Written by ERICK RASMUSSEN
Photography by JUSTIN JAY
Among league sports, from community college to the big time, stats are piling up. Over countertops in every town memorabilia, souvenirs and jerseys are being sold. In every park is a court, in every city an arena packed by the tens of thou-sands with cheering, foam-finger waving fans. Through all that unsettled hubbub a single name is made, recognizable across borders, lauded down through the ages. This is a hero, our champion, rarified as gem-stone. More a measure than a man, his name is pushed by idolatry a little further out of reach with each new arrival to superfame status.
Kelly Slater is a name like that. His feats of surfing are incalculable, literally, as in surfing’s competition there are no delineated quantities of measure as there are in sports like basketball. No three-point arch. No foul line. There are, however, championship competitions, like the ASP, the first of which Slater won at age 20. He was the youngest to do so. That helps in the esoteric calculus of creating legends. He was also the oldest to win, and singulary holds the most world championships in surfing. Slater: check.
“More a measure than a man, his name is pushed by idolatry a little further out of reach with every new arrival to superfame status.”
An absence of metrics in style, ability, creativity and guts have corroboratively left language bereft of the proper words befitting certain agents in possession of all such qualities at the highest level. Sports figures often fill the adjective void. A Stearns and Foster was selling in Macy’s as “the Michael Jordan of mattresses.” Ditto cars. Ditto other athletes even, in different sports. With 6 MBA rings, 2 Olympic gold metals, a FIBA and a Pan America championship to Jordan’s credit, it was a matter of achieving the highest results, fast, with his personality on display in the unconventional way he played the game, to become not only the best, but the lasting ideal of what the best should be.
Surfing, as competitive as it is, with as many contests as it holds, has more in common with combative and endurance sports than with teams of points and cities. Surfing isn’t a team sport. The amphibious fans gathered at the shore arrange themselves as a confederacy spanning continents and borders. Nature and the commune with it is surfing’s City Arena. Rather than an exponentiation of statistics to be argued over beer and television, surf zealots involve themselves in the actual practice of “wave sliding” and less in satellite participations, like fantasy leagues, video games and betting. Still, Jordan only has 10 world titles. Kelly has 11. Take that!
Kelly Slater is 41 years old, an age where most athletes, if not retired, find themselves on the second string line-up or used as leverage in a trade for younger blood. At the time of writing he is ranked 1st in the world. No doubt the popularity of surfing is growing and with it the talent pool, which will create new heights of achievement, new champions and legends. Icons will continue to serve the tongue when description eludes great commodities. Kelly Slater has expanded beyond a surfing idol, becoming a measure of excellence across magisteria. You might say Lebron James could be the Kelly Slater of Basketball.