The Hurley Lowers Pro at Trestles, at the mid-point of the World Tour season, has always been a decisive event. It's a skate park of a wave that leaves nowhere to hide if you're not at the cutting edge of performance surfing.
This year it over-delivered. By the end of round two, run-away leader, Australian Matt Wilkinson was out. By round three the new world number one, Hawaiian John Florence was out, Brazilian 2014 world champ and prog-surf freak Gabriel Medina was out, as well as Mick Fanning. Of all the title contenders left in the race only one remained after round three. Who else but the GOAT himself, Kelly Slater, aged 44 year young.
His start to the year was so poor it left many questioning whether he might be about damage the legacy of his career. That will definitely not be the case now. He is fifth in the world and poised for an assault on the world title as the Tour heads into the notoriously tricky European leg where his vast experience and ocean knowledge will likely better his position.
Trestles will be remembered for its judging controversies and the heat thrown at administrators by several of the world's highest profile surfers - Matt Wilkinson, Gabriel Medina and Julian Wilson among them. But this is surfing. It is subjective, relying on the varied interpretations of a panel of judges from around the world, and it's only when the world's best don't get the rub that we hear the complaining.
At the end of the day consistency is king, and Kelly is king when it comes to consistency. It's been 24 years since he won his first world title as a 20 year old, but the 11 time world champ told Stab Magazine he feels he's surfing better than ever.
"I actually watched footage of myself yesterday from 91/19 y.o. And I'm positive I surf much better now. Surfing is a martial art. You should improve forever and it should be the body failing that holds you back. Hopefully we can all add layers and layers to what we already know. I have more power, better body awareness and equipment. If I'm not surfing better I should quit! haha," he told the magazine via social media.
South African, Jordy Smith, was the outright winner of the event, and now moves to fourth in the rankings within striking distance of a long-predicted world title. The three-horse race at the start of the year is now a six-man showdown. Going into the final few events of the year, it's rare to see a title race this spread out.
In the women the title conversation has included four main names – Hawaiian Carissa Moore, Australian Tyler Wright, Californian Courtney Conlogue and Australian Stephanie Gilmore. As the events wore on Tyler took out three consecutively and skipped ahead of the field.
It's an interesting dynamic. For years people have predicted a Tyler Wright world title. She is part of a surfing dynasty that includes fellow World Tour surfer and one of the best free surfers and heavy-wave surfers in the world, Owen Wright. Her other brother Mikey is also a world class free surfer, as was her sister Kirby before she chose another career path. Tyler has responded to the pressure by saying she didn't want a World Title, she wasn't ready.
She declared at last year's French World Tour event that 2016 was her year for a title tilt. Since then she's gone through family tragedy after her brother Owen suffered a severe brain injury at big Pipeline in Hawaii. Tyler has somehow managed to keep her head in the game. When she won at Trestles this week, brother Owen was at the front of her mind.
"A lot of this has to do with family," she said. "Owen is coming into my mind right now. I mean, he doesn't even remember that I won three events at the start of the year, so I had to tell him that I'll just have to go win another three. And I have Glenn Hall, my coach, and the best crew by my side. I'm a pretty lucky kid. I've been in Title races before but this is different. I'm happy, I've got so much love behind me, I'm comfortable and confident," she said.
Tyler's win means she can wrap up the World Title at the very next event in Portugal. If she can win in Portugal and Courtney Conlogue (her only other real threat at the moment) doesn't make it past quarterfinals, she's the 2016 World Champion.