“Some people call me obsessive or driven or lucky or whatever. I’m all of those things. Shouldn’t we all be?”
“Most anything I’ve ever set my mind to, I could accomplish.”
“A wave isn’t like a skate ramp or mountain; everything’s moving around, and you have to time how to move along with it. That’s easier with a slow wave.”
“A lot of times I’ll see guys who are nowhere near the level of the board they’re riding. They might love surfing and love how it looks, but you really have to work your way up. It takes eating a little humble pie at first, and stepping back to equipment that might be a bit slow, but do it.”
“My belief is that ‘heaven’ and ‘hell’ are metaphorical terms for what you make of your life. In any instant, you have the ability to make your life total pleasure or total hell.”
“I’ve been in a poor physical shape many times in my career and I’ve had some of my best results. My best performances happened because my mind was in the right place. The mind is definitely stronger than the body.”
“There are so many different elements to surfing. Small waves, big waves, long boards, short boards. This makes it a sport you can share with people. It’s not just a solitary thing – it’s become a family thing, too. It’s about exercising and passing something on from father to son, and from mother to daughter.”
“Surfing is my religion, if I have one.”
This article demonstrates what a great champion Kelly Slater is: I obtained this story from the Sports Illustrated Vault. It was written April 4th, 2004 and much of the story is about how Kelly Slater’s surfing career is close to being over. As I’m typing these words it has been Nineteen years since the story was written and Kelly Slater is still competing on the WSL and winning. Days before his 50th birthday, he won the Billabong Pro Pipeline in Hawai’i. 🙂
KELLY SLATER GROWS UP … AGAIN HE MATURED FROM TEEN HOTSHOT INTO THE BEST PRO SURFER EVER, THEN GOT SICK OF THE GRIND. NOW, CHANGED BY TRAGEDY, THE LEGEND IS BACK, CHASING A YOUNG ARCHRIVAL
Snow. Blankets of it. Pelting the northeastern edge of Japan. The squalls stir the December air, which rises and creates a wind that pushes the system east. The storm is drawn to the Kuroshio (Japanese for Black Current), a warm ribbon in the north Pacific’s forbidding cold. Soon, it is feeding on that current’s warm surface, siphoning the heat skyward and roiling the waters below. The system continues east and then bends to the south, cleaving the ocean in divots. Waves. His waves. ¬∂ On a National Weather Service radar screen, this storm looks like just another neon spaghetti strand spilling across the Pacific. But that image belies its size (now tens of thousands of square miles) and strength (winds sometimes topping 100 mph) as it drives its waves through open ocean, toward a fleck of land, more than 3,000 miles away. Hawaii.
Five days after leaving Japan, having grown to some three million square miles–covering about 5% of the Pacific–the storm veers northeast toward the North American coastline. A day later the storm’s massive swell bears down on Oahu. That swell, a moving mountain of water, blasts the 10,000-year-old fossil limestone reef jutting from the island’s North Shore; waves bend along the reef and speed over the craggy coral floor, which pitches upward at a 45-degree angle. As a wave converges on the shore, it is compressed until, finally, a water wall spikes 18 feet into the air, poised to crash down on the beach.
Kelly Slater, prone on his surfboard, treading water, is patiently waiting for that wall. As the wave begins to break behind him, he paddles twice, then springs to his feet as the lip of the wave starts to fall over on itself, breaking to his left. He slashes down across the wave and then back up to its frothing peak, his board an extension of his feet. When he reaches the wave’s foamy, crumbling lip, he cuts back down, dragging his left hand through the face of the wave to slow himself so that the hollow, arcing barrel of water can overtake him. Once inside that tube, Slater crouches, almost sitting on his heels as he whooshes through the moving, rapidly collapsing vault at 25 mph. He beams at his good fortune–this wave is even prettier than he’d hoped.
The barrel finally collapses with a wet, hollow FWUMP!, spitting Slater forward, out of the wave and into the bright afternoon sun. He turns from the dying wave, then lies down on his board and begins paddling back out to the surf line, replaying his ride as he goes. His reverie is interrupted by the angry roar of a surfer whom Slater may or may not have cut off on that ride. “Hey, what the f—was that?” Andy Irons screams. “This isn’t Cocoa Beach!”
