The most casual observers can tell when a surfing legend arrives.
Usually the crowd swells, cameras flash and adoring fans trail your every move.
Kelly Slater did little Friday to drown that attention, posting scores of 9.87 and 8.93 to advance to the men’s quarterfinals in the U.S. Open of Surfing at Huntington Beach.
Slater, a nine-time world champion, amassed a tournament-best 18.80 after an uncharacteristically slow start in his first two waves (1.00 and 1.73).
“I was a little out of sync, trying to figure out if I was going to go for the big waves or just go for a few smaller ones that were open,” he told The Times.
He broke his board on the second wave – “at that point I really had to make a game plan” – and returned with a new one to record three solid scores in heat six of round 24.
Early, Slater trailed Aritz Aranburu, whom one announcer referred to as Slater’s “Kryptonite.” Aranburu was atop the three-surfer heat in the early going, posting scores of 5.17 and 8.67.
But after Slater switched boards, he scored 8.93 in the third wave, a mark that helped him gain momentum at the midway point of the heat. “At that point I fell in sync with it and I went right back out and got two more good ones.”
Slater sprinkled the finishing touches in his last heat (9.87) carving a 360-degree turn that solidified his mark Friday.
“If you get one real big score to start the heat, you’re pretty much going to come through,” Slater said matter-of-factly. “It’s really going for that one big wave and then once you have that one big score, you could go for it.”
Slater is considered the favorite to collect the record $100,00 purse, which Hurley, the tournament sponsor, upped from $20,000 last year.
-- Mario Aguirre
Photo: Kelly Slater observes the waves after advancing to the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach on July 24. Photo credit: Mario Aguirre / The Los Angeles Times.