In a career spanning over three decades, one that's seen 11 World Titles, 55 Championship Tour victories and the advent of the world's craziest wave pool, Kelly Slater continues to push surfing forward.
"Kelly actually might be one of the most underrated surfers, believe it or not. People overlook all his incredible moments as if they were normal. Maybe he has had too many of them. Like you almost expect incredible things," Kolohe Andino pondered back in 2013.
Now, less than a year shy of 50, here we are, talking about the GOAT once again. After his performance at the Jeep Surf Ranch Pro presented by Adobe, his first Championship Tour start since the Billabong Pipe Masters presented by Hydro Flask back in December (where he finished third), Slater has climbed nine spots on the WSL Leaderboard and now sits at 22nd.
With two more events left this season in Mexico and Tahiti, not only does he look like he may be able to requalify for the 2022 CT without depending on an injury wildcard, but he could do some serious damage to the current rhythm and flow of the leaderboard.
For starters, Slater will be going into these next couple events as a lower seed, meaning he'll meet more of the top-ranked surfers in the earlier rounds. This gets up a prime scenario for a role he hasn't experienced much in his career: "Slater The Spoiler."
Let's start with what's under his feet. There's always the distraction and energy around what Slater will be riding. The first event of the 2021 season saw him a 5'6" twin-fin at Backdoor with some success.
Most recently, he appeared in an expression session heat at the USA Surfing Championships and rode another 5'6" in the chunky four- to six-foot surf. An experimental machine shaped by Akila Aipa, the board was made with a stringerless blank from Brazil, then wrapped in black carbon and vacuum laminated. It also had Aipa's preferred fins setup versus Slater's go-to fins. It was the first time Slater rode the board, and if it's any indication of what he may bring down to Mexico, he'll be looking fast, free and loose.
Statistically speaking, Slater's one of two surfers on Tour today that's actually competed at Barra De La Cruz. He made the Quarters back in 2006, losing to Taylor Knox. When you think of Slater's strengths, speedy right-points with running barrel sections are pretty close to the top of the list. Just look at the wave he engineered in Lemoore. Often compared to Snapper Rocks back during the Super Bank days, the Surf Ranch also has some serious shades of Barra when the sand and swell are just right there.
Then there's Tahiti. Starting with his millennium win in 2000, Slater's won at Teahupo'o a record five times. His last win came in 2016, which was also his last CT victory. He wins 80-percent of the heats he surfs with an average heat score of 17 points. He's posted seven 10-point rides and has beat everyone from Shane Dorian to John John Florence there. Always the competitor, you just know he'd love to get the chance to go toe to toe with Gabe Medina on a pumping day at The End Of The Road.
There's going to be a lot of number crunching going on over the course of the next two events, and Slater is almost as good a mathematician as he is a surfer. He knows exactly what he needs to do to achieve whatever it is he feels he still needs to prove. Watching him in the role of the hunter, Slater The Spoiler, that's going to be a lot of fun for everyone ... unless you're in a heat with him.
Stay tuned for the Corona Open Mexico presented by Quiksilver kicking off August 10, 2021.