Kelly Slater, 2017 Surfer of the Year, still defining the sport in his mid-40s. Photo: Glaser
Kelly Slater, 2017 Surfer of the Year, still defining the sport in his mid-40s. Photo: Glaser

2017 Surfer of the Year: Kelly Slater

Unbelievably, Slater continues to find ways to shock the surf world

In a culture perpetually focused on what’s new and what’s next, it may seem somewhat strange that we’ve chosen Kelly Slater, a 45 year old man, as our inaugural Surfer of the Year--the surfer who had the biggest impact on surfing in 2017. Columns upon columns have been written about when, why, and how Slater should retire from competition, but here he is, still competing and still making a mark on the culture. Sure, he spent a good chunk of the WSL season hobbling around in a cast, not winning heats while nursing a very busted foot, ending the year ranked a very pedestrian 28th. But Slater could have sat out the entire the WSL season and still, he’d be our 2017 MVP. Hmm. Wonder why?

Oh, right, he perfected the potentially biggest development in surfing since humans figured out how to stand up on a wave-propelled surfcraft.

Just that.

When Slater freaked out the entire surf world--and the rest of the world as well, really--by unveiling what his engineers had been building at the Surf Ranch back in December, 2015, it was a mere hint of what was to come. An amuse-bouche. “Here you go, world. Taste the tiniest little bit of this most-miraculous piece of technology.” We liked it. Loved it, in fact. Wanted more. A lot more.

We got that in 2017.

In a flurry of late summer, early fall news releases, the Kelly Slater Wave Pool Company strode confidently into the future. In August, they applied for the necessary permits to not only open the Lemoore, Calif. pool to the public, but to install bleachers and infrastructure to, presumably host major events there. In September, a private-ish contest (brilliantly) called the Future Classic was held with the world’s best, and we, the public ate it up with a damn spoon. In October, boom, they announced their first expansion pool in Florida. November, buoyed by the success of the Future Classic, the WSL slapped a KSWC event into the 2018 World Championship Tour schedule.

Just like that, man-made waves leapt from the realm of fantasy, to potentially-cool-but-probably-a-far-flung novelty, to a part of the regular surf world. Or, at least, the contest world. But it’s here, now. Just like that. Slater did it.

John John florence, the golden boy, the undisputed best surfer on the planet, a surfer for whom world titles will likely come easily and largely unopposed until he becomes bored, won his second championship in a row. A rare feat, indeed. Tyler Wright surfed brilliantly and bravely and fended off a hungry charge of competitive masters to win her second world title. Many chargers charged many scary waves. Many new maneuvers were entered into the post-modern surfer’s toolkit. But we’ve seen all that before.

What we’ve never seen before is what Slater and his wave made very visible and very obvious this year. Make no mistake, the man-made wave will be a huge part of the surf world--competitive, recreational, retail, you name it--in the very, very near future. This wasn’t the little tantalizing peek behind the curtain we had in 2015. This was the record scratch of all record scratches.

2017 was the year Slater stepped into the waters of surf history and, once again, bent the flow in his direction.

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