Kelly Slater vs. Joel Parkinson in the final of the Quiksilver Pro was an almost classic. This past year’s champion, Joel, battled this past past year’s champion (and past past years stretching back into the mists), Kelly, in what was alternately described as “warbley” and “throaty.” There were barrels and high scores and higher scores. With three minutes remaining, Joel needed a near perfect ten to overtake Kelly and then he caught a near perfect wave. He stood tall in the barrel and eyed down the line and eyed Kelly Slater paddling right in on him. Kelly had priority, you see, so he could do as he wished. Joel, still standing in the barrel, raised his middle finger in response. He, in fact, raised both middle fingers but one hovered around his crotch.
And what is to be made of this moment? Is Kelly a jerk for paddling? Is Joel a jerk for flipping? I will suggest that both did almost exactly as they were supposed to do. Kelly clearly and deeply loves competition. He used the rulebook to trump surfing etiquette and slam the door on his rival at his rival’s home break. Joel, normally calm and cool, allowed the heat of the moment to overtake him, which is such a pleasure in the standard, false “Ahhh-good-on-him-he-got-the-better-waves-today” modesty. Hate boiled. There was no Cheshire Cat grin.
The only thing missing was a NASCAR-style full out brawl on the beach afterward. Joel and Luke Egan (his coach) vs. Kelly and Belly (his caddy). Four grown men bloodying each other’s faces and reputations. That would have removed the almost from the equation. That would have made it the greatest moment in surfing history.