So far this year, Kelly Slater hasn’t competed in any events except for the Founders’ Cup. He hasn’t competed because he shattered his foot like a pane of glass hit with a flying brick. The X-Rays were brutal. His foot was folded like an origami crane, twisted like a pig’s tail, broken like a dried out twig over a strong man’s knee. It was all sorts of broken. It made sense, then, that the GOAT-man didn’t show for Snapper. Bells, too. And Rio as well, because he hasn’t showed up to Rio in what feels like decades. Everyone just quietly pretends it’s for actual reasons other than the fact that people get shot there, there’s poop floating around, and Kelly Slater has earned himself a few sick days.
This year, he missed Rio because of his foot. In 2017 it was his back, and in 2016 it was for “personal reasons.” None of this is to say that he doesn’t actually have foot and back issues, because he definitely does have both. “My lower back has been in constant pain for the last three years and although I’ve been able to fight through it with short stints of rehab, it hasn’t fixed the problem,” he said last year after skipping an event.”If I don’t do this now, at some point, I’ll ruin my body. I’m spending the next five weeks rehabilitating with WSL Doctors in Australia and we’ll see how I feel after that.” And then luck! Just a few weeks later, Greenmount fired, and guess who was there? You guessed right! But this year he’s skipped an event to surf massive Cloudbreak.
Kelly Slater doesn’t need contest surfing. If anything, contest surfing needs Kelly Slater. He’s got them over a barrel. When he decided to pass up the Corona Bali Protected event citing his foot again, it was not a surprise. He’s been saying for a while now that he’ll return to competition when his foot is damn well good and ready, and that time is not now, damn it! But wait. Isn’t it?
It seems that when the waves turn on, Kelly’s foot issues clear up. An event at his very own pool? Shit yes, Kelly’s in! Biggest Cloudbreak in a decade? Kelly’s on a flight, asap! Then, of course, people ask questions, like I am in writing this. “Why, Kelly? Why can’t you compete?” we ask. “Tell us!” And look, he answered. Ask and ye shall receive, as they say.
“Lots of questions about competition and the event in Bali,” he wrote on Instagram after sharing an image of the GIANT waves he just surfed. “Long story short, I am not on the level I want and need to be to compete. I did catch one really nice wave today, went straight perfectly well, and saw a hundred other good waves. When I’m ready, properly healed, and able to compete with the world’s best, I will. Good luck to everyone in Bali for the @wsl event and hoping for some more tomorrow in Fiji. Wow is all I can say. I’m inspired and more excited than ever to see surfing where it’s at!”
I, respectfully and as a lover of Kelly Slater, would like to call bullshit—not on him being on the level he “wants” to be at to compete,” but on being at the level he “needs” to be at to compete. Now, I am no doctor-ologist. Nor am I a surf-matitian or a wave-ologist. But I, as a person with eyes, can see that Kelly Slater is surfing very well. He is certainly surfing on the level he needs to compete. He competed at the Founders’ Cup, remember? I mean, everyone WANTS to be better at something. But damn it, Kelly, it’s like the Stones said: “you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes… you get what you NEEEEEEEED.”
Imagine, if you will, that the WSL worked like an insurance company: Kelly Slater says he’s too hurt to work. Insurance company gives him money, then hires a shady man with mirrored sunglasses, a bad suit, and a long lens to follow him around and make sure he’s not going bowling or dancing or whatever. Then the shady man returns with photos of Kelly Slater, who is not “on the level he needs to be to compete,” surfing 20-foot Cloudbreak. Imagine! Still, he does hedge with the “went straight perfectly well” line, but one must admit that going straight at giant Cloudbreak must be at least comparable, injury-wise to head-high Keramas.
I, again as a person with eyes, can see that Kelly Slater would rather surf giant, perfect waves than mediocre ones that judges are judging. I mean, fuck, who wouldn’t? Kelly Slater has spent his entire life getting criticized by those judgmental assholes (they’re probably actually very nice people up there) in the booth, assigning numbers to things that are inherently impossible to assign numbers to.
Do you remember back when the 2011 Billabong Pro J-Bay was going on? Do you also remember that Kelly Slater was absent from that event? Do you remember what he reportedly tweeted at the time? “Ooops just watched my heat, but I’m getting barreled off my face in Fiji. No disrespect towards @aspworldtour or @billabongpro. Small surf.” Alls I’m saying is that Kelly Slater, like everyone else, likes good waves more than bad waves.
And Kelly Slater, as the 11 1/2 time world champ, one-time dater of Pamela Anderson, player of Jimmy Slade, creator of the world’s most perfect man-made wave, maker of gun-control-related sustainable clothing, namesake of Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer, author of two books, and PBTeen collaborator extraordinaire, should be able to surf where ever and whenever he wants. So shine on, Kelly Slater, you crazy diamond. Tell the powers-that-be that you’re not on the level you need to be to compete… but we all know the truth: you’re just in it for the waves. You can admit it. You’re just like the rest of us, only way more successful!