After 30 years on Championship Tour, the GOAT missed midseason cut, but was awarded a wildcard
For the first time since joining the Championship Tour in 1991, 11-time world champion Kelly Slater fell off the tour—that is, until the World Surf League awarded him a wildcard spot, keeping his hopes of another championship run alive.
With the WSL implementing a midseason cutoff this year, Slater’s loss to Australian Liam O’Brien in Round 3 of the Margaret River Pro meant, at the time, that he wouldn’t be around for the second half of the 2023 season.
“It is what it is,” Slater explained in his post-heat interview from Western Australia. “Everyone is surfing good on this tour; everyone knows how to surf a heat.”
Typically, Slater is tight-lipped about his competitive future, but with the 2024 Olympic Games not far off, there is still potential that the greatest competitive surfer could represent the Red, White & Blue in Paris next summer if all the right pieces fall into place.
Rumblings around the surf world had called on the WSL to grant 51-year-old Slater wildcards into the remaining WSL Championship Tour events. Those calls paid off, as the WSL announced on Wednesday, April 26, that Slater and Johanne Defay of France were awarded the wildcards.
With Slater allowed entry into the Championship Tour, he remains in the hunt to chase after his 12th world title.
Both Slater and Defay will continue earning ranking points for the rest of the season. Should either earn some big results, there’s a potential scenario in which they could snag one of the final five spots—five men and five women—in the Rip Curl Finals that will be contested at Lower Trestles this September.
Wherever Slater goes from here, he already stands as unquestionably the most dominant competitor the sport of surfing has ever seen, as well as one of sport’s greatest champions.
Winning his first pro event at the Body Glove Surfbout at Lower Trestles in 1990, the man has stood at the pinnacle of wave-riding for more than 30 years. After his stint on the hit TV show Baywatch and being named one of People Magazine’s Sexiest Men alive in 1994, Slater rattled off five straight world titles—breaking Aussie Mark Richards’ record of four in the process.
By ’98, Slater had more than lived up to the hype and decided to take a hiatus from tour life. Retiring for a couple years at the turn of the century, he returned to competition in 2002, just in time to spark the greatest rivalry that surfing’s ever seen with Hawaii’s three-time world champ Andy Irons.
Their battles are now the stuff of legend, with Slater playing the part of the fan-favorite white knight, while Irons reveled in his role as the black knight, or people’s champ. Their rivalry took the sport to never-before-seen heights and transcended surfing.
Slater’s last world title came in 2011, while the last of his 56 Championship Tour victories came with a historic win at Pipeline in 2022.
“I committed my life to this,” Slater said afterward with a tear in his eye. “To all of this. To all of the heartbreak and winning and all this crap, you know, I’ve hated lots of it, but I savor this, and this is the best win of my life.”
Outside of the competitive arena, Slater’s impacted the business of surfing in myriad ways. Inking the first million-dollar contract with Quiksilver in 1990, he parted ways 25 years later to pursue a more sustainable, environmentally friendly apparel alternative and launch Outerknown.
Dedicated to making the world a better place, he also launched Slater Designs, a surfboard company with a sustainability focus.
In 2015, Slater unveiled a revolutionary wave pool that he co-created with a team of scientists and engineers. Built in California’s Central Valley, it opened the world’s eyes to what was possible in a freshwater environment. The gold standard for man-made perfection, the wave pool arms race has only escalated since then.
However the rest of the season plays out for Slater, surfers around the world owe the man a huge debt of gratitude for giving us his everything, keeping us entertained and proving that dreams can be realized if one dedicates themselves to chasing them.
Thanks for it all, Kelly.
Discussion about this post