Monday, November 7, 2011

Kelly Slater finally eliminated

By Elliott Almond
San Jose Mercury News

A lull in the waves proved too much to overcome for surf star Kelly Slater. A day after clinching his unprecedented 11th world title Slater was eliminated Monday morning in the quarterfinals of the Rip Curl Pro Search in San Francisco.

Slater, 39, was knocked out by Gabriel Medina, 17, of Brazil. Medina caught the majority of the waves in the 30-minute heat with inconsistent two-to-four foot surf. The teen scored an 8.50 out of 10 just as time expired to reach the semifinals where he is facing Taylor Knox, 40, one of Slater's best friends.

Slater had rebounded to take the lead late in the heat until Medina's late ride.
Brazil's Alejo Muniz is facing Australian Joel Parkinson in the other semifinal round.

It appears organizers will complete the contest in the next few hours.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Photo Gallery of Kelly Slater by John Hefti

My friend John Hefti ( is an excellent amateur photographer of sports action. He shoots photos of the San Jose Earthquakes that I often use with my stories in the San Jose Mercury News/Bay Area News Group. As an avid outdoor enthusiast it was no surprise to find him at Ocean Beach snapping away at Kelly Slater and some of the world's other great surfers. He's allowing me to share some of his work here. Enjoy.

Bodysurfing at Ocean Beach, San Francisco

Dream day for bodysurfing at dreary Ocean Beach

Bruce Jenkins

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Did you ever fantasize about taking a few rounds of batting practice with Buster Posey? Shooting hoops with Michael Jordan? Heading down to your local skate park with Tony Hawk?

I had a dream fulfilled at Ocean Beach on Saturday: competing alongside Mark Cunningham and Judith Sheridan in a bodysurfing contest at my local break.

We're in the middle of a very special two weeks in Bay Area surfing, featuring the Rip Curl Pro Search (no competition Saturday) with Kelly Slater and other stars of the worldwide tour, and this weekend has been about bodysurfing. The featured film of the Save the Waves Film Festival, held Friday night at the Victoria Theatre in the Mission District, was Keith Malloy's elegant tribute to bodysurfing, "Come Hell or High Water."

The bodysurfing community is a small but close-knit group, rarely able to assemble as one, and Malloy's film put us all in the mood for the first San Francisco Bodysurfing Classic, scheduled for "somewhere at Ocean Beach" Saturday morning. The call was for the foot of Lincoln Avenue, just south of the Beach Chalet, and we gathered around 8 a.m. to find some of the worst conditions imaginable: large, unruly surf with the dreaded northwest winds and chilly weather.

By day's end, we had magic. The wind went calm, the sun peeked through the gloom, the waves cleaned up in the 6- to 8-foot range, and it turned into quite a show.

Most remarkable was the turnout itself. Ocean Beach is my spot, the place I target every time I get a chance to hit the water, and over the past 15 years, I've come across just two other bodysurfers on a regular basis: Eric Gustafson and Sheridan, a woman of exceptional ability. And yet, 78 people signed up for this event, spread out over 13 six-person heats. That's 78 people who wrote down their names in the early morning, when a fresh cup of coffee sounded a lot better than a swim through Ocean Beach's endless lines of whitewater.

They came from all over Northern California. Some of Newport Beach's finest - Lewis Bradshaw, Tim Burnham, Thomas Malum, Sean Starky and Chris Kalima - drove up to represent the Wedge, that fabled break known for its crazy-talented crew. One man, a chef named Chad Callahan, flew in overnight from New York, saying, "I used to live here (Mill Valley), I always loved bodysurfing, and when I heard this contest was on, I knew I couldn't miss it."

