Kelly Slater Pronounced Waterman Of The Year At Waterman’s Ball

Last night (Saturday August 28, 2004) at the lavish Monarch Beach Resort, which sits like a an English manor on a hill near the sea, the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association (SIMA) hosted their annual Waterman’s Ball. The event opened with drinks and a silent auction of everything from vacations, to retro Op twin fins and Greg Noll 1960s guns, to photos and paintings by surf industry creators like Art Brewer and Andy Davis. Hundreds of surf industry honchos, including everyone from Bob McKnight to Brad Gerlach dressed in the best thing from the backs of their closets milled about drinking from Fosters oil cans, talking laughing, and bidding. As usual, there was no shortage of beautiful women, my personal favorites being Roxy’s Veronica Kay and pro snowboarder Tara Dakides.

Around sunset dinner was announced and the crowd slowly funneled into the huge dining room, where tables of ten were flanked on all sides by video monitors. Master of ceremonies/SIMA president Dick Baker thanked everyone for coming and started the live auction. There was a lot of wine being poured, and I don’t have SIMA’s press release yet to tell me how much everything sold for, but I remember recklessly bidding $5,000 for a Greg Noll surfboard that finally sold for double my bid (thank god). Also auctioned were a trip for two to Tavarua, Fiji, and a surf session at San Clemente with Kauai’s Bethany Hamilton. The Bethany session went for upwards of $7,000 dollars and received a standing ovation.

After the auction they served steak and fish, and everyone visited surrounding tables, wine glasses in hands.

Once the plates had been cleared the award portion of the night began. Dick Baker presented the first award of the night, the O Ke Kai Award (Hawaiian for “Woman of the Sea), to Bethany Hamilton. When she was thirteen, Bethany was surfing Tunnels on Kauai’s north shore when she was attacked by a fourteen-foot tiger shark, which bit off her left arm at the shoulder. She survived the attack, healed, and on her first day out of the hospital went surfing again. Bethany’s story has become an inspiration to many, and her positive outlook is nothing short of incredible. While accepting her award, Bethany thanked Rell Sun and Jesus Christ for inspiration.

Next up was the Lifetime Achievement Award, which this year went to 1950s surf legend/unyielding nonconformist Miki “Da Cat Dora. Quiksilver Europe’s Harry Hodge, who knew Miki well, introduced legendary surfer/shaper Greg Noll to accept the award for Dora, who died of cancer in January of 2002. Noll (nicknamed “Da Bull) joked about his memories of Miki, and reminisced about Dora’s final days. Listening to these guys talk, you get a real sense of the depth and history the sport of surfing has.

The award for Environmentalist of the Year went to filmmaker/activist Greg MacGillivray from Laguna Beach, California. The Surfers Journal publisher and long-time surf journalist Steve Pezman got up and told some funny stories about back in the day, and then introduced MacGillivray. A lifelong surfer (and maker of the classic surf film Five Summer Stories), Greg has dedicated himself to making films about the ocean in order to raise awareness of how precious our world’s oceans are. His IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure was the highest grossing documentary film of 2003.

The Waterman of the Year Award, presented to surf superhero Kelly Slater by North Shore lifeguard Mark Cunningham, was the final award of the night. Cunningham (multiple-time world champion of bodysurfing) talked about Slater’s impact on the world of surfing and his versatility as a waterman, surfing everything from maxing Waimea Bay to local beachbreaks and mastering them all. Slater thanked his family, both immediate and adopted, which spans the globe. “I think I have three or four mothers here tonight, he joked. He also talked about Miki Dora, who he’d met in France in the mid 1990s. He recalledd this exchange between himself and Da Cat one day while golfing:

Dora: “I’ve almost made it.
Slater: “What are you talking about?
Dora: “I’ve almost made it my whole life without ever having a job.

At the end of his acceptance speech, Slater closed with a simple statement about what’s kept him surfing, competing, and traveling since he was fourteen. “I love what I do, said the six-time World Champ.

Afterwards becomes a bit of a blur. I remember drinking something pink with fruit in it.

Check out the site this week for videos from the event.

Gotta go find my car now.