To accuse another surfer of stealing one’s wave is a serious charge, especially among the regulars here at Oahu’s mythic Pipeline break. The charge carries special weight, given that Irons is surfing’s defending world champion and, perhaps more important, a native Hawaiian, but the person he has just impugned happens to be the greatest competitive surfer who ever lived. Slater is silent for a moment, not sure how to react. Though the two have never been close, Slater is stunned by this insolent flogging, regardless of Irons’s standing.
Perhaps he shouldn’t be. Staring at Irons, the 31-year-old Slater sees a lot of himself at 25: freakishly skilled, headstrong, already burdened by grand expectations. Irons won the HIC Pipeline Pro in 1996, as a 17-year-old high school senior. By ’99, however, the hard-partying Irons had lost his place on surfing’s World Championship Tour (WCT) and seemed dangerously close to a career wipeout. But under the guidance of several people, including the 2000 world champion, the notoriously intimidating Sunny Garcia, Irons–as brush cut and blustery as a Karate Kid villain–enjoyed a rebirth that culminated with the ’02 world title.
Andy’s defending that title in a couple of days, Slater reminds himself, and he has to beat me to do it. I’d be tense too. “Calm down,” Slater says to Irons, part olive branch, part advice. “You f—in’ calm down!” Irons shoots back. “Go back to Cocoa Beach!”
They bob on their boards for a moment, defiant, No. 1 versus No. 2. In two days a 30-minute duel between them will decide which man is this year’s world champion. As Irons paddles off, Slater just watches him go, thinking, See you in two days, Champ.
Go back to Cocoa Beach!
Hell, at least if he were back home, Kelly Slater would be allowed to commune with his waves in peace. Even as a runty five-year-old, the middle son of the Cocoa Beach, Fla., Slaters, he would sit on the beach studying the waves for hours, so still and focused that his mother often had to reassure nearby sunbathers creeped out by her child’s intensity. Granted, the waves hypnotizing him weren’t the monsters that pound Oahu’s North Shore every winter–more like two-foot mush, even on a good day–but the kid knew then, Judy swears, “that one day he’d be out there, doing things no one had ever seen before.”
And he did. Slater didn’t help to revolutionize his sport–he was the revolution. With a 5’9″, play-toy-flexible body perfectly engineered for such chaos, “Kelly changed the way we perceive high-performance surfing,” says four-time world champion Mark Richards of Australia. “Most world champs are experimenters; their creativity raises the bar a few inches. Well, Kelly raised it a few feet. He deconstructed virtually every maneuver in surfing–the bottom turn, the cutback, the off-the-lip, the aerial–and fundamentally altered it. When you consider how difficult surfing is at the elite level, Kelly’s the greatest sportsman ever to walk the planet.”
Despite lacking a big-surf pedigree, Slater ruled his so-called New School generation with feral intensity. “Kelly’s a great white, an apex predator,” says Richards. “There’s never been anyone as good as Kelly at beating opponents before they’ve even entered the water. And he’s not above crushing a guy just to do it.” Slater shredded the sport’s archetype–that of a bumbling stoner spilling from a VW van onto the parking lot at Ridgemont High.
Because he was likable and well-spoken, handsome and bright, Slater emerged as the industry’s product-moving gold standard. As Quiksilver’s top frontman since 1990, he has helped turn it from a $100 million company during the sport’s mid-1980s boom into the industry’s behemoth, currently valued north of $1 billion. “It’s safe to say people in Middle America are buying Quik products because that’s what they’re buying in Huntington Beach,” says Steve Hawk, the editor of Surfer magazine throughout the ’90s.
“And the people in Huntington are buying them because of Kelly.”
It didn’t hurt that Slater was willing to be marketed, long a hang-up for surfing’s soul-dog elite, most of whom feared any whiff of selling out. By September 1992 Slater had become the most famous surfer alive–despite not yet having won a world title–because of his two-year hitch on Baywatch, among the world’s most popular shows at that time. (A later three-year, on-again/off-again relationship with costar Pamela Anderson didn’t hurt his Q rating.)
Then came his first world title, in December 1992, at age 20, followed by his five consecutive titles from ’94 to ’98. He was voted Surfer’s top male surfer a staggering nine consecutive years, from ’93 to 2001. Slater’s skill and dominance and ferocity earned him comparisons with one sports icon above all others: Michael Jordan.
But like the Chicago Bulls’ great, Slater grew tired of the single-minded commitment he demanded of himself for yet another season, yet another title defense. He’d surfed almost every day for two decades, and doing it as a job had stopped being fun. The sport had made him wealthy and well-known, but he resented the effect all that had on his relationships with even his closest confidants. He drew increasingly inward. He would go on surfing trips with pals and barely speak to them. He’d go weeks without speaking to his family, for no reason other than he had become an ornery misanthrope. By 1998 his lottery-winner lifestyle–trotting round the globe, chasing endless summers and endorsement dollars–had left him empty and depressed.
