Let’s be real: nobody is ever going to get near Slater’s 11 world titles. If professional surfing somehow survived another 5,000 years in its present form (yeah right, the Android Wave Pool League is probably right around the corner), then Slater’s 11 titles would still be seen as the greatest achievement by a (human) surfer in history. Greatest. Of. All. Time. No question.
So it seems rather odd, then, that when lesser surfers find themselves briefly basking in the warm glow of the spotlight, Slater often steps in and yanks it in another direction. Surely for the GOAT, any happenings among mere mortal surfers would be small peanuts, right?
The most recent example happened yesterday at the Corona Open J-Bay when one-time World Champion Joel Parkinson announced his retirement from the World Tour after nearly two decades of elite-level competition. You could see the storm of adoration and well wishing from fans and friends coming a mile away, but before anyone could even think of a #CheersParko retirement hashtag, Slater went ahead and announced his own retirement…at the end of the 2019 season (the WSL has since taken down their post with the announcement).
It probably shouldn’t be surprising, though. In fact, Slater’s knack for stealing another surfer’s thunder might only be surpassed by his ability to win world titles. I won’t pretend to know the GOAT’s motivations for doing so, but I will list the recent highlights. Please enjoy.
1) Revealing the Surf Ranch the day after Adriano de Souza’s world title win
Remember when the scrappy Brazilian underdog clawed his way to a world title in 2015 when the entire surf world thought it would go to Mick Fanning? No? That’s fine, most people don’t. That’s because on December 18, 2015, exactly one day after Adriano gave his tearful title acceptance speech, Slater released the video above, effectively erasing any memory of the title and turning surfing into the pool-laden science fiction film that we’ve been living in ever since. The pool was probably years in the making, but I guess that day just felt right for the unveiling. Sorry Adriano.
2) Announcing his retirement right after Parko announced his own
The Cooly Kid has a deep connection to Jeffreys Bay, having won the event there 19 years ago in the early days of his storied career, and has put on no shortage of masterful performances on the South African walls over the years. So the timing felt right for him to announce his post-Pipe retirement there and at that moment. Slater on the other hand, who won’t be throwing in the towel until the end of 2019, not so much.
3) “I might have been that guy right there” after Mick’s J-Bay shark attack
In the immediate aftermath of Mick Fanning’s shocking shark encounter in the final of the 2015 J-Bay event, Fanning gave an interview to the WSL, then fellow finalist Julian Wilson gave his perspective, and then…Kelly Slater? Yep, although he wasn’t in the final and only saw the attack on replay after, he still explained how the attack nearly happened to him. “It was actually surreal to me,” Slater told WSL commentator Ronnie Blakey. “Because I was just coming on the beach, and obviously if I’d been more patient I might have got Mick’s good one at the end--I might have been that guy right there.”
4) The time he really didn’t want to let go of Andy Irons’ 2003 Title trophy
You’ll have to jump into the way, way back machine for this one. According to those on the beach at Pipe the day that Andy Irons claimed his second world title in a heated showdown with Slater, things got a bit weird during the prize giving ceremony. Apparently, Slater held onto the title trophy for an awkwardly long time while speaking to the crowd about his own experience on Tour that year before finally handing it to Irons, who proceeded to hoist it up to raucous applause.
5) Praising Jordy Smith when John John won his first title
More of a spotlight diversion than a full steal, but in the wake of JJF’s 2016 World Title win, Slater took to Instagram to praise World No. 2 Jordy Smith. Sure, Slater gave JJF props in another Instagram post earlier that day, calling his title win “an unavoidable fate.” But there was still something odd about following that by saying about Jordy, “Nobody combines all technical and power surfing elements better. #BestVideoParts on earth, IMO.” Good natured congrats to the runner up? Subtle jab at the new champ? Who knows, but a tiny bit of thunder just left John John’s corner.