Design revolutions don't come easy these days. While an arms race in surfboard design is what propelled the sport forward 35 years ago, subtle refinement is what's defined the last few decades. While anything goes in lineups these days (like longboarders at the Superbank), up at the highest levels of high-performance surfing it's almost impossible to detect any differentiation in design.
Kelly Slater has done his best to change that. In 2008 he arrived at Snapper with a board two inches shorter than the 6'0" X 18.25" X 2.25" that he built his empire on. He'd been riding fishes all winter at Rincon that year, a late-comer to the retro-revival sweeping California at the time. The speed he enjoyed on those boards was so intoxicating he decided to infuse a bit of it into his equipment for the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper. That small move won him the event that year. In fact, 2008 ended up being one of his most dominant title runs ever thanks to that design tweak.
Slater clinched the title before Pipe, headed full speed into his experimental phase. He rode a crude shape of his own at the Pipe Masters, which did about half the things he wanted it to do, but even that didn't stop him from ruling that year. In the off-season Slater kept searching for the boundaries, ...and he found them at Snapper in 2009. By the time Slater returned to the Gold Coast his board had shrunk by six more inches. It didn't go nearly as well that time, or that season. Mick Fanning reclaimed the title that year.
Slater showed us he's still in his experimental phase at Snapper this year, and he's got a new surfboard company to prove it. But he's not the guy turning heads with his equipment this time around. That guy would be 26-year-old Stu Kennedy of Lennox Head. Riding the SCI-PHI and shaper Daniel Thomson collaborated on, Kennedy has been slaughtering Snapper this week, along with anyone in his way.
Ironically, if Kelly Slater were the one riding and ripping on this board it wouldn't be getting nearly as much attention. Slater is a freak, capable of riding anything. It's barely worth a second glance when he's ripping on a car door.
But when it's under the feet of an incredibly under-appreciated blue-collar talent like Stu Kennedy, and that talent disposes of Slater, Medina, and Sebastian Zietz with mind-blowing speed, flow and flair...well, people want to understand what the heck is happening. And while Kennedy is an obviously an incredible surfer, what's happening is the magic in his board, which, by the way, is dramatically different than all others being ridden at Snapper by 2016 standards. On Tuesday, Kennedy won the fans over with his dominant performances. They all want to know its secrets. Interestingly enough, they'll need to head to Slater Designs to find out. The SCI-PHI is one of the three being launched by Slater next month.
Kennedy will surf against John John Florence in the quarterfinals, and John John has reason to be worried. And if Stu should win that one? Well, expect a new arms race to get underway.
There was another surfer from Lennox making an impact on Tuesday. Tyler Wright knocked out 6-time World Champion Stephanie Gilmore in the quarterfinals of the Roxy Pro. The two title contenders met earlier than normal due to Gilmore's status as an injury wild card. Wright has been very open about her desire for a world title, and this match was a huge first test. She passed.
Tuesday was the end of the line for this year's rookie class, with Conner Coffin, Caio Ibelli, and Kanoa Igarashi all leaving with very respectable 9th place finishes. Coffin nearly edged Adriano de Souza, but he made the mistake of leaving the door open for the world champion with under two minutes to go. Adriano did his usual pouncing, and advanced to the quarterfinals. Joel Parkinson put in a commanding performance against Caio Ibelli, while Kanoa Igarashi's run ended by way of Ace Buchan.
Parkinson and Buchan are the only two surfers left over 30 years of age. Parko will have his toughest match yet with defending champion Filipe Toledo. De Souza will be up against backhander Matt Wilkinson. Buchan will be facing Kolohe Andino.
On the Roxy Pro side, Tyler Wright will face another tough test with Carissa Moore in her semifinal. Moore was fighting a flu earlier in the week, but isn't showing signs of it. California's Courtney Conlogue will be bringing her power game up against the dynamic Johanne Defay of France, who made history today with her Club Sandwich move.
The ladies are all being motivated by the fact that 60% of the time, the winner of the Roxy Pro has gone on to with the title. Naturally, Moore and Gilmore have hoarded several of each. Defay, Conlogue, and Wright will be lobbying hard for their cracks at it.