He knew his days as a regular on the WCT circuit had to end. Save for a few contests he couldn’t bear to miss–especially his beloved Pipeline Masters–he decided that he would never again tour professionally full time. “I was burned out,” Slater says. “I’d reached all the goals I’d set for myself, and I didn’t have a rival. If you don’t have someone driving you, there’s no reason to care.” So when the 26-year-old legend hit the wall following that sixth title in December 1998, he made like Jordan again. With nothing left to win, Kelly Slater bailed.
Go back to Cocoa Beach!
That’s exactly what Kelly did when Judy called him in France in October 2000, where he was doing a promotion for Quiksilver, to tell him his father was dying of throat cancer. Steve Slater had been just the kind of man 19-year-old Judy Moriarity had hoped to meet when she hit Cocoa Beach fresh from Bethesda, Md., in 1966, back when Cocoa and the neighboring towns of Florida’s hopping Space Coast were alive with fast cars and flyboys, astronauts and their groupies, packing the honky-tonks, raising hell. Steve and Judy married in 1967, and he was a doting father to their three young boys (oldest son Sean, Kelly and youngest son Stephen), teaching them to fish and shoot guns and camp and surf. He was, Judy says, the best husband he could be. But he was also the first alcoholic she’d known. “I knew it wasn’t his fault, that he was sick,” she says. “I thought what every woman thinks at some point: I’ll change him.” Instead, his drinking worsened and his behavior became more erratic, until she and the boys had had enough and she asked him to leave for good in 1983, when Kelly was 11. “I didn’t hate him, exactly,” Kelly says. “There were just things I didn’t understand and had trouble forgiving.”
On the plane home from France, Slater didn’t know what to expect. To that point, retirement had agreed with him. He’d indulged his acting interests with cameo appearances on various TV shows. He’d begun a serious relationship with an actress, Lisa Ann Cabasa. He’d played lots of golf, getting his handicap down to single digits. He’d also finally realized that it wasn’t surfing’s fault that he’d become so insufferable and angry and joyless. He wanted to surf again, and when he asked, the tour made room for him to occasionally compete. This allowed him to keep alive his nine-year streak of at least one tour win per season, with his record fifth Pipe Masters crown in 1999 and his 2000 win at Teahupoo (pronounced CHO-poo) in Tahiti. Retirement–or, more accurately, semiretirement–had been good. Till now.
“When Kelly got home, he asked me what I thought he should do,” Judy recalls. “I said, ‘I can’t decide that for you, Kel. But he is your father.'” Kelly helped to arrange and paid for his father’s treatment. But after surgery to remove some 80 affected lymph nodes, Steve lost a great deal of muscle and upper-body strength and, eventually, use of his left arm. “You could see him making peace with things,” Kelly says. “I knew I’d have to do that as well. I’d been so angry at him and then so angry at the cancer. I finally stopped being angry and….” He stops, wipes at a tear. “We were good again.”
For several months Steve’s condition stabilized, and in December 2001 he accompanied Kelly and Sean on their annual pilgrimage to Pipeline, where he saw his son compete professionally for the first time. Kelly and his group usually stay in a small house on the property of the family of Jack Johnson, Kelly’s longtime friend and now a platinum-CD surf-folk musician. Because it faces the Pipe, Johnson’s backyard swells with onlookers during the contest; Kelly found it odd, then, that his father would leave the yard during his heats. “When I asked him why,” says Kelly, “he told me he was so proud of me that he didn’t want everyone to see him crying.”
Closer to his father than he’d been in decades and thankful for the closure, Kelly’d had enough of fighting the good fight against terminal cancer. He needed to win at something, so he turned to the one form of competition he knew he could control: surfing. The tour was all too happy to offer him a season long wild card, but, he says, “after the first event”–on Australia’s Gold Coast in March 2002–“I knew I’d made a mistake. My heart wasn’t in it.” From Australia, Kelly called his mom in Florida. She told him, “If you want to see your dad alive again, come home.” So he went.
