Speculation regarding Kelly Slater's ability to win ten world titles is rampant. At tradeshow booths, in industry conference rooms, on airplane flights, and in the water people are excited. The Quiksilver/Slater $10 million challenge rumor has made its way around the surf world and has become conventional wisdom. Fact or fiction, most everyone seems to have heard about it, and most everyone thinks Slater should go for it. Ten world titles is hard to fathom. Almost unprecedented in the individual sports world. Tiger Woods has won seven PGA money titles. Lance Armstrong stopped at seven Tour de France titles. Dale Earnhardt earned seven NASCAR Winston Cup Championships. With ten world titles, Kelly Slater would ascend into rarified sports air.
But everyone is thinking ahead of themselves: Slater's ninth world title attempt is ten-times more important — to Kelly Slater and to the surf world — than number ten. If Kelly Slater wins his ninth WCT world title this year everybody wins — except Kelly Slater.
Right now Slater can walk away without a career blemish: eight world titles, an Eddie Aikua title, 15 SURFER Poll awards (and counting), a retirement comeback, numerous ASP records and a mantle full of commonplace MTV-type awards upon which he can hang his golf cap. Right now, with eight world titles, his career remains unsullied – sparkling.
But with nine world titles the pressure is squarely on the Cocoa Beach King. With nine world titles, there is no question: Slater MUST go for number ten. If he walks away without running at number ten, Slater lets us all down. The pressure for number ten only manifests itself when it is within Slater's grasp; when number nine is in his back pocket. The pressure materializes when number ten is rolling towards him like a perfect Backdoor A-frame! When he clearly sees it and when we clearly see it.
And if Slater pearls, if he fails to reach ten, well, there will always be an awkward little monkey, an albino lemur, if you will, riding on his back. The grotesquely absurd — yet undeniable– 'what-ifs' and 'too bads' will shadow his career. A very small fissure in Slater's aristocratic armor would form. However, failing to reach nine world titles this year and Slater walks clean. No questions asked. Everybody loses except Kelly Slater.
“Like the candy you know tastes horrible but that you pop in your mouth, regardless. It would be black licorice. It would be medicinal. It would be Andy Irons.”
Andy Irons loses. Irons needs Kelly Slater to win number nine this year. Who better than AI to keep Slater down? AI was born to fulfill that role. And he has. Oh sweet revenge. Irons owns Slater in man-on-man competition (8-to-2 as of this writing). What a legacy! Slater's biggest (and arguably only real) rival, the surfer in the black hat, keeping the king of surf from attaining the prize that is ten world titles. Can you imagine the tension that would haunt Slater during the campaign for world title number ten? It would be palatable. The tension would tease us all — all year long — like the candy you know tastes horrible but that you pop in your mouth, regardless. It would be black licorice. It would be medicinal. It would be Andy Irons.
Fans of pro surfing lose. Fans of pro surfing need Kelly Slater to win number nine this year. Obviously, so we can see pro surfing's greatest surfer for another year. But more so that we can watch pro surfing's greatest rivalry continue to unfold before us like an episode of the Young and the Restless on crack. Slater vs. Irons.
The ASP loses. The ASP needs Kelly Slater to win number nine this year. Slater is surfing's Tiger Woods. The WCT is not the same without him, and on many different levels. Anybody remember who won the Brazil last year? No. I thought not. Because Slater wasn't there. Nobody watched. They tour’s cache will undoubtedly suffer without the best surfer ever vying for world title number ten. ASP marketing folks can spin Parko and Fanning and Taj and Hobgood and Princess Di if they want. It won't be the same.
The surf industry loses. The surf industry needs Kelly Slater to win number nine this year. The economic trickle down effect Slater brings to the spreadsheet is large. This guy is mainstream. He transcends the sport. He may get paid by Quiksilver, but every company benefits from Slater's ability to merge beautifully timed wrap-around cutbacks with beautifully timed bounce back relationships with beautifully stripped drives toward the tree on eighteen at Pebble Beach, with beautifully timed finger movements up the fret board with Eddie Vedder. Believe me, the marketing dude at Abercrombie & Fitch is stoked.
So you see, everybody needs Slater to win number nine this year –except Slater himself.
If he doesn't win his ninth title this year, he'll retire. He'll retire cleanly. There will be no albino monkey. No AI revenge possibility. There will be no fun.
So Kelly, please, win number nine this year. Not for you, but for us.