Arguably the most impressive ride at the 2015 Hurley Pro surf competition didn't actually count. But that doesn't make the mind-bending, off-board, backside air reverse that legend Kelly Slater pulled off any less of a win for us.
After pulling off the stunt, losing control of his board, and regaining his handle, the 11-time World Surf League champ made the crowd go crazy, and social media blew up with video footage of the trick. It left even the broadcast commentators speechless. "I don't even know what you'd call that maneuver," Martin Potter, a former world champion, said during the broadcast, Australia's ABC observed. "That's just freakish ability."
But when the scorecards came back from the judges, it was clear that they had something to say. And the score of 4.17/10 said that they weren't as impressed as we were.
Fans immediately said Slater had been "robbed," and even Mick Fanning (who fought off a great white shark during a surf event a few months ago) seemed shocked at the scoring decision. "When you go up against Kelly it's always going to be a huge heat, and yeah, I didn't know what he did on that first left and the crowd went absolutely crazy and I just thought, 'Oh no, what's he done?'" said Fanning, who beat Slater in the final to take the tournament title, during a post-competition interview with WSL. "He's a great champion, and I've looked up to him my whole career," added Fanning. "He brings out the best in me."
One of the few people to defend the scoring in the wake of the competition is Surfing Magazine's Brendan Buckley:
"It was a beautiful mistake," Buckley wrote. "In his post-heat interview, Kelly even said 'It's really surprising the board ended up underneath me in the end.' It was impressive and entertaining and certainly a display of athletic excellence, but it was not a high score in a WSL heat. Surfing will always be subjective and the WSL has subjectively established a system where shit like this only belongs in viral videos. And that's the way it should be."
If viral videos are where the stunt belongs, then that's where we'll take it. Because watching Kelly Slater pull off a "beautiful mistake" is still going to astound us and entertain us on a Monday, whether the judges say so or not.