There is nothing stopping Kelly Slater. Just 6 days before his 50th birthday he won the first event on this years professional surfing calendar, the Pipeline Masters, beating Hawaiian local Seth Moniz in the final. This would be his 8th victory at Pipe and the 56th of his long and illustrious career. His last win came in Tahiti in 2016. This victory places him at number one in the world as the WSL commences its new season.
In his prize giving speech, an emotional Slater said that it would probably be it for him. It was unlikely he was going to compete at the next stop on the tour, the Hurley Pro at Sunset Beach in Hawaii.
“I committed my life to this, to all of this, all the winning, all the heartbreak. All this crap. You know I’ve hated lots of it. But I just saviour this.This is the best win of my life.” Slater proclaimed while trying to hold back the tears.
Since the event and Slater’s 50th birthday, it appears the surfing powerhouse has changed his mind on retirement. In an interview with WSL he was asked if he had reconsidered competing for another world title this year to which he answered:
“Yeah, I’m planning to go to all the stops this year. I think I’m just committed. I haven’t really had a full year on tour in like five years. Last year I got injured again right before Australia, so I missed those four events.”
On whether he can contend for a world title in 2022:
“I know I have work to do. I’m nowhere close to it. Being there. I know I gotta put in a lot of work between now and the end of the year. I know I gotta make that top five. I’d like to try to win a couple of contests this year now that I have that confidence back and the understanding of how to do that and the belief that it can happen. Getting to Trestles is, it would be, a bittersweet finish for me. You know, eventually this is going to end. Eventually this is going to end and there will be some sadness, but I’ll also be relieved.”
Hailing from Cocoa Beach in Florida, Slater spent much of his childhood at the beach to escape an unpleasant home life which would see his parents eventually get divorced.
Florida is not known for having very good waves, and thus it was often implied that Slater lacked the ability as a junior to surf well in large, powerful waves such as the Banzai Pipeline. As he began to travel around the US as a junior, it quickly become apparent that his immense skill as a surfer transcended all wave types.
Slater’s dominant attitude and competitive spirit saw him develop some epic surfing rivalries along the way with the likes of Tom Curren, Mark Occhilupo and most notably the late Andy Irons. Kelly’s rivarly wihth Andy is still talked about today as being one of the most epic rivalries in the history of surfing.
He also endured his fair share of denigration. After winning the the Tahiti Pro in 2005 Damien Hobgood, who lost to Slater in the final, felt that Kelly chose to claim victory in bad spirit by getting barrelled with a beer in his hand.
Like most criticisms Slater has received over the years, he brushed if it off, cleverly letting it subside out of the media spotlight. If Slater can indeed capture a world title in 2022 at the age 50, that will surely be a record unlikely to ever be broken.