- WSL / Tony Heff

There's never been a surfer like Kelly Slater. As the 11-time World Champion celebrates crossing the half century mark, he's fresh off of what he calls "the best win of my life."

In a life full of big wins and huge moments, that's a considerable statement from the venerated GOAT -- Greatest Of All Time -- after becoming a Pipeline champion for a record eighth time.

Somewhere along the road that's seen Slater amass a record 56 Championship Tour victories, he remarked, "I want to surf better tomorrow. I want to surf better in 10 years. When I'm 50, I want to be a better surfer than I am now -- for me, it's a lifelong journey."

And after decimating a field of the world's best surfers at the recent Billabong Pro Pipeline, we may in fact be seeing peak Slater at 50 years old. For context, consider that none of the surfers left in the draw on Finals day had even been born when Slater won his first Pipe championship back in 1992.

Celebrating The Legacy Of Kelly Slater On His 50th Birthday
Championship Tour surfers with the GOAT a very special happy birthday as he turns 50 years young.

It's unclear where Slater's odyssey leads him from here, but holding onto the yellow leader jersey for the first time in nearly 10 years, should he choose to chase a 12th World Title this season, there's absolutely no doubt he can still contend. And after what we saw at Pipe, who knows, he could still be getting better?

Slater has been compared to a Formula 1 driver in the past, breaking performance barriers when the conditions are at their best. Which brings up the 2022 Championship Tour and stops at Dream Tour locations like Bells Beach, G-Land, J-Bay, Teahupoo and Lower Trestles. Slater has not only won at all those spots, but he's done so in history-making fashion.

Slater's first win at Bells came in 1994. Adding his name to the iconic trophy four times, his last was in 2010.

He took the win at the first-ever G-Land contest in '95 (beating California's Jeff Booth in the Final). He's the only surfer currently on the CT to have competed at the Indonesian reef.

In 2006, he famously handled arch-rival Andy Irons at J-Bay. And in 2008 he came back again and beat Mick Fanning there.

Finals Day Highlights - Kelly Slater Reminds The World Why He's Still The Best
From the first heat of the day to the last, the 11-time World Champ was on a mission at the Billabong Pro Pipeline.

And then there's his unique relationship with Teahupoo -- the scene of his last Championship Tour victory in 2016 before last week's win at Pipe -- as he's made some serious magic out there, going so far as to post a perfect 20-point heat and celebrating by shotgunning a Hinano in the barrel.

And that's just scratching the surface when it comes to Slater. The youngest and oldest men's World Champ, he was born in the relative backwater of Cocoa Beach, Florida, on February 11, 1972. It didn't take long for his kindred relationship with the sea to get noticed.

Flying through the amateur U.S. ranks, in 1990 Slater landed on the cobblestones of Lower Trestles for the Body Glove Surfbout where, on the beach, he inked pro surfing's biggest contract at the time, a purported million-dollar deal with Quiksilver.

The Richard Woolcot film, ‘Kelly Slater In Black And White' detailed the moment. "It's the morning of the Final," mumbles a groggy teenage Slater from the Orange County floor he'd been sleeping on.

More than three decades later on a Saturday in January, Slater woke up to 8-to 10-foot surf cracking on the reef at Pipeline, his favorite wave in the world. Like a distant memory in an old photo album, a similar thought must have passed through his cerebral cortex: "It's the morning of the Final."

Kelly Slater Like Babe Ruth calling his shot, Slater steps onto the sand at Pipeline. - WSL / Tony Heff

By the afternoon, with tears in his eyes and his eighth Pipe win in the books, Slater had proved that when it comes to surfing, age is only a number. It seemed to be the perfect capstone to what's been long considered the greatest career in the history of the sport.

"I've hated lots of it, but I'll just savor this. It's the best win of my life," Slater said. "I don't know how many more of these are going to happen," he continued. "This honestly might be it, I might not show up to Sunset."

Slater doesn't have to show up at the next stop on Tour, the Hurley Pro Sunset Beach, to prove anything. At 50, holding practically every record in surf, he's good.

But then again, G-Land, J-Bay, Chopes, Lowers? Seems like there's more history he could chase if he so chooses.

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