Wow. That’s the first and only word that comes to mind when I think of the aerial 360 Kelly Slater pulled off in the dying minutes of his heat against Dusty Payne in the semifinals of the U.S. Open. The come-from-behind win propelled Slater to the finals, where he won his first U.S. Open title in 15 years.
That title years ago came with a lot of controversy for Slater after he beat Shane Beschen on a paddling interference that had most of the crowd booing the decision.
Fifteen years later, Slater has won 10 world titles; he’s surfing better than ever, and Beschen is retired. One could say that after their clash against each other in the 1996 finals, both careers went in different directions. Beschen would never again finish as high as No. 2 as he did that year, but Slater is still making surfing history.
This year, Slater stamped his authority early in the finals with an opening 8.5-point ride to put the pressure on Yadin Nicol, who just sat waiting for a wave.
Nicol caught his first wave just under the 10-minute mark of the 30-minute final. It was a shocking final heat for Nicol, who had a Cinderella-story-like run to the finals. It was a classy gesture for the Huntington Beach crowd to stand and cheer for Nicol when he finally did catch a wave.
Kolohe Andino had an impressive run to the semifinals and is beginning to look like the second coming of Slater. San Clemente’s local hero Tanner Gudauskas had a great run to the quarterfinals and is inching his way toward qualifying for the world tour.
Up next for the world tour are the beautiful waves of Tahiti, and my pick to win there is none other than the King of Surfing — Kelly Slater.
JAMES PRIBRAM is a Laguna Beach native, professional surfer and John Kelly Environmental Award winner. He can be reached at Jamo@Aloha SchoolofSurfing.com.