In the early 1980s, a group of young American surfers erupted onto the world surfing stage with revolutionary vigour and talent, disrupting surfing as a sport and propelling it into new commercial territory. Known as ‘the momentum generation’, the group included the likes of Kelly Slater, Shane Dorian, Rob Machado, Taylor Knox and Ross Williams, who effectively reshaped professional surfing into what it is today.
Despite growing up as friends and fostering their outrageous abilities together, the money and fame that came with their newfound status led to prolific rivalries. Even though the pie was growing in size, everyone wanted the biggest slice. By the mid-1990s, a 23-year-old Kelly Slater had already carved out his spot at the top with two world titles under his belt. The only surfer challenging Slater’s dominance in the period was close friend Rob Machado, who had bested the young world champ in a number of events throughout 1995. Machado and Slater’s relationship darkened as the pair were driven by a bitter desire to outdo each other, with Slater always thought to be the more intense competitor.
Going into the 1995 Pipe Masters, Machado was placed second in the rankings and Slater was third. Front runner Sunny Garcia choked in the second round, leaving the gate wide open for the two young guns. Pipeline was absolutely heaving, sucking bone dry off the reef and providing plenty of shady tubes. Machado and Slater met each other in the semi-final and stakes couldn’t have been higher: if Machado won the heat, he would be crowned world champion on points – if Slater won, he would advance and take home the world title if he won the final.
As the media descended into mass hysteria at the gravitas of the heat and its underlying feud, the boys were seemingly calm, even playing rock-paper-scissors for first priority. The heat then progressed in a feverishly intense fashion. With mere minutes left on the clock, Slater was narrowly ahead but Machado was absolutely charging and poised for a comeback. Then, the unthinkable happens. Machado pops out of a glassy barrel and sees Slater paddling back out in front of him, Slater puts up his hand for a crisp high five, and Machado pulls in to deliver it rather than continuing his ride, effectively pushing him out of position and relinquishing his priority for the next wave. Thus, the high five cemented Slater’s world title as he went on to win the final.
Machado’s noble choice of ‘stoke over glory’ sent ripples firing through the surfing world and he was revered as an idol of mateship. The fact that he’d rather lose a world title than leave his fellow surfer hanging was a testament to the sport’s ethos of camaraderie.
However, respect for Machado was quickly overshadowed by the sinister notion that Slater may have initiated the high five to bait Machado into giving up priority. Many of Slater’s closest people agree that they wouldn’t put it past him, noting his intense competitive streak. To this day though, Slater vehemently denies any foul intentions and insists he was simply stoked for his friend.
Watch the full video of the wave at Pipeline below, along with some commentary courtesy of Quicksilver.
Source: HBO’s Momentum Generation (2018)