#3. Kelly Slater
There aren’t too many people in the world of sport that even come close to Kelly Slater‘s accomplishments in surfing. As one of the winningest athletes ever, Slater’s victories span his entire career, starting from his rookie year. In ’91, he took home the Rookie of the Year award. In ’92, he took home the World Title after cementing it at Pipe. The 1990s saw Kelly Slater register possibly the most dominant performance of any athlete in any other sport. Banzai Pipeline was a major part of that dynasty, as he won the Pipe Masters in ’92, ’94, ’95, ’96, and ’99. Not to mention a few Backdoor Shootout titles. For perspective, imagine if Rookie of the Year, Nat Young, won the World Title next year, then continued to win for the next decade. By the time he was twenty, he was the youngest ever world champion.
Slater is from Cocoa Beach, Florida. Born in 1972, he began surfing at the age of six. By the time he was eleven, he was so far ahead of his competition it didn’t seem fair – winning four consecutive United States Surfing Championships. At eighteen, he turned professional and started on the road to where he is now: the best competitive surfer the world has ever seen.
In 1992, Slater took the role of Jimmy Slade on the hugely popular Baywatch, effectively rocketing him into star-status – and bringing surfing to the masses in a way that no one had before. After winning his sixth world title in 1998, Slater retired from full-time contest surfing. He started a band (which didn’t do very well, unlike almost everything else he touches) with Rob Machado and Peter King, fittingly and somewhat unoriginally called the Surfers.
In 2002, he returned to competitive surfing, and after a brief warm-up for the first year, Slater ran into Andy Irons and started surfing’s most-watched rivalry. By 2011, he had broken every pro surfing record. His home state of Florida has a Kelly Slater Day and a 10-foot tall statue of him. GQ Magazine called him one of the 25 Coolest Athletes of All Time, Surfer Magazine called him the Greatest Surfer of All Time, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bipartisan resolution honoring Slater’s competitive achievements, and one of his surfboards is in the The National Museum of American History at the Smithsonian. Not bad for a guy that slides around on top of the water on a piece of foam.