“Those were the happiest two months of Steve’s life,” Judy says. “For all the boys, too. They saw their father sober. They saw him happy. They could see who he really was.” Steve deteriorated quickly, though. After being assured that the treatments had run their course, Kelly, who was scheduled to go to Africa on another surf trip, visited his father for the last time. “He knew this was it,” Kelly says, pausing for a moment, tears welling in his eyes. “It was getting dark. I stood over him, and we told each other, ‘I love you.’ Before I left, I decided I wanted to remember him the way I wanted to remember him, so I turned around and looked at him one last time, and I asked him to smile.”
“On the trip you could see that a weight had lifted,” Jack Johnson says. One day after Kelly returned from Africa, Judy called to tell him that his father was gone. “I could stop anticipating the end,” Kelly says. “I could finally cry.”
About two weeks later he went to Tahiti for the next WCT event but fared poorly. “I was weak and drained,” he says. “I broke two boards, showed up late for a heat. I’m always late for things, but a contest heat? Never before.” He slogged through the rest of 2002, finishing without a WCT victory for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, Slater’s place atop the sport had been usurped by Irons, who’d channeled his aggression and become a complete surfer, capable of consistently winning in any surf conditions. Iron’s 2002 season was among the finest in history: He had four victories and a runner-up, clinched the prestigious Vans Triple Crown in Hawaii with a rousing Pipe Masters victory over Slater–elating the intensely loyal native populace–and won his first world title. For the first time in a decade, Slater was not voted Surfer’s top male. That honor, of course, went to Irons.
Slater, who had already decided to return for the 2003 season, was stunned when he heard the whispers–the sympathetic ones–wondering if he could still challenge Irons, wondering if perhaps it was time for him to just let it go. Slater was livid. The fiercest competitor the sport had known was being told to cede his throne without a fight? But he was also terrified because he knew they might be right.
Go back to Cocoa Beach!
If it was broken, he might as well. And dammit, it was broken. As Slater limped out of the Teahupoo surf last May, he had to laugh. After disastrous results in the year’s first two events in Australia, Slater assumed things couldn’t get any worse. Desperately in need of a top 10 finish, Slater instead ended his fourth round by dropping into an eight-foot barrel and snapping the third and fourth metatarsals in his left foot when the board took a hard bounce. No one would question him if he pulled out of the tournament, he told himself as he hobbled up the beach, feeling self-pity and doubt and–he suddenly realized–fear. The epiphany walloped him like a rogue wave: He was afraid. Fear was nothing new to Slater. It was an inescapable element of sliding down the face of shape-shifting walls of water taller than three-story buildings.
The first time he’d been driven past Oahu’s Schofield Army barracks and the Dole pineapple plantation and seen the seminal North Shore in all its deadly glory, the then 12-year-old Slater had been aghast. The waves he saw (and heard)–the ones that looked so benign in all those posters on the walls of his older brother’s bedroom back in Cocoa Beach–seemed to be hellish demons, pulverizing everything in front of them. Terrified, the young Floridian could barely muster the courage to paddle out. But surf those things? Never.
“I figured he’d be pretty good one day–just not in big waves,” recalls Brock Little, 37, a North Shore native and former pro who’s known Slater for 18 years. “At Pipe he was scared s—less at first. But year by year Kelly’d take a few more chances, and you could see the freak in him growing.”
In Tahiti, as Kelly watched his fractured foot balloon, he was confronted by a new terror: He would never be the best again. “Everybody was saying, ‘There’s no way he’ll be as dominant as he was,'” Slater recalls. “I started letting that stuff into my head, and it gave me a safety net. Whenever I didn’t do well, I’d think, Hey, my dad just died. You start feeling sorry for yourself. You let yourself off the hook.”
On the beach the doctor gave him an out–sort of. Yes, Slater’s foot was damaged. But he could still surf, he was told, if the doctor shot his foot full of painkillers. Since the foot was already broken, there’d be little worry about further damage.
“It was a test, and I had to choose, right there, to either fight through all the crap or give up,” Slater says. “I couldn’t keep letting myself quit. I was thinking, What if I’m not good enough to win? Well, I’d always been good enough before. I couldn’t give in to the fear, because if I did, it was all over.”
So Slater had the doctor shoot him up, then wrapped the now deadened foot in tape, ripped through his quarterfinal heat on one leg, watched Cory Lopez upset Irons in another quarter and in the semifinal’s last minute beat Lopez in a frantic race for the last scoring wave. He then dominated Australia’s Taj Burrow to win a WCT event for the first time in three years.
