Kelly Slater’s 2017 season might be over after breaking his foot during a free surf at JBay. In October of 2016, Slater announced that he’d be taking “one more stab at a title,” making 2017 his ‘CT swan song. While he did clarify just before the 2017 tour kicked off he’ll still surf competitively, this year essentially marked the last time we’d get to watch Kelly Slater make a run at World Title #12.
Today’s injury, suffered when a close out at Boneyards folded his “entire foot backward,” followed what was shaping up to be a spectacular run at JBay. Surfing in some of the best waves the contest has ever seen, Slater had just topped Kanoa Igarashi and Julian Wilson in Round 1 of competition and was enjoying a free pass into Round 3. Sitting at World Tour #18 on the Jeep Leaderboard, Kelly says he is now out for both JBay and Tahiti, all before any official timeline has been reported. His best result of the year was a fifth place finish on the Gold Coast he will only receive 500 points for each event he misses moving forward. That could send him spiraling down the rankings as the Tour moves on without Kelly Slater, possibly below the #34 cut line.
So what are the champ’s options in this case, and would he decide to use them? Should Kelly fall out of the top 34, it’s almost certain the WSL will give him an injury wildcard for 2018. But is it really that obvious? Objectively speaking, Kelly Slater is 45-years. He’s not exactly a young up and comer whose legacy hangs on receiving that injury wildcard (hmmmm…Machado). Given his age, his middle of the pack ranking, and his string of losses, he does not make the most compelling case for that wildcard. Is it in the best interest of the sport and fair to other competitors to hand out injury wildcards based on reputation? Should the WSL decide to do what Kelly did not, and let him ride off into the sunset?
Ok, ok. I know I’ve really hung myself out there for all the haters. Some surf fans still believe – and with good reason – that Kelly IS the tour. Consider the possibility that the champ may not want to come back. What if this injury is a mental and emotional trigger? What if it’s just good timing? Kelly is still adored by millions and his struggles to stay in the title hunt the past few years have not impacted his image. Being forced into retirement due to injury could be easier to swallow for everybody than watching the champ give up willingly.
My prediction? Slater will work hard to recover, he’ll be back in a jersey by the end of the year and win Pipe, and snag just enough points to have a spot on the WSL’s 2018 ‘CT lineup.