'Old Man' Slater faces rookie

2011-12-10 08:14

Oahu - Kelly Slater won his first Pipeline Masters in 1992. It was the year John John Florence was born.

Nothing could provide a more graphic illustration of the vast generation gap between two irrepressible forces who clash in the quarter-finals of the Billabong Pipeline Masters on Saturday.

Slater is the 39-year-old Floridian with 11 world titles and six Pipe Masters on his resume. Florence is the 19-year-old Hawaiian who used to have posters of Slater on his bedroom wall.

The old man of the sea relishes putting 'Generation Next' back in their box but Florence, the most precocious talent to hit professional surfing in decades, poses the ultimate threat to Slater in a showdown that will bring Oahu's North Shore to a standstill.

Florence drew Slater in the non-elimination fourth round on Friday, and smoked him.

More than 5 000 spectators watched the first clash between the master and his most capable apprentice. Traffic on the Kamehemahema Highway descended to a crawl, the noise was deafening as 12-foot waves approached.

Florence posted his second 10-point ride of the event, racking up 17.67 points to swamp Slater's 8.5 and former world champion CJ Hobgood's 5.43.

Their next heat, however, will be a whole new ball game. It will be man-on-man. And sudden death.

Slater has perfected the art of peaking at the business end of contests, while the rookie has been the standout of the first five rounds but the Association of Surfing Professionals is yet to start handing out trophies for making a good start.

"I suck in the first few rounds, is that what you're saying?" Slater said to the suggestion he rarely went at full steam until the finals.

"I do feel like I get more rhythm and momentum the longer an event goes. I wasn't in sync my first few heats here. The heat I had with John John, he was right on it.

"It's only a matter of a few feet here and there and you're in the right or wrong spot. The 10 he got, he was in the perfect position. When it's a guy's heat, it's his heat."

The message was clear. The next heat might not be Florence's.

Slater turned it up a notch in his repecharge round against Hawaii's Kalani Chapman to book his berth against Florence.

He disappeared inside a hissing barrel and made a clean getaway to earn 9.87 points and self-administer a large injection of confidence.

Slater had an eventful day, surfing three heats, breaking the tail off one board and the nose off another, sustaining a deep gash to an elbow.

Florence took a beating from Pipe, too. He had cuts and bruises on his cheek from face-planting onto the reef.

"The guys I grew up admiring at Pipe were Kelly, Andy Irons - I have to pinch myself about having a heat out here against him," Florence said.

Australia's Josh Kerr was the biggest casualty on another jaw-dropping day of dangerous waves as he stumbled from his defeat to compatriot Kieren Perrow in round three with mild concussion.

Perrow had to reach the quarter-finals or lose his place on the world tour.

"The best heat I've ever had," he said after surging into the last eight by beating Hawaii's Shane Dorian and Australia's Taj Burrow.

"The pressure was insane. I'm speechless. I made it. I'm still on tour by the skin of my teeth."

The Pipe Master will be crowned on Saturday. Florence and Tahiti's Michel Bourez are neck-and neck to win the Vans Triple Crown for the best performer across the three major events of the Hawaiian winter at Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Pipeline.

Aside from the Slater-Florence clash, the other quarter-finals are Jamie O'Brien against Joel Parkinson, Bourez against Evan Valiere, then Perrow versus Brazil's Gabriel Medina.