It was recently announced that 11x World Champion Kelly Slater will be surfing in the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro. More than just his "return to the Northern Beaches," this should come as an ominous sign to all Championship Tour competitors that Slater is taking on 2019 with a sharpened and invigorated focus.
At 47 years old, the first question is can he still compete?
Continuing to battle back from a broken foot that has hindered him for the better part of 18 months, Slater will be going up against surfers more than 20 years his junior when he steps on the QS stage. He only surfed in three CT contests in 2018, which means there may be some rust in his game.
He admitted that coming back last year at the Corona Open J-Bay - Men's was too soon, but then he managed 3rd place finishes at the Surf Ranch Pro and the Billabong Pipe Masters--one a small-wave, high-performance venue, the other a daunting and deadly reef break.
So yes, when Slater finds his groove he can still roll with the young guns. The next question is, how is his physical condition?
"I don't think I'm going to do the Pipe Pro, I think I'll focus on getting my body and mind prepared for 2019," Slater said at the Pipe Masters last December.
In fact, he did skip the Pipe Pro -- a contest he has won twice. By all appearances he has been dedicating himself to getting both his body and his equipment prepared for the rigors of a 2019 campaign. Social media captures of the man have him testing boards in varying conditions and fine tuning his act at the Surf Ranch, most recently with Kai Lenny and Dusty Payne.
At the Pipe Masters he explained how he was at a point where he could "pretty much surf every day and not get sore." That's another ominous sign for would-be rivals. A healthy and happy Slater is a dangerous Slater.
Finally, why surf a QS event at this stage in his career?
If he's pulling on a jersey, then he wants to win. Like a pro golfer playing in a warm up tournament before the Masters, the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro could serve as his warm up before the CT season kicks off with the Quiksilver Pro Gold Coast in April. It's a chance to get the adrenaline going and start focusing on winning heats.
He even said so much in his press statement, calling Manly "a nice warm up prior to jumping back on Tour full-time after close to a year and a half hiatus from competition."
Slater's not exactly renowned as a "QS grinder." Yes, he won in Manly in 1997, but that was over 20 years ago. Going back to 2011, he's only surfed in a handful of QS contests, most notably a win at the U.S. Open in Huntington Beach in 2011, his Pipe Pro victories in 2014 and 2016 and a mixed bag of Triple Crown results. Other than that, he's pretty much steered clear of the QS.
It would seem Slater is not doing the Manly contest to get a jump start on his 2019 QS ranking, rather he's sharpening his tools for the impending CT season. He's too competitive and his surfing is still too sharp to concede to a victory lap. Could he be eyeing a World Title run?