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Star Slater gets royal treatment on return to the surf
Star Slater gets royal treatment on return to the surf

As Kelly Slater's minder cleared a path through the hundreds of onlookers towards the surf off Margaret River, Keith Halnan saw his chance.

"You want some scallops again this year, mate," the local fisherman and keen surfer shouted from his merchandise stand.

He may have been heading out to compete in his first heat but Slater, the man with the million-dollar looks and $22 million fortune, was relaxed enough to glance towards Mr Halnan, smile and nod.

At the same event a year earlier, Mr Halnan had made the same offer and Slater lapped it up.

This is what it's like when the surfing legend comes to town.

Everyone clears a path, holds up their cameras and makes whatever offer they can.

When he hasn't been surfing, Slater has spent the past four days enjoying everything West Australians love about Margaret River.

By his side has been 20-year-old girlfriend Kalani Miller, members of Slater's Quiksilver team, security and friends, who have all been put up at a stunning Gnarabup property courtesy of Tourism WA and Surfing WA.

Earlier in the week, the Slater circus started when he and his entourage arrived from the Gold Coast under the cover of darkness, desperate not to be hunted by the media or mobbed by fans. It was an exercise that was always going to prove futile.

As he took to the water for the first time on Tuesday, hundreds of fans and onlookers stood on the grassy bank at Surfer's Point to see Slater, 40, perform in his first heat at the Telstra Drug Aware Pro.

Those numbers grew for each heat that followed, with commentators even joking that every worker in town had left early or taken an extended "smoko" to catch Slater in action. Fans rushed to get their glimpse, took pictures and yelled encouragement every time he tried to walk through the crowd towards the beach.

After a disappointing 2011 event, Slater appeared far more relaxed this time around. One young surfer at Gas Bay, so the rumours went, was left starstruck as Slater paddled out to join him for a casual surf one afternoon this week.

But the competitive streak that has seen him snare 11 world titles was back on display yesterday when he hit his board against the beach platform railing after being eliminated by Tom Whitaker.

Event organiser Surfing WA ensured Slater and his party were taken care of, and then some.

They knew he had returned as much for the laidback atmosphere and lifestyle of Margaret River than any financial incentive.

Local chef Andrea Ilott, from The Larder restaurant, catered for his healthy diet.

He was given access to jetskis and transport to local surf breaks.

On Thursday, Slater, Miller and her sister Oleema, the girlfriend of Australian surfing star Taj Burrow, and friends spent the afternoon wine-tasting at Xanadu Wines, with Miller tweeting a picture of herself enjoying a glass of red.

Both Miller and Slater are active social media users and made their enjoyment well known via Twitter throughout the week.

It's not just surf fans who have been excited about the presence of surfing royalty. Tourism WA chief executive Stephanie Buckland said Slater had enormous pulling power that transcended the surfing community. <div class="endnote">

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