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Liquid Poetry

It’s the kind of excitement that keeps surf fans on the edge of their boards: The finals of the Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship Tour—a yearlong series of events around the globe where the top wave riders compete for the much-coveted world champion title. The 2013 finals took place on Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline last December, where photographer and Montauk frequenter Justin Jay captured it all.


Although he wasn’t part of the epic battle between Kelly Slater and Mick Fanning for the world championship title, Alex Knost was on fire last year. He clearly rocks a unique personal style and definitely didn’t quietly blend in. There were some not-so-silent grumblings about the cut of his jib from a few of the “baggy-shorts, slippers and 5-foot-10 thruster” locals. Hawaii’s North Shore can be a paradoxically conservative place, despite its serene atmospherics and the veneer of laid-back aloha spirit. The “H” word—hipster—was bandied about quite often this year. Mainlanders with skinny jeans and retro boards were often a topic of conversation.

Perhaps some random kook rolling up from Venice or wherever with Alex’s look wouldn’t have survived the hazing, but Alex is a phenomenally gifted surfer with an abundance of panache. Watching him getting barrel after barrel, pulling off graceful laybacks and doing man-size turns on his leashless single-fin at overhead Rockies eventually silenced many of the critics and gained him respect. Liquid poetry. Rockies is geared toward AC/DC maneuvers, but Alex rode it like Coltrane, all with a smile on his face. A class act and true style master.


The anticipation for the Association of Surfing Professionals world championship title battle between Mick and Kelly was at a fever pitch. All day long Mick had been surrounded by camera crews, journalists, fans and fellow team riders. I didn’t want to add to the mayhem. I’d been waiting for the right moment to drop off a gift print I had for Mick, which I’d taken the year before. In the late afternoon, I happened to see him sitting alone on his balcony at the Rip Curl house, staring out at the surf. I’ve learned that finding a one-on-one moment with anyone of notoriety is very rare. I’ve “met” plenty of celebrities in my career, but shaking hands in a club or sharing a drink at a crowded party hardly qualifies as spending quality time. Under the right circumstances, however, a simple five-minute encounter can be a surprisingly intimate experience. Timing is everything.

Now my window of opportunity had presented itself, and I climbed the stairs to the house. Mick was remarkably calm and relaxed, considering the title was at stake the following day. I gave him my print and we cracked a few jokes. A few years earlier, I’d had dinner with Mick and Taylor Knox in New York. After our meal, we all decided to walk to another bar. Halfway there, both of them grew tired and became adamant about jumping in a cab. I reminded Mick of this story and goaded him about the notion of two professional athletes not being able to endure a 15-block walk in Manhattan. Mick erupted with his hardy Aussie laugh and I nabbed my shot. I remember thinking at the time how bizarre it was that no matter how rich or powerful or talented you are, the future is always a mystery.

Sitting there on the deck watching the massive swell rolling in, neither of us knew whether I was talking to the next world champion or not. History was still unwritten.

Less than 24 hours later, he’d win his third ASP world championship title.


On the afternoon of the Billabong Pipe Masters finals, the last in a series of events that determine the ASP world champ based on a cumulative score from the entire year of competitions, local resident Pete Johnson invited a small group of people to watch the contest from his property. His backyard afforded amazing views of the lineup but was away from the chaos directly in front of the contest area. His lawn became a de facto VIP viewing area. The John John Florence and Kelly Slater camps were both in attendance.

Under normal circumstances, Kelly, John John and their respective crews are close friends and neighbors. But as the contest progressed and it became clear that the two would actually be competing against each other for the Pipe Masters title, the mood became slightly awkward. The atmosphere was largely congenial, but there were a few unavoidably uneasy eruptions of cheers during the heat. Guests did their best to be discreet about the person they were supporting, but some alliances were blatantly obvious. Kelly’s close friend Eddie Vedder anxiously cheered for his buddy, while John John’s mother stood just a few feet away with Bob Hurley, founder of the sportswear brand Hurley, which sponsors John John, and Jon Pyzel, John John’s trusted shaper, all unabashedly supporting him.

Kauai big wave charger Danny Fuller; his wife, model and swimsuit designer Tori Praver; and their ridiculously cute daughter Ryan enjoy a beach day at Rocky Point.

Surfer Nathan Fletcher, artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel and surfing legend Herbie Fletcher take a break from the surf circus at Pipeline to grab a coffee and acai bowl on Kam Highway.

Legendary Hawaiian regulator Sunny Garcia is full of aloha spirit.

Photographer Steve Sherman elicits a trademark big Aussie laugh from 2012 World Champion Joel Parkinson during the Pipe Masters.


The beach was packed with a record number of spectators that day. John John’s scores had earned him the prestigious win of the Van’s Triple Crown, a Hawaiian-centric competition that runs alongside the ASP world finals—his second Triple Crown win in three years. But judging from the look on his face, he viewed this win as a Pyrrhic victory. He’d coveted the Billabong Pipe Masters title, which is especially close to him because he lives on Hawaii’s Banzai Pipeline, but it had just been snatched away from him by Kelly Slater in the waning moments of their heat. With just barely any time to spare, Kelly was able to snag a trademark miracle barrel and secure the score he needed to win the Pipe. This type of dramatic last-minute upset is something we’ve seen Kelly execute against countless competitors, sometimes with seemingly sadistic timing. But somehow this match had felt different. John John held a significant lead for most of the heat; he was composed and relaxed. All the elements seemed to be falling into place for him.

For a brief moment, it appeared he might actually be able to trounce the master and snatch the pebble from Kelly’s hand.

Not this time.


John John stood on the manicured lawn overlooking Pipeline. His hand-carved Van’s Triple Crown trophy was at his feet, and a vibrant wreath of victory flowers rested in his hair. He was surrounded by friends, family and sponsors. He deserved to be proud of his prestigious Triple Crown win. He deserved to be reveling in his illustrious performance. He wasn’t. It was a bittersweet moment.

Just minutes earlier, legendary surfer Mark Cunningham had been one of the first people to greet Kelly at the water’s edge when he won the Pipe Masters title John John had so wanted. The bottle of Champagne Kelly chugged—subsequently captured in countless photos, including the one seen at left—was actually handed to him by Mark.

Despite this, Mark is one of the few people who had the credibility, the history and the sincere warmth of spirit to be able to toggle between Kelly and John John’s camps so quickly and effortlessly after such a potentially divisive heat. He strolled up to John John and gave him a heartfelt and compassionate hug. His brief embrace conveyed an untold measure of empathy and kindness. An unmistakably elated grin appeared on John John’s face, but only for a brief moment.


The day had been riddled with controversial scores. After the Billabong Pipe Masters, Kelly and John John both put a on a brave face and gave the obligatory interviews to the hungry press. It had been an epic battle that played out like a Shakespearean play. The young prince hadn’t quite usurped the king, but John John did have the consolation of the Van’s Triple Crown trophy.

Kelly had earned himself another prestigious Billabong Pipe Masters title, his seventh. They’d both surfed magnificently that day... but their awe-inspiring accomplishments were tainted with the bitter irony that Kelly had so desperately wanted another ASP world title, and John John had lusted for the elusive Pipe Masters win. Despite their magnificent victories, they were both horribly disappointed.

At dusk, I spotted the 11-time ASP world champ walking solemnly down the bike path, alone. The No. 2 on the back of his jersey resonated poignantly in my mind as I watched him make the five-minute trek toward home—sans entourage or fanfare.