Sport

LAST WAVE

Surfing great Kelly Slater bows out after missing World Tour cut

Surfing great Kelly Slater bows out after missing World Tour cut
Kelly Slater rides in a barrel wave during the WSL Tahiti Pro event in Teahupo'o, French Polynesia, on 15 August 2023. (Photo: Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)

Kelly Slater, the greatest professional surfer of all time, said ‘everything must come to an end’ after his final season of full-time competition on the World Tour came to a close with defeat at the Western Australia Margaret River Pro on Tuesday.

Slater’s loss to current ratings leader Griffin Colapinto in the round of 32 meant the 52-year-old missed the mid-season cut that reduced the field of the top-tier World Tour by one-third.

While the 11-time world champion did not officially announce his retirement, Slater said he was heading into a new chapter of his life.

“Everything comes to an end, and if you don’t adapt, you don’t survive,” said Slater, who is awaiting the birth of his second child. “My motivation just hasn’t quite been there to really put in that 100% that everyone is doing now.”

Slater said he had struggled to recover from injuries and surgery in the off-season and broke down after the second event of the year at Sunset Beach, where he told his partner: “This feels like the end.”

Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater before his opening-round heat during the SHISEIDO Tahiti Pro in Teahupo’o, French Polynesia, on 11 August 2023. (Photo: Ryan Pierse / Getty Images)

Fighting back tears after being carried up the beach stairs by fans following his loss on Tuesday, Slater said he had put so much emotion and dedication into his remarkable three-decade career.

“It’s not all roses, you know, but it’s been the best time of my life,” he added.

Unrivalled contribution

Slater’s contribution to the sport is unrivalled.

He became surfing’s youngest world champion at 20 in 1992 and its oldest at 39 in 2011.

He earned a record 56 World Tour victories, including his last just before his 50th birthday at Hawaii’s infamous Pipeline, drawing comparisons with sporting greats such as Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Slater redefined the sport in the 1990s, bringing a new era of explosive, fast-paced surfing with radical new aerial manoeuvres and deep, technical tube riding.

Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater of the US surfs in the first heat during the 2024 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach in Bells Beach, Australia, on 26 March 2024. (Photo: Morgan Hancock / Getty Images)

Kelly Slater prepares to enter the water during the 2024 Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach in Australia on 26 March 2024. (Photo: Morgan Hancock / Getty Images)

He also rode the waves of fame as professional surfing’s popularity exploded at that time.

Forming friendships with movie stars such as Bill Murray and musicians including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder, Slater appeared on numerous magazine covers and had a role on the hit show Baywatch whose star, Pamela Anderson, he dated.

Born Robert Kelly Slater in Cocoa Beach, Florida, in 1972, Slater was talked about as a future world champ as a teenager and won six world titles, including five in a row, before his first attempt at retiring in 1999.

He returned to the tour in 2002, establishing a fierce rivalry with the late three-time world champion Andy Irons from Hawaii.

Slater went on to win a further five titles and has remained a threat against the best.

“You know why I was the best competitor ever?” Slater told two-time world champion Tom Carroll during the last event at Bells Beach.

“Because my heart was stone and nothing was going to pierce it. I think people don’t understand what a life it’s been, this tour… I really don’t care about the contests very much now, it’s more just the memories, the experiences, the richness to my life.” Reuters/DM

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