CHIPPA WILSON ON MARS

A sequence in space travel.

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Second to none air game,” commented Kelly Slater on an Instagram post featuring Chippa Wilson. No more. No less. Just that one sentence. We don’t know where Kelly Slater was when he wrote that, what he was doing when he scrolled through his Instagram feed, stopped on an image of a poised Chippa Wilson aerial, and tapped in that simple little comment.

But we do know that when Kelly Slater says things, he means them. That there is rarely, if ever, something the greatest of all time says or does that hasn’t been well thought out from every angle. And after more than two decades at the forefront of progression in surfing, he’s well aware that people care about what he has to say on the matter, that his words aren’t lost into the ether of inane Internet comment sections like the rest of ours, and moreso than any other surfer in history. The comment is also interesting because compliments don’t spill out of Kelly without qualification or completely unprompted, all that often, like it did here.

And it’s not the first time Kelly’s gone out of his way to make this observation about Chippa Wilson either. Five years ago, at Cloudbreak, when the then ASP called the contest off and the most famous big wave session of the decade immediately followed, beamed live to a worldwide audience, Kelly joined the commentary team. Reaching for an explanation on the difference between the surfers on the Championship Tour, like himself, and the big wave hellmen that would make news all over the world for the surfing that was taking place before them, he used Chippa as an example, saying it would be like if these same guys were to go and do a specialty aerial contest with Chippa Wilson – how could they possibly compare? The comment stood out because of how unexpected it seemed, Chippa Wilson and Kelly’s paths don’t cross in the world of surfing, literally, culturally, or philosophically.

“I always wonder about what’s up there. Little dudes up there somehow living life, looking all hella creepy with their 20 arms and six heads and mating with themselves all day.”

What better place to ponder the universe than a dimly lit art gallery in Tasmania? (Respondek)

So what is it about Chippa Wilson – a Cabarita surfer nearing the end of his 20s, who came to professional surfing late, labouring as a tree lopper before being discovered – that puts his air game above the superstars who dominate progressive surfing in 2017? Hawaiian freesurfers Albee Layer and Matt Meola are getting more inverted while rotating more degrees, World Champion John John Florence is going bigger, and Brazilian phenom Filipe Toledo is stomping his aerials in the high intensity arena of a 30 minute heat that we’ll never see the likes of Chippa compete in.

Control, style, technical nous? Perhaps it’s just taste. Like music, aerial surfing could be seen as an abstract art, that Chippa, surfing his own way, on his own terms, for the past decade, has cultivated to a beautiful performance all his own. Whatever’s going on, Chippa’s pretty nonplussed, in a stoked-out way about it all. Like he says in the following conversation about his own inspirations, his own thoughts on where surfing is at, his own place in the greater world, with a shrug of the shoulders sort of summation: “It’s a strange world, man, so why not ride a piece of foam all over it.” Right on.

SW: When you’re on surf trips, up or down the coast, in the desert, on boats, you tend to stare at the stars a lot, huh?
CW: Fuck yeah, you do.

What do you think about when you stare at the stars?
The first thing that comes to my mind is home. You feel instantly connected to home when you have the familiarity of stars you see when you’re back in Australia. It’s the same view. The same constellations. It’s a common picture that connects you with your family and friends, and that’s a nice feeling when you’re away.

Man, that’s really nice. I usually feel insignificant looking up there.
Haha! Yeah I feel tiny too. Holy smoke… everything you think is important goes out the window because you realise you’re just this little speck. I mean, I’ve been pretty lucky to not have suffered too many problems, so I get to reflect a lot looking up at the universe, it really dawns on me that, “Shit! I’ve been riding a piece of foam across the surface of the ocean for a long time!” All over the world, all over these oceans and… it’s pretty ridiculous. But it’s a strange world man, so why not ride a piece of foam all over it?

Flying saucer. (Respondek)

Do you absorb much of what’s going on in the world?
I don’t pay much attention to the news. Everything going on in the world freaks me out to be honest. It’s a bummer and it gets me down a lot whenever I tap into it. I dunno if that’s selfish, maybe it is, but I like good news. I’m not ignorant to what’s going on, but there are so many agendas, so much of the information we hear and see comes from places or people trying to steer you, trying to form your opinions and reactions, so what do you believe? I went on a trip with Nathan Fletcher recently and someone mentioned Trump and I instantly thought, “He’s a douche,” which he is probably, but then Nathan went on this huge rant about the positives of Trump and the negatives of a Hillary Clinton administration, and I was like, “Holy shit!” Because I didn’t know anyone could honestly feel that way. He was super disenchanted with the way that America had been going. He didn’t change my views, but he put forth an argument from the position of someone who cared a lot more about the state of things in his home country, and I wasn’t able to comment on that because all I get is snippets here and there about what a kook Trump is. I dunno, I just try to pay attention to my friends and family because the news seems bent and warped and in a lot of cases not even true. Aaaah man… it’s a weird world.

Before we leave space, do you think there are aliens out there?
Yeah, I always wonder about what’s up there. Little dudes up there somehow living life, looking all hella creepy with their 20 arms and six heads and mating with themselves all day. I dunno if I’d wanna go up there to meet them, but Richard Branson seems pretty keen to go up and check it all out. It would be cool if you got up there and there was a water planet full of pumping waves… holy shit!

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Vaughan Blakey