In other cities, a movie premiere or the grand opening of a celebrity-owned restaurant would draw huge throngs of camera-toting fans. Here, it’s the surf king, Kelly Slater, creating all the ruckus.
Hours after winning his heat in the U.S. Open of Surfing on Saturday, Slater, the No. 1-ranked surfer in the world, made an appearance at Huntington Surf and Sport on Main Street to scribble his signature on photographs, magazines and T-shirts and greet hundreds of fans standing in a long, winding line down Pacific Coast Highway.
The two-time men’s world professional surfing champion was accorded the amenities of a movie star: He stood on a makeshift stage outside the sportswear store, posing for a complimentary Polaroid picture with each fan and signing an 8-by-10 black-and-white glossy of himself riding a wave.
Slater, known as one of the most creative and exciting surfers in the world, signed roughly 400 autographs. The Cocoa Beach, Fla., native competes in the quarterfinals today, an appearance sure to keep the crowds coming.
“The crowd is really knowledgeable about surfing, and everyone here is really into it,” Slater said. “This is a pretty incredible surfing area.”
Spectators, treating Slater more like a heartthrob than a championship surfer, screamed wildly, “We love you!”
About 400 men, women and children of all ages, holding cameras, magazine pullouts and surfing programs, hung onto Slater’s every word, booming through a speaker system, as he answered questions posed by the surf shop’s employees. Slater, who tends to keep a low profile while touring, discussed his performances during competition, but drew the loudest reaction when he mentioned an aspect of his personal life.
“I am single,” he said shyly, after several shouts of “You need a woman!” burst from the throng.
That response got a shrieking reaction from the crowd and brought a smile to Slater’s face.
For others, the infatuation with Slater lies in his ability to tame the waves.
“I’d get [Slater’s] autograph tattooed across my forehead if I had a tattoo pen,” said 15-year-old Matt Jenkins of Whittier. “He rules.”
Jenkins and a friend waited in line close to two hours to meet their idol.
Christa Yim, 14, and three other friends were the first in line. They arrived at 9 a.m., four hours before Slater’s scheduled appearance, sitting on the steps and munching on nachos.
Next in line was 11-year-old Drew Dominesey of Huntington Beach. “He’s the greatest surfer in the world,” Dominesey said. “I would go anywhere to watch him surf.”
After Slater finished answering questions, he sat down to sign autographs and pose for pictures.
Yim, of Huntington Beach, was the first person to get Slater’s autograph.
“He’s so cute!” Yim screamed. “My picture is going on my wall next to all the posters I have of him.”
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