I owe a big favor to Danny Hess, the local surfboard shaper who organized the contest, for putting me in the fifth heat with a couple of legends. Cunningham is the face of this sport, a longtime North Shore (Oahu) lifeguard and world-class swimmer who bodysurfed the famed Pipeline with such expertise over the years that he was viewed as a sort of deity by every great surfer from Gerry Lopez to Tom Curren. A lot of men and women bodysurf with great skill and courage; Cunningham's performance is a dance, at once sublime and forceful, an execution of style so distinctive as to be instantly identified from great distances.

As for Sheridan, let's just go with her first name, because any mention of "Judith" is synonymous with respect among Ocean Beach regulars. She comes from a family of elite swimmers in Michigan, but she was the rebel, preferring the thrill of the ocean to competition in a pool. She relocated to La Jolla, learned how to bodysurf at Boomer Beach (which is sort like taking your first ski run on a Squaw Valley black diamond) and eventually found her way north.

I've been out on some pretty big days at Ocean Beach, but when it reaches that triple-overhead range, when only a few stand-up surfers are willing to meet the challenge - and I'm whipping up some fish tacos - Judith is there. Whether it's near Sloat Boulevard, Santiago Avenue or up at the north end, she'll be out somewhere. She even made a run at Mavericks a few years back, on a massive day with 40-foot faces. She didn't bodysurf a wave - the very notion seemed suicidal - but she confidently swam under some giants and had everyone in slack-jawed amazement.

Right around the start of our heat, the conditions improved tremendously, and we all got great waves. I watched Judith swim out to the lineup with astonishing speed, Cunningham saying, "Let me be the first to say she kicked my ass - and I'm not using my age (56) as an excuse. She simply blew right past me on the way out." (Fittingly, Judith was given the "Ocean Beach Legend" award at the end of the day.)

Cunningham staged his usual fluid performance, with proper reward. There were no semifinals or finals; the judges simply came up with the day's top three performers, with Cunningham on top. The second-place finisher, Oakland's Joe Sloggy, went out only in a pair of Speedos - that's right, no wetsuit in the 54-degree water - and dazzled everyone with a repertoire of spinners.

The man in third place, Jeff Denholm of Santa Cruz, is a renowned surfer and paddler - and he does it all with one arm. During his duty in the merchant marine, Denholm was launched into the drive shaft of a fishing boat during a massive storm in Alaska, severing his right arm. He wears a prosthetic equipped with a paddle attachment, acts as if nothing at all is wrong, and truly symbolizes the spirit of bodysurfing. It's more of a mood than a competition, a series of moments shared by all. This day felt like 78 very satisfied people in a tie for first.

Surf legend Kelly Slater wins 11th title -- for real

Kelly Slater, 39, Coco Beach, Florida celebrated his iconic 11th ASP World... (Kirstin Scholtz/ASP)

Surf legend Kelly Slater officially wins historic 11th world title

By Elliott Almond
Posted: 11/06/2011 01:49:45 PM PST

This time surf legend Kelly Slater gets to keep the trophy.

Four days after an embarrassing miscalculation by the Association of Surfing Professionals resulted in Slater receiving his world title prematurely at the Rip Curl Pro Search, it became official Sunday in San Francisco.

Slater, 39, out-surfed two of the tour's rising stars, closing out his heat victory with a celebratory barrel ride, to earn his unprecedented 11th title. No other surfer has won more than four crowns on the world tour that began in 1976.

Slater had been awarded the trophy Wednesday after a stirring come-from-behind victory in Round 3. But after a fan questioned the math in an Internet post, Slater made it public that he needed one more heat victory to win it. He routed Brazilian teens Gabriel Medina and Miguel Pupo in unruly three- to five-foot surf during fourth-round action before a large crowd at Ocean Beach.

"I put together what I thought was a pretty good heat today -- it wasn't spectacular but those waves are hard to ride and hard to pick," Slater said.

Slater, from Coco Beach, Fla., had no second thoughts about revealing the mistake that was discovered by a fan Wednesday night.

"The decision was pretty easy," he said. "You know, your parents always tell you that honesty is the best policy. I just figured that instead of letting any more seconds or minutes pass, with me knowing that, that it was best just to say it. At that point I felt hugely relieved. It stressed me out to know that and not have other people know it."

