Spooning Slater

Fourteen crazy days on location for the filming of Drive Thru Europe.

Few people have split a wedging peak in Italy with Kelly Slater. Even fewer have seen Ry Craike straddled on the back of Pat O’Connell as they whiz around Rome on a scooter during rush hour at night, and even fewer than that have seen Benji’s bare chest. Not to brag, but I have seen all these things. My name is Chris Coté. You may remember me from such classic TransWorld SURF stories as “The Bali Follies,” “Just Another Rock Star Boat Trip?” and last month’s “Modernism.” I was the lucky man chosen to tag along and document the fourteen-day, action-packed adventure that was to be the epic travel adventure, Drive Thru Europe.

Takeoff

The crew assembled in Hossegor, France and was met with ridiculously stormy conditions. Benji Weatherley, Pat O’Connell, and Ry Craike were the choosen rippers. Rizal Tanjung was held up in Bali for some visa mix-up, so we decided to leave without him and pick him up later. The weather was so shitty in Hossegor, it seemed as if the end of the world was nigh. To dodge Earth’s impending rapture, we packed up the RV and began the twelve-hour journey from Hossegor, France to San Remo, Italy.

On our way out of town, Pat pulled the rig over on the side of the road near a house with an open garage lit up and filled with surfboards. Pat told us to hold on and ran in. He came back with our mystery guest and replacement for Kalani, who couldn’t come at the last minute because of a shoulder injury. Kelly Slater jumped into the RV with a smile, threw his wetsuits in the shower, and introduced himself to those of us who didn’t already know him. I don’t think he really knew what he was getting himself into.

Our rig was an eighteen-foot motor home with a stove, small fridge, and a bathroom that no one was allowed to use. It was made to sleep six-we had nine, which equals Spoonville U.S.A. By the end of day one, the beer cans and food were just starting to make their way onto the floor, and the smell of wetsuits was already starting to emanate from the storage bay, like a waft of hot fart coming from a fresh dutch oven (you know, when you fart under the sheets). Was the world’s best surfer prepared for endless hours of man-spooning, rest-stop eating, and Pat O’Connell foot-smelling? (Pat’s feet smelled really bad. He’s had the same pair of sandals for three years.)

“The weather in France was pretty bad and I was staying alone. At first, they said they would fly me down to Rome to meet everyone, but I was just like, ‘I’ll just jump in and ride with you guys.’ Before you showed up I was expecting some kind of tour bus or something. Then you pull up in this thing,” Kelly laughs. “Right then I had to mentally and physically adjust to close quarters with nine other men.”

Kelly instantly added a mystical energy to the trip. The crew went from great to amazing in that instant.

Italian Stallions

We arrived in Italy at sunup. We were just past Nice, near a small town called San Remo. The sky was golden, and the water of the Mediterranean glowed bright blue and was ribboned with windswept swell lines banding into an endless row of coves. The waves barely broke, but the potential for fun was clear at first light. Everyone was amping to get out and rip, so we made our way to a little cobblestoned point that had a short left with rocks sticking out on the inside and a longer rippable right that also had rocks sticking out on the inside. It was about two-foot with the occasional three-footer. I actually caught the first wave there, and it was so weak that I wondered if anyone was even going to be able to do a turn. That changed when Kelly, Pat, Benji, and Ry hit the water.

Kelly started off the first session of the trip by surfing these small waves with passion and meaning. He was loose, relaxed, and catlike on nearly every wave. Kelly’s opening act was impressive, and everyone could tell he was surfing on a different level, even tter than anyone expected. The waves started getting really fun, suprising the pros who expected nothing but novelty surf. “I just figured it would be like Japan or something. The Mediterranean, to me, sounded like going to surf in the Gulf of Mexico,” laughed Benji. “Then the next thing you know, we’re surfing these fun little wedgy peaks.”

The locals were tripping out, laughing, and smiling nervously when Pat or Kelly was near, like you’d expect any young women to do when they see Brad Pitt in person. One of the Italian surfers explained why: “You may not understand how special it is for Pat to be here. Everyone in this town started surfing because of him in Endless Summer 2. He’s our hero.”

It was evident that Kelly’s presence in Italy was special, too. The crowds grew each time we paddled out that day. People would line up at the beaches, on their cell phones calling all their friends who would show up with more friends, eventually creating mobs at each new spot we surfed. “It’s good to be with Elvis,” Pat chuckled as a crowd of fans chased Kelly down to the water’s edge.

