Kelly Slater Had a Bad Day Surfing and Still Saved Two Lives

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On Wednesday, Kelly Slater saved the day for Sarah White and her son Van when an extra-large wave surged across the Kamehameha Highway at Rockpiles. White was walking on the bike path that runs along the highway with her son strapped into a stroller when the rush of water knocked her down and flipped the stroller. Slater happened to be nearby at the time and proved quick to help. White's husband, photographer Chris White, was shooting nearby, but not close enough to help. He said his son "was swallowing water and sand" before Slater intervened. According to White, Sarah came away from the incident "pretty bruised and scraped." 

Normally, Slater would have been out surfing the pumping swell at Waimea. He's no stranger to big Waimea and won the prestigious Eddie Aikau Invite there in 2002. On Wednesday, he ended up doing what he called "the walk of shame," when he couldn't manage to paddle out at the famous North Shore spot — the waves were just too big and dangerous. The massive swell hit with the biggest waves reaching close to 50 feet. At Waimea, some sets were coming in between 25 to 30 feet and closing out the bay, creating towering walls of frothing white water all the way across the narrow inlet. Slater told his Instagram followers that it was the first time he'd ever failed to make the paddle out at Waimea. Slater's walk of shame turned into the Whites' good fortune. He was looking elsewhere after getting shut-out at the Bay. Chris White said later on Instagram, "So thankful the surfgods denied Kelly Slater today cos for whatever reason he was right there to save my wife and kid who were swept across a road by a freak wave today."

The Kamehameha Highway is the main artery that runs along the North Shore, connecting some of the world's most famous surf breaks. At Waimea, the highway passes behind the deep, U-shaped bay. Because the road closely follows the North Shore coastline, waves will sometimes sweep across the road. Log Cabins, where Slater played the hero, is between Shark's Cove and the famed break at Pipeline. Fortunately for the White family, traffic was light when the wave hit Sarah and Van.

Though he's known for his ruthless tactics in competition, Slater typically brings a good-humored, self-deprecating vibe to social media. He said he just "happened to be there" and credited local lifeguards for doing much of the work. "So glad all is well and we can (someday) laugh about it," he said. "Van's first wave was a huge one!" In a reference to Western Australia's remote, challenging surf breaks, Slater commented that Van is "definitely a WA baby!"

This winter's El Nino weather pattern has brought a series of pounding swells to the Hawaiian islands. On Maui, surfers have set multiple big-wave surfing records at Jaws, the famous reef used in Point Break 2. The size and timing of Wednesday's swell took many forecasters by surprise. According to Slater it was big enough to run "The Eddie" contest at Waimea — and in fact, maybe too big.

In the course of his non-stop career, Slater has won 11 world championship titles, and recently created the world's perfect wave outside Fresno, California, in between launching the Outerknown clothing company and his own surfboard brand, Slater Designs. Next up, Slater heads to the Volcom Pipe Pro where he'll meet Pipe specialist and wunderkind John Florence — unless he finds a baby to rescue instead.