Kelly Slater was once the world's best competitive surfer. That is no longer the case. Slater's head isn't in the game the way it used to be, even just a couple years ago. He gives heats away now. Not always, but too often; Portugal being the last and maybe best example.
But who gives a shit, really? Slater is better than that. I love him—everybody loves him, even the haters, who are all liars—because at this particular moment in time, with Pipeline about to go Godzilla and a world title not quite out of reach, Slater's claim to being the world's best surfer is the same as ever: blinding, fissioning, fourth-dimensional talent. That perfect 10 he speared against Parko in the semis last year? Twelve months and 50 viewings later, my heart still jumps into my tonsils when it comes onscreen; the ease with which he steps over the line, the giddy joy at pulling it off. The clear shaft of daylight between Kelly and the rest of the field.
Gabe, Mick, John John, Father Time, broken toes, wildcards, closeout sets, snapped boards, on and on. There are six-dozen chambers of death between here and another Pipe Masters victory for Slater. He will need to bend or break a few laws of physics to make it happen. More is required now, at age 42, than at any other time in his career.
Can he do it?