The sessions that day in Italy were incredible. The surf went from waist-high, then head-high, and finally, to overhead during the span of a day, and the level of surfing raised with the building swell. During the last session, a local guy invited us to his bar. It’d been closed for the season, but he said he’d open it up and have a party for us. His hospitality was incredible and just a mere taste of what we could expect from the Italian people.

The following day we made our way down the Italian Riviera to a little town called Varrazze, near Genova. There was a little peak that had a pack of about fifteen on it before our crew paddled out. As soon as the crowd caught a glimpse of Kelly, Pat, Benji, and Ry, they parted like the Red Sea and handed out waves and cheers for each guy. That night, they invited us to drink the town’s finest wine and feast on all the region had to offer. Scrumptious pastas, thin pizza topped with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil, light salads, and, of course, caprese. After a six-hour dining experience filled with boisterous toasts in slurred Italian, we headed into the night bound for Rome. “I was super excited to see Rome,” said Benji. “I just kind of wanted to be a tourist and see all the ruins and trip out on how old the shit is-culture’s pretty cool.”

As we entered the ancient city, ruins began to appear, and the realization that Rome is a lot older than we all thought set in. Our guides, Emiliano and Nik, were bombarded with questions: “What’s that thing? How old is that? Is that a ruin? That’s like gladiator shit, huh? Is it rush hour right now? How do I say hi to girls?”

The Drive Thru was no longer a surf trip-it’d become a tour bus rolling into the biggest tourist trap in the world. We followed the crowd of overweight Americans from Iowa around the city for a while and took in the sights. After we spent hours on sore feet gawking at an ancient empire, a plan to see the city from a different angle had been made, our new choice of transportation-scooters. We rented ten beat-up Vespas and got on the road just in time for rush hour. It was lunacy and a straight-up miracle that no one died or was seriously injured. We were driving like shit, nearly missing cars, buses, and trains were nearly missing us, and pedestrians were screaming at us for almost killing them. “The Drive Thrus are all about trying to get someone hurt,” laughed Benji. “It’s like we need the drama for the show.”

Common courtesy and travelers’ respect flew out the window and ugly Americanism set in hard as we raced around town like Hell’s Angels on rented scooters. The gang was decked out in custom blue and white Drive Thru tracksuits-a rolling nightmare of dangerous fun. The initial timid riding style of the group quickly turned into mayhem as we darted in and out of traffic. “I was attempting to steer with my shield,” explains Kelly. “Then I was trying to hold the handlebars and drag my feet along the ground like I was skiing through the street. I wore my shoes down to bare rubber.”

We circled the city for hours, whizzing by the Coliseum, honking at the Pope as he slept in the Vatican, and stopping at every bar and roadside eatery along the way. “I really think there’s no better way to see a city,” remarked Pat.Ry was in awe the whole time. He’s from a tiny blip on the map in West Oz near Gnarloo. There’re less than 400 people living in his town and only a few paved roads. “Rome is as different as you could possibly get from where I’m from,” Ry says. “I live in the middle of the desert-there’s hardly any concrete. This place is like a full concrete jungle.”

At around 4:00 a.m., the final scooter made its way back to the hotel-no deaths, no arrests, and only a few minor injuries-and we were a tight crew once again.It was day four, and we were ready to get back to the coast. We showed up at a little pier in a town called San Vincenzo, and the crowd was expecting us. As we pulled up, a mob followed Pat out onto the pier and cheered as he pulled into a tiny barrel. Kelly wasn’t about to be one-upped, so he paddled out, got barreled, and shot the pier. Then Kelly, Benji, and Ry pulled a paddleboat off the beach and started catching waves on it. Again, it was dangerous and someone should’ve gotten hurt. The crowd started going nuts with cameras and autographs, so we took that as a sign to make a mad dash back to France.

A Change In Scenery

Pat drove overnight for twelve hours straight to get back to the house we had rented back in Hossegor, France. “I knew it (the surf) was gonna be good, and that’s what kept me awake,” Pat recalled about the drive from Italy to France. “When we got there, it was six-foot and perfect.”

“One minute we’re surfing one-foot Italy on a paddleboat with masks and beers, and the next thing you know, we’re surfing perfect France,” said Benji. “I just woke up and, hellooo, it was perfect.”

