"Looks like a serious poker game's about to go down." Joel Parkinson, fully bearded, is smiling, but a little taken aback at the spread. Despite the relatively early hour, it does look like some kind of high-stakes game is set to be played here at the St. Regis Hotel in Dana Point. And it kinda is. At least in our little corner of the universe.

  The shoot was pretty simple: one table, four chairs. And a pancake light. And a track dolly. And a man to push said track dolly. And an expensive camera. And a few more expensive cameras. And a hidden A/V HQ. And months of prepping, poking, prodding and harrassing to get these guys to show. Photo: Joanna Miriam

There's one solitary four-foot round table smack in the middle of a 100x100-foot empty ballroom. Four chairs, four glasses of water, a pancake light hanging overhead. The only other thing in the room is a little A/V area cordoned off by a dark curtain. Exit signs are blacked out.

There's a track running about eight feet around the table with a dolly and a cameraman and a guy pushing said cameraman slowly around the circle. Each time the door opens, we half expect Tony Soprano to come sauntering in. Around 9:15am, the door opens again. And instead of Mr. Soprano, Kelly strolls in, looking at his phone. (He's often looking at his phone.)

Parko, Mick, CJ, Kelly -- the gang's all here. The 21-Century World Champs. (Minus Sunny, who was on a surf trip. And Andy. But, as the morning wears on, it's clear he's here in spirit. Certainly in stories. Especially in stories.)

"I think to be the best you can be at something, you've got to have a little bit of obsession in you about it."
-- Kelly Slater

To be clear: the amount of media these guys have done over the past decade would fill an entire month of non-stop YouTube watching. But this is a little different. The goal is not to have an interviewer/interviewee one-on-one dynamic -- seen and done a million times -- but to have 'em sit down and talk to each other. Candidly, if possible. We suggest topics, ask questions, and then get the heck out of the way. Goal: to be a fly on the wall while these guys sit down for a couple-hour relatively freeform conversation.

Because here's the thing: despite the whims of groovy freesurfers and exotic trips and all the extraneous fashionable stuff that happens in surfing, being a world champ means something. The amount of time, dedication, talent and sacrifice these guys have made in their careers makes them uniquely qualified to talk about the sport. Which is exactly what happens.

Over the course of the session, the conversation ranges from Andy to Dane, from the rise of coaching, to the demands of a world title, from whether it used to be harder on tour, to favorite contest memories. Occasionally, things trail off into minutiae. And yeah, we asked a couple dumb questions. But basically, these four guys - who likely haven't sat at a table together for a really long time - chatted the way you'd hope a bunch of world champs would chat. Smart. Funny. Knowledgeable. And occasionally a bit intense.

As Kelly said, "I think to be the best you can be at something, you've got to have a little bit of obsession in you about it." 

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