“When Cory saw me charge that wave, he just gave up,” Slater says. “Little moments like that won me my titles. Those little moments are like dots, waiting to be connected. Now I’d won again, connected two dots. Now everyone’s thinking, How are we going to stop him?”
Thus began an epic yearlong bout between Slater and Irons, waged over six continents, nine months and 12 events. Each would hold huge leads in the points race, only to see the other charge back into contention. Consecutive late-season wins by Slater seemingly reduced the year’s final two events in Hawaii to mere victory laps and mathematically eliminated every surfer from title contention. Every one, that is, but Irons.
A victory at the tour’s penultimate event, the Rip Curl Cup at Oahu’s Sunset Beach, would’ve given Slater an insurmountable lead in the points race, but shockingly, he was eliminated in the third round while Irons finished second. Suddenly, Slater’s overall lead had been reduced to a pittance, and the championship would be determined at the year-ending Pipeline Masters.
Go back to Cocoa Beach!
A few years ago no one would have dared to heckle Kelly Slater in such a way. But as Slater watched Irons paddle away from him two days before the Pipeline Masters, he said nothing. He, better than anyone, knew what pressure Irons was feeling now. Besides, the two of them had always had an uneasy relationship, in large part because of the meddling of Irons’s father, Phil.
According to several people close to the family, Phil has long been a stern, at times bombastic influence on his sons, Andy and Bruce, who is one year Andy’s junior. Phil drove his sons hard. When both Andy and Bruce became well-known surfers as preteens, their rivalry in the waves–whether at their home break of Pine Trees, in remote Hanalei, Kauai, or in contest surf the world over–grew ever fiercer, occasionally resulting in fistfights. According to several tour insiders, Phil was happy to stoke his
sons’ combative relationship, believing it would make at least one of them a stronger champion. “Everybody who’s spent any time around them knows that Phil can be a bad influence,” says one insider. “Phil isn’t above playing one against the other.” Phil hotly refutes that characterization. “I’m not a soccer mom,” he says. “That is so bulls—! All I do is guide them. They make the choices. I give them options.”
The one thing that unified the Irons family was its disdain for Kelly Slater. Following Andy’s “Go back to Cocoa Beach!” confrontation with Slater, Phil’s hatred for the former champion was palpable. “We’re just waiting for Kelly to go away,” Phil said. “The great Kelly Slater–yeah, right! He’s old and bald, for God’s sake! He needs to go home.” Just as Slater and his New School compatriots forced their way onto the sport’s center stage, so now were the Irons-led Pre-Schoolers waiting, impatiently, in the wings. “I’ve been here long enough,” Andy says. “Kelly’s had his time. He’s had a lot of times. Now it’s time for him to move on.”
By daybreak on Dec. 19, Jack Johnson’s backyard was humming. Slater sat quietly on the deck, gazing at the Pipeline surf with relish. As Sean inspected his brother’s various boards and Judy paced nervously, Kelly moved through a series of credulity-straining stretches, until he seemed a deep-breathing optical illusion. Meanwhile, out in the waves, Irons was torching his third-round heat.
Slater was up next. He fought through a far more difficult heat, staving off a last-second charge by Kalani Chapman of Hawaii to finish second and advance.
Five doors down from the Johnson love-in, an all-day party raged on at a house rented by Volcom, a skateboard, snowboard and surf apparel company that sponsors Bruce Irons. Scores of Irons supporters–fans of both brothers–packed a beachfront balcony, toasting each of the Irons’s rides with boozy enthusiasm and lustily booing every mention of Slater by the contest’s on-site announcers. In their de facto uniform (black board shorts, black T-shirt, black baseball cap emblazoned with the white initials
ai, tattoo-laden forearms, black wraparound shades), they looked like a gaggle of biker-movie extras idling outside Wardrobe. When Slater exited the surf following his quarters heat, they shouted in unison, as if rehearsed, “F—you, Kelly!”
In the first semi Andy Irons showed signs of wear, fighting cramps and exhaustion. Still, he finished second and got into the four-man final.
Slater, surfing against the dangerous Bruce Irons and two others in the second semi, was nothing short of revelatory. When his heat ended, the public-address announcer stated what everyone on the beach already knew–“Kelly Slater and Andy Irons … it doesn’t get any better than this!”
Later that day, in decaying, windblown surf, the battle ended not with a bang but with soupy chop. Andy Irons grabbed an early lead, and in worsening conditions that gave Slater no stage on which to work his patented late-heat magic, Irons’s solid rides were enough.