Slater called the past few days nerve wracking as he had to face two promising opponents "that could literally be my kids, and those kids throw gnarly turns.

"I was upset about it at first, but I also thought it was really funny," Slater said of the miscalculation. "No hard feelings with ASP. Mistakes do happen. We all make mistakes."

He continued: "I texted my mom and said it was funny that I didn't really have any emotion about it when I won, so maybe deep down I knew. But this is my profession, so it's a little on me to know the situation."

The competition got back to action after a few days of less than optimum conditions. Slater, now into the quarterfinals, remains in the running to win his 49th career contest. Organizers have until Thursday to hold the final rounds.

Slater already seemed more relaxed after making his way through a throng of fans after exiting the water Sunday.

"Are we sure now?" he joked about the title.

He already knew the answer after going over the math.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Kelly Slater Goes Out a Winner

© ASP/ Cestari
Kelly Slater wins title No. 11 at Ocean Beach

By Elliott Almond

Kelly Slater of Florida won a historic 11th world surfing title Wednesday by slipping past Dan Ross of Australia in three-to-five foot waves at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

Slater, 39, had such a big lead that he needed only to advance out of round 3 Wednesday to secure his latest title at the Rip Curl Pro Search.

The Australian took a big lead on his first wave with a score of 7.7, the best of the heat. But Slater's late ride worth 7.60 was enough as he also had a 7.53 score on another wave.

“I didn’t win in the most effortless style,” Slater said. “When we started out he was right in synch with it and I was nowhere to be found.”

Ross, 28, opened with the highest-scoring ride of the heat while Slater misjudged the shifting beach break by picking waves that faded too quickly to garner many points.

Slater rebounded with about four minutes on a five-foot wave with room to maneuver.

“It was a nice open face” wave, Slater said. “I didn’t do anything radical.”

He didn’t need to. Slater has a way to get more out of waves than anyone on the planet. Ross made a last-gasp effort for an upset by catching the heat’s biggest wave with fewer than two minutes left. But he couldn’t hold on to send Slater reeling.

Slater is the greatest all-around surfer in history who sometimes is compared to barrier breakers such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods. No other surfer has ever won more than four titles since the world tour began in 1976. Australia's Mark Richards won titles from 1979-82.

Slater, who won his first title in 1992 at age 20, has the admiration of fellow surfers. Brazil's Raoni Monteiro tries to watch all of Slater's heats to copy him as best he can.

"He's the master," said Monteiro, ranked 26th in the world. "He's the king of surf events. The way he surfs is different from the rest of us."

Third-ranked Adriano de Souza of Brazil has conflicted emotions about Slater, saying the lord of surf has been a great mentor but also the fiercest of competitors.

"Sometimes I love him, sometimes I hate him," de Souza

Slater, a crossover star who has been one of surfing's greatest ambassadors, didn't bask in pure joy because Wednesday was the first anniversary of the death of his friend Andy Irons, a three-time world champion. Irons was discovered in a Texas hotel room lying in bed on his back with the sheets pulled up to his chin. He died from cardiac arrest because of blockage of a main artery, according to an autopsy report.

Surfers started the second day of competition at Ocean Beach by collectively paddling to the lineup to honor Irons.

“It’s a way to celebrate my memories of him and be thinking about him,” Slater said.

The Rip Curl Search has until Nov. 12 to complete all rounds. It is the 11th stop on the 12-event world tour that travels to exotic locales in Australia, Brazil, France, Hawaii, Portugal and Tahiti. The season ends next month at the famed Banzai Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu.

Contact Elliott Almond at 408-920-5865 and follow him on Twitter at

A live webcast of the contest is at

Rip Curl Pro in San Francisco

Small but nice peaks today for world's top pro surfers on the 11th stop of the ASP tour.

Here's some sample photos from my point-and-shoot: