Kelly Slater Mind-F*cks His Way to First U.S. Open Win in 15 Years

Categories: Wax On, Wax Off
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Nike US Open of Surfing
How can you not like and admire this dude?
​There never has been and never will be another Kelly Slater. That much is clear in the contest resume he has pieced together over 20 years of circling the globe for surf contests, which includes an unprecedented 10 world titles. Even when he's away from the contest site, he's an inspiration, as was demonstrated on a trip to Tavarua for a once-in-a-generation type swell, just weeks ago.

His fans know this. His sponsors know this. And probably more than anyone else, his competitors know this. A portion of Slater's ability to win could be credited just to his showing up.

Fans of surfing and fans of being near famous people who do things they may not understand descended on the Huntington Beach pier during the Nike U.S. Open of Surfing in startling numbers every time Slater was scheduled to be in the water. Fortunately, for fans and event organizers, that was quite frequently over the course of the nine-day event, as he advanced to the finals of the Men's draw.

On Tuesday afternoon, prior to his Round 1 heat, the media area was in shock at the early round attendance numbers. When Slater appeared from the competitor's area, an alleyway constructed of human bodies guided his path to the waterline. The buzz only increased with each round. By Sunday morning, the final day of competition, with the quarterfinals scheduled to hit the water, every inch of the 14-acres of sand reserved for the U.S. Open circus was blanketed with bodies. The aerial shots give the contest site the appearance of an ant hill in the midst of an evacuation. 

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Nike US Open of Surfing
Kolohe Andino was Slater's pick as a contest-favorite.
​San Clemente's Tanner Gudauskas and Kolohe Andino were the only remaining surfers with Orange County roots. Also among the remaining contenders was perennial World Title hopeful, Taj Burrow, and Dane Reynolds, who's become one of the most popular and innovative surfers since Slater arrived on the scene all those years ago.

With the last of the crossed-up swells providing two- to four-foot waves, there was plenty of canvas for the surfers to work with--especially compared to the windswept slop that was present early in the event.

Slater was trademark Slater. He was finding waves that weren't supposed to come, like in the dying minutes of his Round 1 heat. He was landing maneuvers that his 39-year-old body shouldn't be able to pull off, as he did against Hawaiian Dusty Payne in the quarterfinals, landing a no-grab, 360-degree rotation smoothly (the 9.77 out of 10 score was the highest of the event). And he was receiving scores that may have been a few hundredths of a point higher than they maybe should have been, as occurred in the semifinals against Burrow, when the pair caught similar barreling waves, but Burrow received the lower score.

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Nike US Open of Surfing
Slater always goes big, and rarely goes home early.
​The finals was also classic Slater, who's been known to mind-f--k his opponents before they even enter the line-up. He once whispered "I love you, man," into the ear of a bitter rival before a title-determining heat at Pipeline. On Sunday, he walked up to the remaining competitor, Yadin Nicol--an Australian and a surprise to advance to the final--hugged him and said "good luck." Sportsmanship or gamesmanship, you decide.

While Slater paddled into and caught most any wave he desired, Nicol sat beyond Slater, and waited. And waited. And waited. Nicol spent more than 25 minutes of the 30 minute heat waiting. By the time he caught his first wave, which was a close-out set wave, netting a 0.77, Slater had accumulated a two-wave score of 16.27. The final winning margin, 16.27 to 2.57 was one of the most lopsided finals ever recorded.

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Nike US Open of Surfing
Fitzgibbons is cute as a button and explosive on her forehand.
​"I guess Yadin wanted me to win because he didn't catch any waves," Slater said afterward.

Slater's U.S. Open win was his first since 1996, when he beat Shane Beschen

In the women's event, 20-year-old Australian, Sally Fitzgibbons, who finished the year as the runner-up for the world title, held off Lakey Peterson, who was a wildcard entry into the event. Peterson, who's just 16 and from Santa Barbara, made quite a name for herself in the event, winning the Junior division and defeating the newly crowned world champ, Carissa Moore, in the semifinals. She also eliminated local star Courtney Conlogue in the quarterfinals.
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