When the final horn blew, Irons, straddling his board, thrust his weary arms into the air. Next to him, just a few feet away, Slater hung his head. The two champions eyed each other and then embraced; Irons then paddled in to be greeted and feted by the large crowd waiting for him at the shoreline. Following tradition, he was hoisted on the shoulders of his Kauian contingent and hustled up the beach to the victory stand.
Slater, who was still in the water, collapsed forward onto his board, overcome by exhaustion and emotion. After a couple of minutes he sat up, looked at the small contingent of family and fans waiting for him on the beach, then turned his board and paddled back out to the surf line. For the next 30 minutes, as hundreds watched, he surfed alone, until the searing pain had passed and the win meant nothing–and everything–again.
When he finally came in, there was a frozen smile on his face as he signed dozens of autographs on his way up the beach. In Johnson’s backyard he hugged his mother, who pulled him close and whispered into his ear, “You accomplished a great thing this week: You brought all of us together for the first time in almost 20 years.”
Head down, Slater then stepped into an open outdoor shower, the water camouflaging the tears that came freely. Sean, holding what was to be a celebratory magnum of beer, followed him into the shower, took his little brother in his arms, and together they wept.
Ten minutes later, Kelly collected himself, toweled off and walked the 100 yards down a gravel road to the victory stand for the awards ceremony. Slater was clearly uncomfortable as he stood next to Irons and the two other finalists. When the emcee asked Slater to present the title trophy to Irons, he appeared to be stunned.
Showing a maturity that he perhaps didn’t know he had, Slater recovered his composure almost instantly. “I just want to say thanks to everybody, thanks to Andy,” Slater said. “I never enjoyed myself so much competing; we were just back and forth. One of us had to win, and it couldn’t have happened a better way….” Scattered applause, but Slater wasn’t finished.
“I’d like to dedicate this year to my dad,” he continued. “I didn’t win, but I did this for him.” Then his voice caught, and he turned and handed the trophy to Irons, and they hugged again.
An hour later the two leaned close to each other in a tourney trailer on the beach before wading into the masses outside, the people who were waiting for one more interview, one more autograph, one more quick picture. “It’s on,” Irons said to Slater, and slapped his back in a sign of affection and respect. “See you next year.”
Slater just smiled.
One night after the most crushing defeat of his career, Slater is still smiling as his family and assorted close friends gather around two pool tables in a pub at the North Shore’s Turtle Bay Resort. Maybe it’s because he signed a five-year, $11 million extension with Quiksilver–by far the richest pact in surfing history–a week ago. Maybe it’s because he has already decided to return for the full 2004 season, which began the first week of March on Australia’s Gold Coast. Or maybe it’s because an admiring fan just sent over a second round of tequila shots.
Slater passes on the shots. He is leaning on the bar, sipping water and excitedly laying out a few of his favorite government conspiracy theories for a guest. He drops the Rush Limbaugh rant for a moment and looks over at his group, which includes Judy; Sean; Lisa Ann; his father’s best friend, Tom Townsend, his wife and their two adult sons; and seven other Johnson-yard VIPs. “I didn’t even remember this until today,” he says, “but yesterday was my dad’s birthday. How weird is that?” Then he says nothing for a long while. He seems content, at peace.
And then someone mentions that there’s a dartboard on a nearby wall. Slater’s eyes narrow, his mouth curls into a tight smile. Moments later the game is on. Slater, who is playing very casually, falls far behind, and his opponent, smelling victory, says something about giving Slater “a vicious whipping.” Big mistake. Slater’s face flushes an angry red, and with a potent combination of pinpoint tosses and unnerving “Hey, batter!” chatter, he rapidly closes the gap.
Next bull’s-eye wins. After his opponent flails through his turn–one dart doesn’t even hit the board–Slater eyes his prey, shakes his head with pity, then hurls a black-tipped dart into the board’s red heart.
He nods as if tipping his hat and is walking off when his vanquished opponent says something about how lucky Slater’s game-ending run was. Slater stops dead, swivels and stares straight through this impudent opponent, pausing for effect. “I hate it,” he says, “when people lose and talk s—.” so know this, Andy Irons, as you revel in your two consecutive world titles, secure in your belief that in 2003 you beat back the one last challenge of an aging former champion whose time has past: When Kelly Slater left for Australia at the end of February to prepare for the start of the 2004 season, three weeks after turning a relatively ancient 32, he was chasing redemption for the first time in his life. And it felt good.