The following two days were filled with the most amazing surfing I’ve ever seen. The entire crew stepped it up and pushed each Drive Thru’er to the highest limit of their ability. In two days of surfing epic French surf, Kelly did two of the best airs of his life (think about that for a second and imagine the airs he’s done); Benji got about ten stand-up barrels (pretty much in a row); Pat did dozens of the most stylish combinations of turns in recent memory (Pat truly has one of the most perfect styles in the world); and Ry’s backhand turned on, and he smashed a few turns like a mix between Rob Machado and Doug Silva.

These sessions in France were a filmer’s and photographer’s dream-incredible action, never-ending waves, and the world’s best surfers frothing in the lineup. One thing that was clear on the first week of the Drive Thru was that Kelly was a man possessed. You could see a revitalization in Kelly’s surfing. He was on vacation, and that translated into a looseness and flow that he seemed to have lost for a minute while stressing about tour life.

“With all his commitments, he hasn’t had an opportunity to just go surfing with friends,” remarked Pat on Kelly. “Of course we all look up to him, but at the same time, we could fart on him, beat him up, and it’s okay. Sure he’s the most famous and best surfer in the world, but he’s still just one of the boys. And the way he was surfing on this trip was incredible. He looks so natural in the ocean, it’s scary. I think he really needed this trip, and I’m so glad he came.”Kelly was cramming everything into the sixth day of the Drive Thru, which was his last. “I had to go to New York and do some radio stuff so I just wanted to surf as much as possible,” said Kelly. “I wish I could stay. I know the waves are gonna get good.”

Kelly Gigs, Then Goes

On his last night there, Benji, Pat, and Kelly surfed a Backdoor-ish bank way outside of Hossegor. It was apparent that this wa “Then I was trying to hold the handlebars and drag my feet along the ground like I was skiing through the street. I wore my shoes down to bare rubber.”

We circled the city for hours, whizzing by the Coliseum, honking at the Pope as he slept in the Vatican, and stopping at every bar and roadside eatery along the way. “I really think there’s no better way to see a city,” remarked Pat.Ry was in awe the whole time. He’s from a tiny blip on the map in West Oz near Gnarloo. There’re less than 400 people living in his town and only a few paved roads. “Rome is as different as you could possibly get from where I’m from,” Ry says. “I live in the middle of the desert-there’s hardly any concrete. This place is like a full concrete jungle.”

At around 4:00 a.m., the final scooter made its way back to the hotel-no deaths, no arrests, and only a few minor injuries-and we were a tight crew once again.It was day four, and we were ready to get back to the coast. We showed up at a little pier in a town called San Vincenzo, and the crowd was expecting us. As we pulled up, a mob followed Pat out onto the pier and cheered as he pulled into a tiny barrel. Kelly wasn’t about to be one-upped, so he paddled out, got barreled, and shot the pier. Then Kelly, Benji, and Ry pulled a paddleboat off the beach and started catching waves on it. Again, it was dangerous and someone should’ve gotten hurt. The crowd started going nuts with cameras and autographs, so we took that as a sign to make a mad dash back to France.

A Change In Scenery

Pat drove overnight for twelve hours straight to get back to the house we had rented back in Hossegor, France. “I knew it (the surf) was gonna be good, and that’s what kept me awake,” Pat recalled about the drive from Italy to France. “When we got there, it was six-foot and perfect.”

“One minute we’re surfing one-foot Italy on a paddleboat with masks and beers, and the next thing you know, we’re surfing perfect France,” said Benji. “I just woke up and, hellooo, it was perfect.”

The following two days were filled with the most amazing surfing I’ve ever seen. The entire crew stepped it up and pushed each Drive Thru’er to the highest limit of their ability. In two days of surfing epic French surf, Kelly did two of the best airs of his life (think about that for a second and imagine the airs he’s done); Benji got about ten stand-up barrels (pretty much in a row); Pat did dozens of the most stylish combinations of turns in recent memory (Pat truly has one of the most perfect styles in the world); and Ry’s backhand turned on, and he smashed a few turns like a mix between Rob Machado and Doug Silva.

