Can you imagine Kelly Slater’s fizz when he pulled up to this kind of a canvas at the very peak of his athletic prowess? It happened and it was... otherworldly. (Shield)

Throwback To 1997 And Kelly Slater’s Supernatural Ments Sessions

SW’s Indo Edition: The Prince In Bloom

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People surf beautifully in Indonesia, I mean it is a given. They surf as well as they’re able. The waves are beautiful. You can kook out, but at some point you can’t help but respond in kind.

In August 1997 Kelly Slater was 25 years of age and had won four world titles, and was well on the way to his fifth. Perhaps he felt like he needed some space from that endeavour. What a weird circumstance it must have been! So young and in possession of such power. Anyway, me and my buddies Jeff Hornbaker and Don King had set up a surf trip and asked him along, and Kelly decided, yep.

The trip was on Martin Daly’s Indies Trader 2, a boat with an interesting future. Let’s not get into that. We asked a bunch of Kelly’s mates to come too, and only five agreed. There seemed some tension around this; I couldn’t decode it, quite. It did seem to me as if Kelly’s incredible early success was costing him a little bit, and that at the time not all of his mates were totally on board with doing something just because he was doing it, if you take my meaning. Kelly talked a little bit about this during the trip, in the way you seem to talk only on those boat trips, which take you out of the everyday and away from the great silences of civilised life. Well they did then. I dunno so much about today.

Today Kelly is a King. He has eleven world championships, and a wave pool, and a surfboard company and a clothing company, and is sublimely connected to wealthy and successful people all over the world. He also has a broken foot which isn’t fully healed. In August 1997, he wasn’t a King, he was a prince, a kid still unformed for all his success. He came on board with a small quiver of Al Merrick super rockered specials, straight ‘90s style, and surfed the best I’ve ever seen of him bar none.

I mean, holy shit.

We videoed it and shot it and it didn’t matter in a way, because we never quite got it. You can see the footage in the film No Destination, as far as I know the first and maybe only surf film with a jazz soundtrack. It gets it but only partly. The full effect of Kelly at 25 years of age, released into waves like Thunders and Macaronis and Teles and Lance’s right, was really not preservable. It could only be watched and absorbed. Ross Williams smashed out six or seven huge top turns at Macas, then Kelly took off naturalfoot, switched, stalled for a barrel, switched back in the barrel, came out and did a massive flying wings-out cuttie, then switched AGAIN, just for the hell. Taylor Knox hooked it off the top at Lance’s the way Taylor could at 25, and Kelly came out of the barrel and did a turn in mid-air, actually did a cutback that left the water and re-connected and stayed on line as if nothing had happened.

Chris Malloy did some airs and power hacks at Thunders and Kelly watched, impressed, then went out and did literally everything. The whole air/slash/barrel/switch/whatever blizzard. He had this pair of boardshorts that he’d got from the Todd Chesser memorial and a little board with a re-set bunch of fin plugs on the forehand rail fin. He hung low in the bottom turn and swung the board up on to a lip that was collapsing in foam, and pushed the board past 12 o’clock, back to maybe nine in a sort of slide, then let the fins catch and swung it back around again and rode it out like nothing had happened, again.

It wasn’t dominance in the lineup though. He let everyone have their space. It was just completely ridiculous on its own terms. Kelly was 25 years of age and a ton of super weird shit lay ahead of him, weirder than anything that happened to Indies Trader 2, that’s for sure. But for a couple of weeks on that boat he surfed as well as anyone has ever possibly managed, for no better reason than he could, and the waves were there to do it on. That freedom! I watched him win a lot of contests in the years to come, eventually I and all of us saw him become King, but I never saw that freedom again.

Nick Carroll