On This Day: Slater and Machado and 'The High Five'
On the 18th December 1995 Kelly Slater and Rob Machado fought a title-deciding Semi Final at Pipeline. Going into the contest, Sunny Garcia was leading the rankings (he bombed in Round 2 - see postscript below), Machado was second, and Slater third.
If Machado won the Semi he'd win the World Title, while Slater had to win the whole contest to wrap up his third World Title.
Thumbing their nose at the rules of competition, the two agreed to take turns and did rock-scissors-paper to see who got first priority. In a best of three waves scenario, Slater scored two perfect 10s and a 9.7 for 29.7 (out of 30), while Machado scored 27.3. With his score Machado would have won any other heat of the 1995 season.
Arguably the high point came when Machado was fired out of a Pipe barrel, cutback and lined up a high five with Slater who was paddling out. In his biography, Pipe Dreams, Slater described it as, "like slap-boxing with your best friend for the heavyweight championship." Though in the vid below he also says, "I look at it now and think he should've just kicked out and got priority".
In the Final, Slater met Occy who was surfing his eleventh sudden-death heat from the Pipe Trials onwards. Occy ran out of steam and Slater claimed his third Pipe Masters title and third World Title.
Postscript: There was also plenty of backstory during that year's Pipe Masters. Going into the comp Sunny Garcia only had to make Round 3 to win the World Title. In Round 1 Garcia surfed against Ross Wiliams and Gerry Lopez, the latter causing two interferences - he dropped in on Ross Williams once and even with the penalty he was still leading the heat, so he dropped in a second time. The reason was crystal clear: take himself out of contention so Williams and Garcia - two Hawaiians - could proceed. Dubious tactics and they backfired spectacularly.
If Lopez didn't drop in the second time he would've been the lowest seed going into Round 2 and gone up against the highest seed, Sunny Garcia. He could've thrown that heat and ensured Sunny won the World Title.
Except Lopez eliminated himself from the contest putting the next lowest seed, Mark Occhilupo, up against Garcia. Occy was warned by Liam Macnamara, "I guess you got a choice: you can beat him and go to the airport or lose and stay around."
Occy did everything he could to let Garcia win, deliberately relinquishing priority four times. Meanwhile Sunny imploded, he simply couldn't win. In a final show of surrender Occy even tried to give Sunny his own board. Occy couldn't lose and Sunny couldn't win. Garcia hugged Occy on the shoreline, sending a clear signal to any Hawaiian seeking revenge. Later Garcia said, "He tried to let me win, it wasn't his fault. It's not often in surf contests that you have your competitor trying to give you their board."
Garcia finally won a world title in 2000, the first year of Slater's mid-career retirement.