Five reasons why the tour will get the shakes without the greatest athlete in history…
More likely than not, Kelly Slater, 43-and-a-half years old, will step away from the pro tour after Pipe.
It’s never that easy with Kelly. He’s been threatening to leave since he came back from retirement in 2002 (he finished ninth) after a three-year sabbatical.
However, 2015 is different. His small-wave game is shadowed by the barely believable histrionics of Filipe Toledo, Gabriel Medina and John John Florence. Kelly is smarter than most. He’ll preserve his legacy and step off the tour in 2015 rated second or third in the world, a result that will surprise even him this year.
He won’t disappear, of course. Kelly’ll appear, in 2016, at those events at which he excels, Fiji, Teahupoo, and will hover around the commentary booth.
But how will the tour look without Kelly Slater? Can it even survive? Let’s examine the five issues that’ll arise once Kelly splits.
1. Will the title matter?
Isn’t it something that Kelly is only a few thousand points off the title, well into his middle age, those harvest years? Let’s swing back to the years when Kelly wasn’t on tour, 1999, 2000 and 2001. In 1999 Occy won the title, Sunny got it the following year and CJ, in the abbreviated year of terrorism, the year after. Two of those titles went surfers far beyond their primes; the other was an anomaly of a six-event year.
Compare those titles to Andy’s three consecutive crowns fought against Slater. In 2016, without Kelly, the title will be the most open it’s been in a decade-and-a-half. But there’ll be a shadow of doubt on the winner.
As in, could he have beaten Kelly?
2. You can forget about the voodoo that strikes you in the heart
John John is very close to miraculous at Teahupoo and wherever else (yeah, ok, France). But it’s Kelly, who like Tom Curren a generation before him, who’ll conjure a 10-foot standup barrel where others were falling off in closeouts. Who’ll nail a full rotation in a stinging offshore to beat whoever he has to. It’s in Kelly’s fight-to-the-death nature. No other surfer has anything close to Kelly’s desire to win.
3. It helps if the Champ is lucid
Apart from being movie-star handsome, Kelly Slater is also the smartest guy on tour, a little too hot for conspiracy theories but nobody’s perfect. And so after a heat, or a contest, win or lose, Kelly will dissect in forensic detail his heat or event. He’ll push back on a commentator if they’re wrong and answer tough questions if he feels they’re warranted. And that passive-aggressiveness when he loses?Priceless! There is no other surfer on tour even close to Kelly when it comes to opening their mouths.
4. You can forget the mainstream coverage
News outlets can jam a story around the hub of Kelly Slater, the oldest athlete still shooting for world titles, former lover of Pam, Baywatch, slayer of the Andy dragon, committed bachelor, all that gear, whereas a piece about two 22-year-olds without much beyond their athletic ability, just doesn’t fly.
5. Kelly spikes
YouTube hits, crowds on the beach, everyone comes for Kelly. Take the Orca out of the marine park and all you’ve got is a pool full of jumping fish.
(Now let’s watch his world title interview in 1992)
(And world title 11 in 2011)