Kelly Slater agrees to surf professionally until he reaches the half century mark!
Five years ago I met Matt Warshaw. He had written a gorgeous piece in The New York Times imploring Kelly Slater to hang it up after ten world titles and go out at his peak:
It’s been pointed out that a lot of the people who want Slater to continue are older surfers, people who need him out there performing for the same reason a few million baby boomers need the Rolling Stones out there performing — because, illusion or not, it keeps the flame of youth alive.
Hell, I’m old. I’m 50. And I say to Kelly Slater: give us a wave and a smile and walk away. Do the thing that virtually every other sports legend, from Ali to Armstrong, has been unable to do. Go out on top. Nobody’s getting close to that record. Not in your lifetime, and probably not ever.
I countered in the equally impressive Surfing Magazine with some foolishness about how Kelly should never retire:
Truth be told, Robert Kelly Slater is aging better than any living man. Better than Brad Pitt, better than George Clooney. Better than Keith Richards. He is immune to skin-crinkling UV rays. He is immune to moisture-sapping salt. His eyes, and I swear this is true, get bluer and bluer each time we speak. His skin a more even caramel. He is a perfect stasis of gravitas and youthful charm. He is wisdom and vigor. And it would be a mortal sin to deprive a surf public of that sort of genuine handsome. It would be a mortal sin to leave us with Heitor Alves.
I believed it at the time and it was worth writing because Matt and I had a good laugh about it in person and are now fast friends. This year, though, I’ve wavered before jumping completely into the camp that his career is over and watching the slow death is too sad.
But yesterday! His boards look terrible but his surfing wasn’t bad and then that post-heat interview. Not often does the loser step up to Rosy Hodge’s hot mic. Not often to we see actual pain in the eyes, hear a voice searching for answers. Kelly’s graciousness in that moment made me remember what we are going to lose. It made me want to stave off his retirement for as long as we can. I’m going to pretend he will stay professional surfing until he hits the half century mark. Would you like to join me?