It's daytime, and Kelly Slater is surfing Backdoor. The sun's out, and the surf world's most-recognizable silhouette moves effortlessly upon the water. He travels through huge caves of water, and people on the beach sit down to watch the show. Please note that in Hawai'i in wintertime, the lineups are always clogged with incredibly talented pro surfers, and the crowds, jaded by their unlimited access to seeing really good surfing, tend to disregard even the most amazing sessions. But rules and logical assumptions don't apply to Kelly.


Despite being surfing's biggest superhero, Kelly Slater is a mystery. With no permanent address and an almost-impossible-to-get phone number, he's what you hope professional athletes and other famous people are like in real life. He has real friends. He contributes to his community. He participates even when the cameras are switched off. He phones friends out of the blue to suggest new treatments when they're sick. People have died in his arms, and he's wept for them. Driving down the Kam Highway in late October, Kelly spotted a body on the side of the road. The body belonged to Josh Kerr, who'd been hit by a car while walking to a friend's house and had been left for dead. Kelly comforted Josh until he was in good hands.

Though he's been saddled many times with comparisons to Michael Jordan, we may soon want to drop the sports-figure analogies and start likening him to the religious deities he's beginning to resemble. After all, he does work in mysterious ways.–Joel Patterson