Does Kelly Slater, 11-time World Champion, and, depending on your take on whether or not surfing is actually a sport, perhaps the greatest competitive athlete in history, enjoy competing? Has he ever?
It's an interesting question that's raised, but not really answered in a recent Slater profile by Men's Health UK. Considering his mega-stardom in and out of the surf world, Slater's still a fairly unknowable guy. He doesn't grant lots of tell-all interviews to surf media outlets, preferring instead mainstream media pubs, like Men's Health, for whatever reason. Perhaps he feels he's been treated unfairly by surf media in the past. Maybe it seems too small potatoes. Maybe he isn't asked enough.
Anyway, back to the Men's Health piece. The article insinuates that Slater was once motivated to win everything he could by his family's economic struggles as a kid, resulting in "joyless victories" earned only after unyielding focus.
Now, however, he seems to be continuing based purely on inertia.
"I'm comfortable with what I've done," Slater says in the piece. "If I don't compete ever again, I'd be happy. From that place, I could compete for another year without worrying about if I win or lose, and enjoy it for what it is."
Next year is, supposedly, Slater's swan song, a victory lap of a tour, shaking hands, taking pictures, making final memories, taking one last long look around the stadium before wiping a tear and walking away.
"I see announcing and doing a final year as my victory lap: saying thanks to all the fans and the people who have taken me in over the years."
"I'm building this goal. Get the boards together, get my body together, get my diet all worked out, come back rejuvenated, and maybe finish out my career that way."
Sorta hard to imagine that if the foot heals, the boards work, his body feels good, that he wouldn't say, "to hell with it" and come back in 2020, at least assuming he qualifies.
He's been doing this for too long to spend much more time pontificating about whether Slater should walk away, whether he should wring his talent out to the very end, whether he owes any of his fans a legacy of going out still near the top of his game.
There's something of a melancholy vibe in the Men's Health profile, portraying Slater as a guy who's grown from the Tour, but through sheer force of habit, is still compelled to pull on the jersey and mix it up with kids half his age.
It's also so difficult to remember a Tour without him, and easy to see him still beating lower-seeded competitors for the next five or so years, it's easy to root for Slater doing the impossible and competing on Tour at 50.
Maybe he'll find a whole new joy in that.
The article is well worth a read, and can be found in its entirety here.