Why Kelly's 9th Title Was Transformational

For the record, Kelly Slater's answer to the question of whether or not he was coming back to compete in 2009 today was this, "I don't know man, I'm having fun…"

You had to listen closely to hear it, because he quickly changed the subject during his record 6th Pipeline Master's victory celebration. The amazing win (which will be remembered more for his historic blink-of-an-eye semifinal comeback vs. Tim Reyes than anything else) caps another year of records for Slater. At the age of 36, his 50-6 record was the most dominant in pro surfing history, which validates what we already knew, that he's also surfing better than ever. But what does it all mean? Is there something new we can take away from yet another Kelly Slater world title?


Of course Kelly Slater had fun this year—arguably more fun than he's ever had, but that's a lesson we already learned years ago during the whole "letting go" phase. What's different this time around is that he fulfilled a promise to himself to keep things truly interesting. In the process of challenging himself in entirely new ways, Slater reached a whole new threshold. If his return to the throne in 2005 and 2006 proved that he could still compete with guys 10 years younger than him, this year we learned that he could literally turn back the clock, and rocket so far back in front that it's, once again, hard to see, or care, about anyone behind him, which is all the more remarkable considering this was hardly the case a year ago.

Lest we forget, this time last year we were reveling in a new world champ and a stellar rookie class that would finally allow us to, perhaps emotionally "buy into" a post Slater era. Had he walked away after passing the torch to Fanning we would have thought nothing less of the guy. His legacy was firmly intact. Considering all the wavering he'd been doing in previous years, he had absolutely no business coming back again. If he were going to do so there'd certainly have to be something else driving him.

Turns out, it was a renewed appreciation for experimentation. In the test piloting process, Slater crossed yet another threshold with his surfing. There's no other way to describe somebody winning the Pipe Masters in serious conditions on a 5' 11".

Yes, it was Slater's off-season antics that fed his desire to come back. While enjoying quality time with his girlfriend in Santa Barbara last winter he and Al Merrick started going off on design-related tangents. In the process he did some long overdue "letting go" with his board dimensions, freeing himself up to a whole new world of possibilities. The shorter, wider equipment injected a healthy dose of fun into Slater's surfing. Suddenly, he was moving faster, linking better, and increasing the power supply, yet with what looked like a lot less work.

When he showed up on the Gold Coast for the Quiksilver Pro with his new quiver, it looked to the trained eye as if he was driving off the tee with carbon-fiber shafts while everyone else was using vintage woods. Don't get me wrong, the average ASP pro surfer rides a very highly refined piece of equipment, but rarely, if ever, do they experiment with their trusted equipment, despite the fact that we've been enjoying one of the longest-running design renaissance periods in surfboard history. They squabble and whine about infantile fractions and immeasurable differences in performance, while almost all of them could make car doors look good.

So what are we taking away? Well, it'll be interesting to see how many surfers on tour try to modify their quivers to match Slater, as they did years ago when he started this whole world title collection thing of his. It's been 30 years since the MR era began, which was the last time a surfer departed so drastically from his peers and dominated so effectively.

Kelly's career numbers are already a joke. Good God…what if he's just getting warmed up?

On a side note, the ASP finalized their Wild Card seeds for 2009, naming the precious three spots that surfers vie for each year. The recipients were Australia's Dean Morrison, Spain's Aritz Aranburu and WQS surfer Marlon Lipke of Germany. Should Andy and Bruce Irons make good on their plans to take a year off in 2009, two more World Tour slots will open up, giving Ben Dunn and Roy Powers a renewed shot at World Tour redemption. So here's who's in and who's out:

Mick Campbell (AUS)
Jay Thompson (AUS)
Ben Bourgeois (USA)
Danny Wills (AUS)
Leonardo Neves (BRA)
Rodrigo Dornelles (BRA)
Royden Bryson (ZAF)
Daniel Ross (AUS)
Pancho Sullivan (HAW)
Travis Logie (ZAF)
Luke Munro (AUS)
Neco Padaratz (BRA)
Ricky Basnett (ZAF)

Nathaniel Curran (USA)
Chris Davidson (AUS)
Michel Bourez (PYF)
Gabe Kling (USA)
David Weare (ZAF)
Josh Kerr (AUS)
Kekoa Becalso (HAW)
Greg Emslie (ZAF)
Tim Boal (FRA)
Dustin Barca (HAW)
Phillip MacDonald (AUS)
Drew Courtney (AUS)
Marlon Lipke (DEU)

Australia: – 1
USA: + 1
Tahiti: + 1
Germany: + 1
France: + 1
Brazil: – 3