Watching the professional surfing in Brazil recently and it was amazing to see 11-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater still paddling around terrorising competitors half his age.
Half his age… I’m deadly serious. At the age of 47, he is not just one of the oldest surfers but one of the oldest professional athletes on the planet. After a stellar junior career, he started professional surfing in 1990 the same year that the Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela was finally released from prison and Cheers was the most popular show on television.
Two years later Slater won his first professional event, the Rip Curl Pro in France and he has basically been competing (bar injury) on a regular basis since then.
Along the way Slater has won 11 world professional surfing titles (he was the youngest World Champ in 1992) and 55 professional tour events.
Slater won his 11th world title in 2011 at the age of 39. In an age when most of the current pro surfers are aged 20-25, for Slater to still be surfing competitively at the age of 47 (with no signs of slowing down) is incredible.
The recent contest at J-Bay in South Africa was a classic example. Slater easily made it through to the final round of 16 surfing with speed and flair. In this round, he came up against Brazil’s Italo Ferreira who has been surfing out of his skin all year (Ferreira would go on and meet Gabriel Medina in the final two days later).
Slater paddled out on a very short board which he struggled to paddle into waves (he fell on his first two rides). When he got going Slater was still able to carve with the best of them but a lack of good wave choice (and possibly equipment) meant he was just knocked out by Ferreira (Slater only needed a 6.97 to beat Ferreira).
If you get a chance this year try and catch Slater competing at the last remaining events. He will go down in the history of surfing as one of the greats (he should also go down in the history of world sport as one of the greatest athletes the world has ever seen).
Let’s hope Slater comes down to Bells Beach next year for one more crack at the Rip Curl Pro. He has three Bells trophies at home while a fourth sits in the Australian National Surfing Museum in Torquay.
Imagine a fifth at the age of 48…. that would be something.
Written by John Foss