Icon Kelly Slater continues to inspire at 50

Far from slowing down, the all-time great is determined to write even more history in his illustrious legacy.

By Ash Tulloch
Picture by 2022 World Surf League

The name Kelly Slater is synonymous with surfing.

It is no exaggeration to say the sport would not be where it is today without the American.

For over three decades, Slater has been leading, inspiring, and winning all there is to win. He’s also not done yet.

As recent as February 2022, just days before his 50th birthday, the greatest surfer of all time stunned the world to win Pipeline in Hawaii. The win was heroic and historic for a myriad of reasons, including the fact it was his eighth Pipe Masters crown, 30 years after he won the contest for the very first time.

His longevity stems from a deep connection with the sport. Speaking with NPR, Slater said, “Surfing is my first love. It saved my life in a lot of ways. It is like a real interpersonal relationship with the ocean and with all the friends I've made.”

The numbers say it all

As far as achievements go - you name it, he has done it.

Eleven world titles, 56 World Championship tour victories and the record for being both the youngest (20 in 1992) and oldest (39 in 2011) overall champion.

“I just know how to win,” Slater told the Washington Post. “I know what it takes.”

Injuries have seen him struggle in recent seasons, most notably in 2017 and 2018. He missed some of last year but impressed in the competitions he did take part in before returning to the summit in 2022.

While the numbers speak for themselves, the man himself is not finished writing his legacy’s story. He is keenly hunting his 12th world title and it is a real possibility given he is currently ranked number four in the world.

The future of surfing's king

Slater has called time on competing a few times but retirement has never stuck.

In 2018, he said the 2019 season would be his last. But here we are in 2022 with Slater still competing midway through the WSL Championship Tour season.

Asked about retirement after his February victory in Hawaii, Slater told NPR he has been contemplating it but said, "It's that never-ending question for an athlete, because if you're able to win, you're still at a top level or high level.

“I actually said if I won this event, I was going to walk away and retire right then. Part of me thought that I was going to do that. But I also told myself I was going to go surf this last year on tour and go say thank you and goodbye to everyone who has supported me along the way. And I think that's a bigger picture for me."

One thing is for sure, competing or not - Slater will never be far away from a surfboard.

“Everyone who retires from surfing just goes surfing more,” Slater says.

Slater integral to surfing's evolution

There is no doubt Slater has been instrumental in evolving the sport of surfing to where it is today.

Beyond progressing the sport's skill level, he has been the leader in wave pool innovation technology with his artificial Surf Ranch a world first.

For all the good times and the winning, there have also been sacrifices. It is fair to say, surfing has been his life’s work.

Speaking to the WSL after his recent victory, an emotional Slater  said, "I committed my life to this you know, to all of this. All the heartbreak, and the winning and all this crap. I've hated lots of it, but I'll just savour this. It's the best win of my life."

It is clear there’s still a fire burning within.

“I feel like something kind of overtakes me and it’s almost like my avatar, when I really get in the zone. I get such an intense focus that it almost feels out of body for me.

“I guess it feels like my evil twin. To some degree, I feel like it’s this different sort of alpha male inside of me that comes out that has a lot less fear and inhibitions about choices and decisions and stuff,” said Slater.

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