truth be told Slater had the title sewn up two months previously at Mundaka, meaning the final two contests had no bearing on the title. If Dirk Ziff was in charge of pro surfing in 2008 he'd have had conniptions.
In terms of Slater's dominance, 2008 was on par with 1996. In 2008 he won six out of eleven events (but only competed in ten as he skipped Brazil), while in 1996 he won seven from fourteen events, so you can argue the toss: percentage of wins, or number of wins, but whichever way you dice it, in 2008 Slater had the tour wrapped around his finger.
Now, the reason I'm dropping all these stats is not to impress but to hint at something about Slater's psyche: during times of dominance he's sought out new ideas to keep things fresh. Whether this applies to what happened next is up for conjecture.
About the time the tour was travelling from Brazil to Hawaii, Slater jumped a plane to Micronesia and scored a large swell at P'Pass. In triple-overhead waves he rode a 5'3" version of a design he'd been toying with: a squat double-ender dubbed the Deep Six. The Deep Six was a variation on the similarly shaped Wizard Sleeve, except designed for bigger, hollower waves.
At a time when the average shortboard was 5'10 to 6'0" and a step up 6'4" to 6'6", the Deep Six was designed to be ridden a full six inches under the standard board length. An ugly duckling, the Deep Six was born from the marriage of a Channel Islands 7'0" K-Step and a 6'0" K-Board, with the wide point pushed forward, the thickness beefed up, and the rocker flattened through the middle but flipped at the nose.
"It was," Slater told Marcus Sanders at Surfline about his Frankenstein design, "a shot in the dark - I was guessing as I went along."
Back in Hawaii, Slater unveiled a 5'11" version of the design at the Pipeline Masters. He didn't surf during the first day of competition as the trialists and lower seeds, all riding seven foot spears, fought it out in 10'-12' Pipe. The next day was 4'-6' feet and Slater gave the Deep Six a succesful baptism winning his Round 3 heat against Ezra Sitt 17.77 to 7.90.
The third day of the competition was also finals day and Slater got on an old style roll: 19.40, 18.63, 19.00.
The last score, 19 points, came in a semi-final against Timmy Reyes and was courtesy of a classic Slater escape trick. Comboed with five minutes to go he scored a 9 for a left, which left Reyes holding priority as the clock counted down. On the paddle back out Slater paddled into an improbable right, racing it across the reef to Backdoor getting the full quota from the judges - a perfect 10. See those two waves in the video below.
Slater then took down Chris Ward in the final to collect his sixth Pipe Masters trophy. Meanwhile, the Deep Six/Wizard Sleeve, becames the design(s) everyone was talking about.
"Not less volume," said Al Merrick of the design, "but reconfiguring the volume so that you can still get into the wave but it's short enough that it's not restricting you, so you can go different places on the wave."
"I'm sure that's the next phase of surfing."
Kelly agreed. "Last year was a radical change for my boards and surprising to a lot of people. I am sure some of those changes are here to stay and [surfers] will be on my equipment."
As has happened before, with the shortboard revolution, with rockers, with concaves, when the design pendulum swings it often swings too far. But surfers and shapers don't know that till the design fails.
Slater turned up to the Quiksilver Pro 2009 and rode a 5'4" but was beaten by wildcard Julian Wilson in Round 3. At Bells he rode the same design and went down in Round 2 to Owen Wright. At Tahiti he also went down in Round 2, this time to Aritz Aranburu.
Snapper 2009, starting the year on radically different equipment (WSL/Kirstin)
After dominating in 2008, Slater was placed 25th after three events. He went on to place 6th that year, winning just one contest - Brazil ironically, as it was the contest he usually skipped.
Meanwhile, Slater and Merrick's prediction was, at least partly, coming true; board lengths were reducing both on the pro tour and amongst the punters. Not to Slater's diminutive length, but surfers and shapers were "reconfiguring the volume", as Merrick put it. But it didn't last, not on the pro tour.
By 2012, a survey in Surfer magazine showed that most Top 32 pros were riding boards within an inch of their pre-2008 lengths. There was the odd hold out, such as Stu Kennedy who in 2016 rode a 5'7" Tomo Sci-Phi at Snapper vanquishing Slater who at that point was experimenting with yet another design - a Greg Webber-shaped banana board.
At the Margaret River Pro 2017, John John Florence laid down the blueprint for modern rail surfing, silencing, at least for now, the minimalism championed by Slater over the previous decade.