“Kelly Slater Is Just Warming Up” is the latest History of Surfing post. Scanning it last week, I recalled a brief period during Kelly’s 1991 WCT rookie season when he was losing in the early rounds, and there was talk that maybe he wasn’t up for it, the travel was getting to him, the pressure was playing with his head etc etc. He had zero world tour wins for the year and landed hard at #43. To be fair, he missed a lot of contests in order to finish high school (4.0 GPA and Homecoming King; Slater wins even when he loses), but nonetheless there was a short period where a dazzling pro career suddenly didn’t look like a sure thing, as it had the previous few years.
Then of course Kelly won his first world title in 1992 (and his first Pipe Masters title) and such was the power of his mojo that by the end of the season people who’d been questioning Slater’s grit just a year earlier were now throwing elbows on the impossibly-crowded Kelly Slater bandwagon. Who knew how far he could go? It seemed crazy, but maybe, possibly, Slater could break Mark Richards’ four-title record. We could dream big, right? I found this 1994 Today Show clip featuring Kelly, and my favorite part is SURFER editor Steve Hawk, around the four-minute mark, shooting the moon to say that “if he [Kelly] wants to make a living surfing for ten more years, I think he can do that.” Even in his imagination, Hawk can’t project a career for Slater beyond 2004. As it turned out, 2004 wasn’t even the halfway point in terms of Kelly Slater’s world title binge.
Rummaging around the hard drive I also found this fairly excruciating clip of Tom Curren’s 1995 MTV interview with VJ Kennedy. I don’t mind that Kennedy is a Nixon-loving rightist who called Newt Gingrich a “beautiful, beautiful man” during her speech at the 1996 Republican National Convention. (Oh rhetoric, you’ve caught me out again; of course I mind.) What rankles here is how uninterested Kennedy is in having even a semblance of a conversation with Tom. “Can I ask you a technical question?” she says, smarmy and ironic but mostly just absent. “How do you surf?” Then poor Tom, not one for the banter, goes ahead and tries to answer. Not a great surf media moment.
At the risk of further bumming out your Sunday, here’s an oral history on the life and times of Gard Chapin. and here is his updated EOS page. You might know Chapin as Miki Dora’s stepdad. Miki knew him as a “dangerous psychopath.” But if you were standing on the beach at Malibu or PV Cove or any other nearby break in the late 1930s or early ’40s, you’d recognize him as simply the best high-performance surfer in California. “He would come up to Malibu and just ran circles around everyone,” as Joe Quigg put it. “I thought Gard Chapin was the living end.
For better and worse, Gard earned a place in surf history.
Rest easy, people, cheerier things are in store for next week!
[Photos: Rob Gilley, Doc Ball]