A victory at the Outerknown Pro, the event he sponsors, could provide the ultimate mic drop moment. Is this Kelly’s last competitive stand?
Kelly Slater stands on the precipice of making surfing history and the end of his competitive career. The 50-year-old is now just three heat wins away from claiming his sixth CT title at Teahupo’o. Kelly can’t make it into the top 5 and the WSL Finals, but a win at the Outerknown Pro Tahiti would surely provide the almost perfect ending to one of sport’s longest runs at the top?
A win in Tahiti would add to the titles he claimed here in 2000, 2003, 2005, 2011, and 2016. It would also bookend a year that saw him start with victory at the Pipeline Masters. That victory elevated his hopes of making the WSL Finals at Trestles, and with it the chance of claiming a 12th World Title. However, a poor run of results in Australia and Europe, saw the ultimate fairytale dream vanish.
However, with an incredible display of tuberiding yesterday in maxing Teahupo’o, Slater has given himself a credible shot of another CT victory. A win here just might provide the timing for the perfect mic drop, and an exit stage left.
Mind you, as ever when it comes to Slater’s retirement plans, he has remained suitably cryptic. Kelly and competitive surfing have had a “will they or won’t they?” relationship for almost a decade. There’s obvious unresolved sexual tension, and surf fans simply must watch on and see whether Kelly can resist going into a full-blown relationship, or simply walk away. There’s an alternate scenario where a 56th CT victory in Tahiti tonight might provide him with the confidence and motivation to launch another World Title campaign in 2023.
Win or lose though, Kelly’s ‘Greatest of All Time’ status in surfing is undisputed, as is his place in the pantheon of world sport. His longevity and dominance have placed him in a very elite pack of athletes. As he has transcended his sport, the comparisons between stars in other sports have been inevitable. In 2011, GQ listed him as one of the 25 coolest athletes of all time – joining the likes of Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Björn Borg, and Arnold Palmer. Comparisons with Tom Brady, five years his junior, also resurfaced after Brady won a record sixth Superbowl at the age of 42 last year.
“You know, that stuff comes up,” Slater told Wavelength in Portugal earlier this year, “but it’s a conversation I prefer not to have. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. I’ve just dedicated myself to the sport I love, and since I was a kid I’ve been able to spend most of my energy trying to improve the way I surf and the way I compete.”
Tonight European time though, we could perhaps see the end of that three-decade-long competitive journey. It would be hard to create a better platform for a retirement announcement than by winning at a wave he loves, at an event he has dominated, and that his company sponsors.
Could we be about to witness Kelly’s Last Stand…..?
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