Kelly Rejoins The Hunt: Slater gives a superhuman performance at Supertubes, Jeffreys Bay.

Two of the WCT’s most devastating performers, Mick Fanning and Taylor Knox, sat in the peanut gallery overlooking the Supertubes section at Jeffreys Bay. Kelly Slater had just surfed his opening ride in the final against fellow Floridian Damien Hobgood and scored a 9.43. The wave? An eight-foot bomb that Slater sent to the hospital. Two giant foam climbs, a couple of huge hooks, a monumental rail-grab floater, a final layback snap, and all done with more speed than an F-18 Hornet.

Said Mick, rather obtusely, “Uh-oh. He’s up to his old tricks again.”

Taylor’s reply was blunt—he sipped on a Foster’s and simply said, “Yup.”

Funny how life’s profound moments are summed up in the simplest ways.

Five days prior, Kelly missed his connecting flight from California via New York. Depending on who you believe, his round-one opponents, Luke Stedman and Neco Padaratz, were/weren’t asked if their heat could be postponed a day to accommodate Kelly’s late arrival. Nevertheless, Contest Director Mike Parsons’ decision to restructure the draw intrigued some and riled others.

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When Kelly stepped off the plane following 45 hours of traveling and lost his first-round heat in sunny, inconsistent three-foot waves, it really did seem like the contest was wide open. “I had to keep reminding myself how to surf here, not to cut back too far,” Kelly said.

But four days later, as the Roaring 40s stirred up a lumbering six-to-eight-foot groundswell, the man capable of anything and everything did just that. Against Winkler (the loveable Aussie terrier who dared slap a 9.0 in Slater’s face that rainy morning), he nailed one of the highest heat totals of his career—19.57 out of a possible 20—the result of one monumental double-overhead floater he just managed to land. Then, later in the heat, he pulled off a perfect ten-point barrel.

Against Mark Occhilupo in shifty conditions, his awesome variety, speed, and ridiculous foam climbs usurped the goofy-foot’s no-nonsense backhand slamming. In the quarters versus Danny Wills, Slater combo’d the ever-dependable Australian with pure-unadulterated performance, then showed everyone just how happy he was by pulling a whip-cracking reverse followed by an alley-oop on his last wave.

He did the same to his poor roommate Taylor Knox in the semis, then sucker-paddled him halfway up the point. “I’d been watching him go a little deep all week,” Kelly said afterward.

By the time Damien paddled out for his first-ever final, thanking his lucky stars that everything had finally gone his way in a WCT for a change—including freak sightings of 40-foot whale sharks. Slater may as well have been surfing with a cape.

He was already on the rocks taking his leash off as the crowd counted down, “Three … two … one!” Then he thrust his fists into the air. Cameramen and grommets ran across the sand to meet him, but he stayed just for a moment, seated in the sun with his feet in a rock pool, soaking up the moment.

“I’m in a place now where I really want to win,” he’d told TransWorld SURF the previous day. Gazing from the contest tower to the rocks lining the point, he explained his state of mind: “If someone tells you to walk from where you’re standing, from right here to that rock over there, and you do it—you feel good. You’ve accomplished what you set out to do. Then if you come back, and they say, ‘Do it again and again and again,’ you’re like, ‘Why? I’ve already done this.’ Now, I’m still trying to get to that rock, but the difference is I’m learning to enjoy the walk.”—J.J.