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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
A beach is a place where a man can feel
He appeared on the beach one afternoon wearing a black suit and tie over a white shirt, carrying a briefcase and balancing a door on his head.
He laid the briefcase on the sand.
He laid the door in the ocean.
He lay down on the door and paddled toward the waves.
The break there, a legendary one on the north shore of Oahu, often rose two stories high in winter. He bobbed in his suit and tie, awaiting something more than the half-foot swells rolling in, then rose to his haunches to catch a wave.
The front end of the door dipped and pitched him into the ocean. He climbed back on and got tossed once more. Finally he stood, and with a swift backward shift of his weight, he began surfing to the beach on the door.
They were partners, the ocean and the man. He could glide and flip and twirl with her whether she smiled or snarled. On days when he seemed certain to fall to his challengers, when he was down to his last wave with time running out, the ocean wouldn't let him. She'd send him the perfect white horse, and he'd leap on it and charge to another victory. Why, Kelly Slater could surf a door—that was the figurative expression his awed rivals used, never knowing that he actually had.
A second man, Jack Johnson, stood on the beach that afternoon in 1993 at Pipeline. Yes, that Jack Johnson, the singer-songwriter, Kelly's friend, capturing the scene for his college freshman art class in a film called Mr. Slater Goes to Work.
It was a movie that invited the viewer to mull the oddity of tens of millions of people wearing suits and ties and reporting to office buildings nearly every day of their lives, while Mr. Slater reported to a beach. A movie, one might say, about the door that's there for all of us, the one too risky for many to open, behind which lies the question: Why do you do what you do?