These sessions in France were a filmer’s and photographer’s dream-incredible action, never-ending waves, and the world’s best surfers frothing in the lineup. One thing that was clear on the first week of the Drive Thru was that Kelly was a man possessed. You could see a revitalization in Kelly’s surfing. He was on vacation, and that translated into a looseness and flow that he seemed to have lost for a minute while stressing about tour life.

“With all his commitments, he hasn’t had an opportunity to just go surfing with friends,” remarked Pat on Kelly. “Of course we all look up to him, but at the same time, we could fart on him, beat him up, and it’s okay. Sure he’s the most famous and best surfer in the world, but he’s still just one of the boys. And the way he was surfing on this trip was incredible. He looks so natural in the ocean, it’s scary. I think he really needed this trip, and I’m so glad he came.”Kelly was cramming everything into the sixth day of the Drive Thru, which was his last. “I had to go to New York and do some radio stuff so I just wanted to surf as much as possible,” said Kelly. “I wish I could stay. I know the waves are gonna get good.”

Kelly Gigs, Then Goes

On his last night there, Benji, Pat, and Kelly surfed a Backdoor-ish bank way outside of Hossegor. It was apparent that this was a special moment for each guy. It was a throwback to the times when they were living on the North Shore, staying at Benji’s house, living the best times of their lives. This was during the Momentum era. They were all near tears describing this epic session that was nearly out of reach from cameras. There they were, three friends having this monumental experience that brought back beautiful memories of youth. “That was seriously one of the best moments of my life,” said Pat as he choked up. “Just to be out there with those guys at that moment was really special.”

After that dream session, most of us went back to the house to take naps. But Greg went to the airport and picked up Rizal, who finally got all his visa stuff in order and was able to come to Europe to finish the trip with us.

That night, for a going-away present, Kelly played a set of cover songs at a small bar in Seignosse called the Cream Café. He played a bunch of Jack Johnson songs, some Beatles stuff, and a few classic rock songs. A tight crowd packed the place, and everyone was, yet again, awed by another talent of the amazing Kelly Slater-what can’t he do?

After a brief round of good-byes, Rizal took over Kelly’s seat in the motor home, and we loaded up for yet another twelve-hour drive. This time we were leaving France, driving straight through Spain, and directly to the peaks and point breaks of Portugal.

We neared the border of France and Spain at dusk, and a few guys had a quick surf at a little right point break. As the sun dipped, we were treated to the most beautiful sunset any of us had ever seen. Vivid swaths of orange, red, and yellow filled the sky. The faces of the people around us glowed as the light turned to gold. Just as the sun was nearly set, a rainbow appeared to add to the already heaven like-effect. Gentle forces of nature came together and created unimaginable beauty. It was enough to bring a grown man to tears, and it did, but I won’t mention names (it rhymes with Genji).

Wedge World And Near Catastrophe At A Castle Made Of LegosWe drove all night again, and those who weren’t behind the wheel woke up in Portugal in a town called Figueira Da Foz, which had been the site of many WQS contests. It looked like Huntington Beach. The sand went out for 400 yards, and the ocean was gray and cold-looking. We ate breakfast and got back into the RV, which by this time was the dirtiest, stinkiest place ever. The floor was covered with beer, sand, food, mud, old socks, and gross towels. It looked like the backyard of a frat house on the day after the party of the year. We were dying to get to a hotel, and when we did, we had the best showers of our lives.

After a quick recharge, we found a little wedging beachbreak that provided hours of fun. These little wind-chops would come from every direction and form into perfect ramps. Benji was popping ollies everywhere. It broke right on the beach, which made it fun because everybody got to catch a million waves.

This was the one day of the whole trip that we only surfed once, but that was fine, everyone was exhausted. That night, I talked to Rizal about his visa for Portugal. Apparently, Indonesians haven’t been allowed into Portugal for the past decade (something having to do with the conflict in Timor). He was the first surfer from Indo in ten years to surf in Portugal. It was a pretty monumental thing for him. Just imagine being told for most of your life that you couldn’t go somewhere like that. There were major contests and trips Rizal and his countrymen couldn’t go to because of some stupid war.

Either way, having Rizal there as a diplomat from Indo was just the icing on a very tasty cake.

The next day was filled with more driving and some interesting breaks. The first session was at this little right point that broke onto rocks in this cove. Outside the lineup, there was what appeared to be a feeding frenzy of big sharks. Benji and Pat said the hell with it and paddled out anyw