The Inertia

Earlier this month, Kelly Slater removed himself from the fourth stop of the 2017 WSL’s Championship Tour, the Oi Rio Pro. “With my body feeling the way it has, I’m not going to be winning a world title. I’m basically taking a month off,” he said. I saw a recent photo of him punting a massive inverted backside air, and can understand if anybody would question how much trouble that back is actually giving the 11-time champion.

So sure, Kelly could really have a hurt back or he could simply have not wanted to go to Rio. The two aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. However, one may have played a greater role than the other in his decision to withdraw. Over the last six years, Kelly has only pulled out of three contests, all of which being Brazil. It seems a little coincidental that for the last six years his injuries have occurred right before the same contest.

While it may not be Slater’s favorite stop on tour, three out of the last six years he did compete in Brazil produced 5th, 3rd, and 13th place finishes. This year, Kelly was already carrying two 13th place finishes when he decided not to make the trip to Brazil. A semifinals or quarterfinals appearance in Rio would have put him back into the title hunt. Instead, he collected one of this year’s throw away results and ensured at least one 13th place finish will stick with him in the final 2017 standings.

Of course, having 11 titles to his resume, he knows as well as anyone how hard it would be to win number 12 with more than two 13th place results. Last year’s champ, John John Florence, had two 13’s to throw away and a third 13th that stuck with him. Adriano de Souza scored four of them in 2015, keeping two of them in his own final tally. If we dig a little further back, championship campaigns only become more dominant. Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson were throwing away 9’s and 5’s. Neither of them ever placed lower at an event. Gabriel Medina’s keepers were filled with three wins, a bunch of quarterfinals runs, and two throw away 13’s.

Working in Kelly’s favor is the remaining schedule. Every event with the exception of Trestles offers the potential for plenty of barrels – probably Slater’s greatest strength at this point in his career. So sure, maybe he didn’t need Rio. But whatever the truth behind Kelly’s back really is, winning a world title with two 13ths and an injury is going to be an uphill battle.


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