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Beach Grit

Opinion: The Terrible Legacy of Kelly Slater

Derek Rielly

by Derek Rielly

Or seven ways the greatest surfer ever ruined surfing… 

In Feb, Kelly Slater will hit 43. That ain’t news.

But what will be news is when Taj Burrow, 37 next season, officially takes the crown as the  Oldest Surfer on Tour. ‘Cause KS won’t be at the Quiksilver Pro.

Bells? Fuck no. Fiji, yeah, of course, who else is Lips Roseman going to have on his ski, Tahiti, yeah, Trestles, maybe, depending on how it looks this year, and then Pipe.

Because the sun must set on all empires, as it set on the British, the Ottoman and the French. And so next year, pro surfing will be without its great leader, the man who became, in 1992, the youngest ever world champion (20) and in 2011, on the precipice of middle age, the oldest.

But it all came at a price. Surfing? Ruined. You want a legacy of terrible?

1. He increased the retirement age by 100%

When Martin Potter won his world title in 1989, aged 24, he correctly recognised he was in the twilight of his career and soon retired. Kelly Slater, meanwhile, has slugged it out, and finished top two or better, mostly, in nearly every year he’s had a swing at the tour. For quarter of a century. Most pro’s could look forward to five years at the top then a long, sublime retirement as sales reps or as the principals of regional surf schools. Now? There ain’t no rest until the hair’s grey (or gone) and the body soft and beyond the middle age. Where’s the fun in making a million bucks a year for travelling the world your whole working life?

2. He confused the hell out of board design

It used to be so easy. Three fins. Squash tail. Something around six-two. Quads? Hadn’t they been tried and discarded in the eighties? Sub-six foot surfboards? Wasn’t that a quirk of the seventies? Kelly proved everything was rideable. But only by he.

3. Records? They ain’t going anywhere

Seven years ago, Kelly blew past Tom Curren’s record for event wins. Tom had 33. Kelly’s now at 54. Do you know what it’s going to take for anyone to amass that kinda haul? Or 11 world titles? It’ll happen, of course. All records smash. But the surfer who’s going to do it hasn’t been born yet. And you and I’ll be dead by the time this guy gets close.

4. He proved even world champs are duds at marketing

Sales used to be so easy! Get an endorsement from a world champ and watch the shekels pile up. But Kelly, from the Wizard Sleeve to the grim palette of his VSTR label, proved you can be the best in the world, handsome beyond belief, articulate, and just lovely as hell, and still stink in the market place. You think Quiksilver would’ve played such hardball if the trunks were selling?

5. He was the catalyst for the hipster-longboard movement

What are you going to do when you’re a 16-year-old pro surfer but you realise you’re never going to get close to the world champ? Ah! Ride a longboard! Grow hair! Experiment with heroin (but only smoke)! Pretend you don’t care! (But really do.) Join band! Feedback! Disappear from surfing, aged 27.

6. He made Rob Machado retire

After 1995’s sucker punch, the best screwfoot ever on tour threw it in prematurely to become an advocate for…uh…awesomeness? Hurley’s harlequin trunks? A year younger than Kelly and retired for a dozen years already.

7. Taj’ll never get a world title cup for his Yallingup mansion

Rat on him on IG (“Why don’t you thank your girlfriend?”), sure, we understand, you’re emotional, it’s your gal’s lil sis, but ruin his home decor? Just plain cruel.