Friday, February 25, 2011

Very Emotional Day at the 2011 ASP Awards

It's official. The 2010 Year of Surfing is over. The last year's World Surfing Champions, Kelly Slater and Stephanie Gilmore were finally handed their trophies.

In an event described as "surfing's night of nights," the ASP World Surfing Awards was held at the Gold Coast Convention and Exhibition Center with all the pomp and circumstance you'd expect.


As 2009 champion, it was Mick Fanning's task to present Kelly Slater with his 2010 trophy. Fanning joked that he was just 10 years old when Kelly won his first title in 1992. Of course, earlier recipient of the 2010 World Tour Rookie of the Year award, Owen Wright, had gone one better, declaring that he was just one year old when Slater had won his first.

Slater and Gilmore, there's 14 world titles among them. In an off-the-cuff acceptance speech, Slater thanked all the normal crew, his girlfriend Kalani, his mum back home in Florida, Travis from Channel Islands, his "boyfriend on tour" Belly, and then got down to trying to describe the emotions of winning his tenth world title. He held it together, cracking jokes and ribbing a few people along the way until he tried to put into words his feelings about actually sealing the title in Puerto Rico last year alongside the death of Andy Irons.
 
Slater's acceptance speech lost momentum as he struggled to fight back tears before he finally came out with, " I'm such a competitive guy, but a big part of my competitive urges died with Andy ... I dedicate this award to him."

Kelly couldn't go on before a crowd that was moved to silence. He held his trophy aloft, turned his back on the audience and was consoled by close friend and emcee for the night, Sal Masekela. A few minutes later, still visibly upset, Slater was back in the spotlight with Stephanie Gilmore holding their trophies high to end the official part of the night.

Behind the scenes, with his thoughts of Andy still very much in the front of his mind, he opened up in an interview. "The rivalry with Andy definitely kept me hungry because it pissed me off so badly." He was such a dick to me, you know. He just got under my skin and I got under his skin and we just went at it. I think it was really hard for us to put down our egos and be friends. Eventually we did put them away and became friends, but it was like 'I'll do it if you do it,' and it was this weird stand off thing. I think we always had a friendship underneath it all."

"There were times where I was so annoyed by the guy," he continued. "I couldn't believe people liked him because he made me so mad, and I'm sure he felt the same way about me. Then when I got to see a different side of Andy it was almost the reverse. It was like 'I can't even believe that I didn't like this guy.' He was so classic. He was like a little kid, and I think that's what I didn't understand about him in the first place. He was very young and he might have been almost immature, but that's what kept him hungry and competitive and when he was winning it was almost like 'These are my toys so don't touch them.' It was like a primal instinctual thing. I told him a number of times he reminded me of my older brother, and our relationship was like a family relationship I'd had in my life forever ... there is just a lot of emotion there. It's just weird to say goodbye to him. Tonight bought a lot of things back, and in a way it was like saying goodbye to him."

Finally Slater found himself once again at a loss for words, his thoughts of Irons and their times on the tour together created a silence that had to be filled by a change of questions. The moment had passed.

In the next room the Awards were over and the after-party was starting. The music got louder, Slater became restless, and the intimacy that was there at the beginning of the interview disappeared as the room filled with people bustling around and breaking in to ask some of the same dumb questions that seem to dog dog him wherever he goes: "Did Quiksilver pay you 10 million dollars?" or "When are you going to retire?"

Slater was over it and took a pass. The night was moving on and his tears for Andy had dried up. There is no doubt the rivalry between the two was the greatest pro surfing has seen, but in an answer to an earlier question, Slater had suggested that Owen Wright and Jordy Smith could create their own rivalry that could be compared to his and Andy's.

Surfing's "Night Of Nights" is a clich├ęd term, but a quick scan of the list of recipients receiving awards tonight links together 20 years of professional surfing. Slater accounts for a lot of those years, while the rest go out to the future of pro surfing.

Awards Recipient List:
2010 ASP World Champion: Kelly Slater (USA)
2010 ASP Women's World Champion: Stephanie Gilmore (AUS)
2010 ASP World Tour Runner-Up: Jordy Smith (ZAF)
2010 ASP Women's World Tour Runner-Up: Sally Fitzgibbons (AUS)
2010 ASP World Tour Rookie of the Year: Owen Wright (AUS)
2010 ASP Women's World Tour Rookie of the Year: Carissa Moore (HAW)
2010 ASP World Tour Breakthrough Performer: Alejo Muniz (BRA)
2010 ASP Women's World Tour Breakthrough Performer: Laura Enever (AUS)
2010 ASP World Longboard Champion: Duane DeSoto (HAW)
2010 ASP Women's World Longboard Champion: Cori Schumacher (HAW)
2010 ASP World Junior Champion: Jack Freestone (AUS)
2010 ASP Women's World Junior Champion: Alizee Arnaud (FRA)

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