Did Kelly Slater Just Retire? - Stab Mag

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Did Kelly Slater Just Retire?

3 decades, 56 event wins, and 11 World Titles later.

news // Apr 16, 2024
Words by Holden Trnka
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Read our full tribute to the greatest competitive surfer of all time here.

After losing in the round of 32 at the 2024 Margaret River Pro, Kelly Slater has officially missed the mid-year cut and been technically relegated from the WSL Championship Tour. 

“Retirement” is a strange word, because it implies the end of one’s working life. For Kelly, competitive surfing has always been his primary (or at least preferred) form of employment, but he’s also managed to build a small business empire as a “side hustle”. We’re talking at least ten businesses, ranging from clothing to wave pools to lumber, which will continue to keep him busy from here until whenever he chooses.

Not to mention, he’ll inevitably be chasing incredible waves around the world, filming them, and presumably posting them online, which is another prominent form of pro surfing. Just ask Chippa, Nate, Russ etc.

So while Kelly didn’t use the R word (as he shouldn’t), his post-heat interview implied that he will never again surf as a full time CT surfer — though he wouldn’t mind a few wildcards to his marquee events.

While Outerknown might not be trying to compete in the hardcore endemic surf space, they still sponsor a CT event. Photo: Damien Poullenot/WSL

It’s not necessarily the wave I want to end on,” said Kelly, after the heat. “I have put in for a wildcard at Fiji, so we’ll see how that goes. It is what it is, everything comes to an end. If you don’t adapt, you don’t survive and my motivation just hasn’t quite been there to put in 100%”

“Renato asked me if I wanted to surf on the Goldie, so I might, if Snapper looks good.”

“It’s been an incredible lifetime of memories. It’s just so much emotion for so long, and so much dedication. It’s not all roses, you know, but it’s been the best times of my life. Couldn’t quite pull a miracle off this time, but I’ve pulled a few off over the years. I still had that hope out there.”

“I’m kind of avoiding that emotion, it’s all right there bubbling up. It hit me at Sunset this year. I have been struggling since my surgery, I’m just fighting through the pain, hoping for adrenaline. After Sunset I kinda broke down, it feels like the end, but the start of something else, the start of the rest of life. I’ve had such incredible luck and good fortune over the years, and it’s so tied in with my surfing. I’ll just have some quiet time after and just absorb the whole thing. It’s been fun to be over 50, mixing it up with the guys, feeling like I’m there with them.”

“Surfboard design is rewarding. It’s hard for me to stay on one board. That’s probably part of my problem competitively. I like to try so many different boards and so many different fin setups. I might go down a road that maybe doesn’t look the best, but it feels a certain way, and it keeps my ideas fresh. I like that as opposed to like, ‘I’ve been here, I’ve ridden that board, I’ve done the same thing — just go out and do it all again to win a heat.’ That’s not as fulfilling to me as that used to be.” Photo by WSL/Aaron Hughes

By all conceivable metrics, the 52-year old is the greatest competitive surfer of all time. 

11 world titles, 56 CT wins. 5 world titles in a row (94-98) The youngest (20) and oldest (39) World Champion. The oldest event winner (49 years, 51 weeks), with 33 of his 56 wins coming after age 30. He’s surfed in 280 CT events, making 82 finals, with a 70% heat win record. An 85% heat win record in finals in Australia, 77% heat win record at Teahupoo, 74% at Snapper, 77% at Lowers. He’s won the most events at Pipeline (8), Lower Trestles (6), Snapper Rocks (5), Teahupo’o (5), Tavarua (4), equal-most at Bells (4) and Hossegor (3). 

“The numbers, the breadth of conditions he could excel in, all these things untouchable,” says surf historian Matt Warshaw. “But after you’ve acknowledged all that, other things stand out. What’s beyond measure is his level of raw, beautifully developed talent — more athletic talent than we’ve ever seen.” 

While we can be all-but-sure that Kelly will continue to receive CT wildcards moving forward, this appears to be the decisive end to his spot on the Tour as a full time surfer. 

Read our full tribute to the greatest competitive surfer of all time here.

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