With the start of the Championship Tour set to kick off in Hawaii in December, we're taking a look at eight of the toughest competitors on Tour. To be the best you gotta beat the best, and these are the dreaded heat draws.
Kelly Slater's first Pipe Masters victory came in 1992. "Baby Got Back" by Sir Mix-a-Lot was on the Billboard charts, "A Few Good Men" with Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson was in theaters and Taylor Steele's "Momentum" was just lighting up VCRs.
In a statement-making performance that rattled the surfing establishment to its core, the kid from Florida beat World Champs Barton Lynch and Sunny Garcia, as well as Pipe specialist Liam McNamara in the Final. Slater's victory signaled that the dawning of the New School generation was at hand.
Nearly 30 years later, and thankfully our taste in music, movies and denim shorts has evolved, but one constant at Pipe over all that time has been Slater. Going from his first Pipe Masters appearance in 1991 through his last performance in 2019, he's finished fifth or better an astounding 21 times and owns a record seven Pipe Masters crowns. Nobody even comes close to that kind of longevity and dominance. Nobody.
The feat is even more impressive given Mainland Americans have won the Pipe Masters 10 times and Slater makes up 70-percent of that total. He's also a three-time Triple Crown winner, claiming his last title in 2019 at 47 years old (he also won in 1995 and 1998).
Like music and movies, the Slater of 2019 is a different animal than the Slater of 1992, but he must have tapped into the fountain of youth as his performances over the last five years at Pipe have been as on point as ever. In fact, unless you're a World Champion, he's almost unbeatable at the hallowed North Shore reef.
Going back to 2015, three of Slater's five loses have come at the hands of World Champions. And in 2018, he lost to Julian Wilson, who was embroiled in a World Title race against Gabriel Medina and ultimately finished the year ranked number two in the world.
In fact, Slater's worse result since 2015 came against Medina, who handed him a ninth-place finish in 2017.
Slater's only real shocker came in his 2019 Semifinal against Italo Ferreira where he tallied a very uncharacteristic 2.57 total heat score. But he still made the Semis and only ended up losing to the eventual World Champ.
So, how do you beat Slater at Pipe? In most cases it appears you don't. He's dedicated his life to surfing the place, owns a house on the beach there and has been posting wins and big results there for the last three decades.
Over the last few months, we've seen plenty of video footage of Slater getting barreled in Indo and it's clear that not only is his surfing in a really good place right now, but he's looking as fit, focused and formed out as we've ever seen him.
For the last few years we've been plagued by the questions, "Will this be Slater's last year on Tour?" and "Will he ever get a 12th World Title?"
With the Championship Tour kicking off on very comfortable ground for Slater this year, why wouldn't he be eyeing a start that could launch a storybook ending to his already historic career?