Slats with his head in the cloud. (Macfarlane)

Mind Blown: Kelly Slater’s 2011 Cloudbreak Performance

Why the Yallingyup strongman will never forget it

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It was five years ago on my first visit to Fiji. I was staying with Taj but the surf was real small and we expected it to be more of a leisure trip really. Even so, I was pretty psyched on the whole place. The watercolour, the sunsets; everything was exaggerated and exploding with colour. It was like being in a trance taking it all in.

We actually got super lucky and scored this two-day swell with enough grunt to turn on for Cloudy. Somehow, Kelly Slater materialised out of nowhere and started tearing the place apart. None of us could believe what we were witnessing, and it really made us realise how on the pulse he is with that place. His surfing was on another level, toying with big, angry 6-8 foot Cloudy like a two foot beachie. A lot of people don’t realise just how psycho that stretch of reef really is. It’s a huge lineup and it takes a long time to figure out where to sit and which waves to take. Kelly’s been surfing there since he was a kid and it shows, he’s got it so wired. My mind was blown that day.

The other thing with Cloudbreak is it rarely gets perfect because there’s so many raw elements, but that day Kelly was making it look perfect. He was making it look silly. On the first day, Sponnas took a shot of him from the helicopter looking up, and you can see in the photo how relaxed he is surfing the joint. He took the drop late, came off the bottom, set his line, and looked up at the helicopter with his hands by his waist as if to say, “Well this is easy.” As I’m watching, wondering what the hell he’s doing, he reset his line as the lip folded over and he completely disappeared. The next minute he was standing fully upright in a wide-open barrel with his arms by his waist putting it on for the camera. The tubes at Cloudy are always breathing and doing weird things, so to be able to toy with a wave like that is so ridiculous. That one wave stands out in my mind, but Kelly was going nuts the whole session, busting crazy critical turns in sections you wouldn’t even think about, which only comes from years of time spent surfing out there. It was amazing to see.

That session was really the first time I’d surfed with Kelly and I don’t think I’ve had another session like that since. He’s actually just a big grommet, and talking with him out in the water was such a good insight into why he keeps doing what he does. He’s so passionate about riding waves, which was really sick to see, and if you’re still surfing that good why not keep competing? Everyone else is calling it a day, but he’s still frothing so hard. He didn’t fill me in too much on how to surf Cloudbreak, but it’s one of his spots, like Pipeline, so here and there I picked up a few tips along the way. What to look for up the top of the peak, on the top ledge, and how you can get wide ones down on the sneaky bowl. It’s funny thinking about it, he’s such a great teacher just in his surfing, but in competition he still schools everyone. I surfed against him in a heat last year and didn’t even catch a wave. Within the first four sets he had me comboed. 

Jay Davies