Is Kelly Slater, the world’s best athlete?
I believe he is, looking at the evidence. With 11x world championships to this date, with him almost snatching his twelfth in the Pipeline Pro in late 2013. How many other athletes from any other sports can match this stat alone. Competing in waves from 2 to 25 feet, the versatility and confidence to play with the varied ocean conditions and to school his fellow competitors – year in, year out. It’s just amazing.
To do as well as Kelly has done, he needed to be excellent in all areas of performance. That is, he is extremely fit, has good surfing technique, makes good decisions, is tactically strong, and is able to handle pressure – even thrive under the pressure to succeed. In other words his package of skills is without peer, and I would say he has been a “complete surfer” throughout his career. Someone who has been used as the benchmark off which all other surfers are judged.
When you look at the different areas of performance in more detail:
Fitness: elite surfers have the endurance similar to marathon runners and triathletes. And Kelly is no exception. He has the capacity to surf multiple heats during a day of competition and handles it no problems. Big heavy pipe, or the long walls at Snapper – Kelly just keeps on going.
Technique: when you look at his technique, he is outstanding in all the moves required for powerful and successful surfing. His bottom turns, the true power generator of quality performances, are state-of-the-art and a key reason for his outstanding surfing.
Decision making ability: When in the ocean, a surfer must make numerous decisions concerning their positioning, which wave to catch, and what moves to perform in sections faced. Kelly always seems to be in position to catch the best waves, and when riding them, he performs his moves effortlessly, in a calculated yet varied series of combinations as he surfs down the line.
Tactical ability: Where most of his competitors might have 4-5 main strategies with which to surf their competitive heat, I believe Kelly would have dozens. The amount of times he has been so far behind in a heat, even combed with 5 minutes to go, and yet still won the heat has been amazing. If a strategy isn’t working, Kelly just moves to plan B, plan C, or whatever it takes to advance into the next round or win the event. Its like he is a chess master, thinking moves ahead to gain the upper hand.
Psychological strength: His ability to handle competitive pressure, to perform in whatever the ocean can throw at him, what situation competitively he is in at any one time, shows a complete belief in his own abilities in all situations. There are also the stories of Kelly “working” on his next day’s opponent the night before, all to get an advantage in psychological terms at some future date. Whatever it takes, that seems to be his motto.
When you think about other champions from other sports. Tiger Woods for example – doesn’t need to be as fit, doesn’t have to deal with mountains of water, might get wet, but not to the same extent. Usain Bolt – strong, technically great, doesn’t have to have a strategy, nor have any fear of what Mother Nature can throw at him. David Becham, fit and technically great. Can follow a plan, but relies on his team mates to assist with his individual brilliance. Kelly is all alone, making the decisions, planning the strategies, and making it happen as it needs to be for success.
In 1990 Kelly burst onto the scene in the movie “Black and White” with an array of moves that just blew his opponents away. 23 years later at the 2013 Billabong Pipeline Pro, he almost snatched his 12th world title, winning the event and in the process making arguably the best drop in competitive surfing in the final. His surfing at the Volcom Fiji WCT event at Tavarua earlier in the year was breathtaking, winning the event surfing 8-10ft Cloudbreaks on a 5’ 9”. Amazing. I reckon, if the WCT World Tour was held in 8 foot plus surf every event throughout the year, he would be the world champ for another 10 years. No one would touch him.