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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, January 8, 2002

Slater leaves no doubt with victory

By Dayton Morinaga
Advertiser Staff Writer

SLATER: Addition error made difference
Now there can be no question.

Kelly Slater is the greatest professional surfer.

Slater, already the most decorated surfer in history, added the most prestigious contest in the sport to that list by winning the Quiksilver in Memory of Eddie Aikau Big Wave Invitational yesterday.

The one-day contest was completed in waves that ranged from 15 to 25 feet at Waimea Bay.

Because the contest can take place only on a day when waves are in the 20-foot range and surfable, it has been completed just five times since its creation in 1986.

"When I was a kid, I set out to win world titles and the (Pipeline Masters)," said Slater, 29. "I never had my heart set on the Eddie Aikau contest, I guess because I never thought I was going to be a big-wave surfer. And now that it happened, I don't know what to say."

His resume already speaks volumes for him. Slater has won a record six world surfing championships and five Pipeline Masters titles. Now, he is on the elite short list of "Eddie" champions.

"It wasn't even in my focus," said Slater, who is from Florida. "I didn't even categorize what it would mean for me because I never thought I'd win it."

He almost didn't.

As sensational and gutsy as his performance was in the treacherous waves, Slater's best move came after the contest was over.

For nearly two hours during yesterday's competition, Australian Tony Ray was listed as the leader, one point ahead of Slater. But moments before the trophy presentation, Slater noticed an error in his scoring sheets.

"They gave me a 68 for my fourth wave, and it was actually 71," Slater said.

The three-point difference was as huge as a 25-foot wave.

With the adjustment, Slater finished with 319 points for his top four waves. Ray wound up in second with 317. The difference was even greater in the paychecks: Slater got $55,000, Ray $10,000.

In the closest finish in the history of the event, Australian Paul Paterson was third with 316 points, and Noah Johnson of Hilo was fourth with 314.

"I shared a couple of waves with my friends that in hindsight I should have took for myself," said Johnson, the 1999 Eddie Aikau champ. "If I knew it was going to be that close, I would have done some things different."

Johnson was still the top Hawai'i performer, and earned $3,000.

Only 24 surfers were allowed to compete in the contest. Each competitor was allowed to surf in two separate heats, with the top four scores from either heat counting toward the final score.

Slater had all but accepted second place after Ray's name went to the top of the leader board.

"I was a little let down because it was so close," Slater said. "I kept thinking about little things I could have done different to make up one or two points."

Ultimately, his surfing made up the difference.

Perhaps fittingly, Slater caught the first wave of the contest, dropping down the face of a 20-foot wave only a few seconds after the opening horn. In the first round alone, Slater caught several of the biggest waves in the first round, receiving scores of 87, 83 and 78.

Although the waves were diminishing later in the day, Slater needed just one more high-scoring wave in his second heat to clinch the victory. That final wave turned out to be the important 71-point score.

"Good thing I went to school," Slater said of his discovery of the scoring error.

Ray was gracious as a runner-up for the second time. He also placed second in 1999.

"That's the way it goes," he said. "That's the nature of the beast in surfing contests. Kelly was taking off on some huge waves; he deserves it."

Hawai'i's John Gomes actually caught the biggest wave of the day. He successfully dropped into a 25-foot monster wave and raced in front of the oncoming whitewash for about 100 yards. The judges rewarded him with a near-perfect score of 97 (out of 100).

"In the Triple Crown (contests), I kept losing on the days with small waves," Gomes said. "When I saw that wave, I knew it was going to be huge and I knew I had to redeem myself by going for it."

Tow-in champs: The inaugural Tow-In World Cup was also held yesterday in 20- to 25-foot waves at Pe'ahi, Maui.

Garrett McNamara of Sunset Beach and Rodrigo Resende of Brazil placed first with 143.6 points to split the $70,000 top prize. California surfers Brad Gerlach and Mike Parsons placed second with 132.4.