Kelly Slater flies into the air after launching off a wave during the Hurley… (Sean Rowland / EPA )
Kelly Slater and Owen Wright keep running into each other.
On Wednesday, their habit made history.
At the Hurley Pro at Lower Trestles near San Clemente, the duo became the first to reach the finals of three consecutive Assn. of Surfing Professional's World Tour events, the sport's major league level.
And the legendary Slater earned his fifth title here in the last seven years by beating Wright in a neck-and-neck final, 17.50 to 16.74.
Slater walked away with the $105,000 first-place check and momentum as the top-ranked player in the World Title rankings who is trying for his 11th world title.
But to gain it, he had to beat his budding rival, Wright, an Australian who's No. 2 in the rankings, and, at 21, considerably younger than the 39-year-old Slater, a Cocoa Beach Fla., native.
"Owen is tough and he's been surfing great," Slater said. "There really are no weak points to his surfing and he's going to be a standout in every spot. A lot of the guys tried to get him this week and I got lucky in that last exchange."
In the final, Wright, who had better wave selection throughout, had a lead with a little more than eight minutes left.
On each rider's fifth scored wave, Slater was given an 8.50 while Wright scored a 7.87, giving Slater a slim overall lead.
The ocean then turned glassy as the clock ticked down, not offering either surfer much.
Finally, a set of decent waves rolled in.
Slater, who carved the waves like a butcher and nailed several aerial moves, scored a 9.00 on the one he rode, Wright an 8.87, and it was over.
The win gave Slater a bit of revenge after Wright beat him at the recent Quicksilver Pro in New York. Slater won the event before that one, defeating Wright in the finals of the Billabong Pro Tahiti in August.
"It's a big thing for me to surf against Kelly," Wright said. "I've watched him since I was so young. To just be competing against him and having three finals with him is just the best."
What have they learned facing each other so often?
Sitting next to each other in a group interview after it was over, each laughed, but offered no secrets.
"I'm not telling," a smiling Slater said.