Stab Magazine | The Retirement Question; Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson and Taj Burrow

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The Retirement Question; Kelly Slater, Joel Parkinson and Taj Burrow

Words by Jed Smith It’s the question on everyone’s minds, not least the three World Tour legends themselves: Kelly Slater, Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson. When is the right time to tap out and how best to do it? “Definitely the biggest question you have to answer, is what the hell am I doing?” says […]

// Mar 8, 2016
Words by stab
Reading Time: 6 minutes

Words by Jed Smith

It’s the question on everyone’s minds, not least the three World Tour legends themselves: Kelly Slater, Taj Burrow and Joel Parkinson. When is the right time to tap out and how best to do it? “Definitely the biggest question you have to answer, is what the hell am I doing?” says Freddy Patacchia, the Tour’s most recently retired veteran, of the thought process. “You’ve gotta ask yourself, is this the right time? Is this the right move? What am I gonna do after this? Those are huge questions. Am I gonna live in regret? There are a lot of things you have to ask yourself.”

WSL/Sean Rowland

Freddy exits through the gift shop; Retiring with a 10-point ride at Lowers. WSL/Sean Rowland

Freddy went out on a career highlight, a perfect 10 and a heat win over reigning world champion, Gabriel Medina. Though, it was more coincidence than anything else, since Freddy decided the heat would be his last before he’d paddled out. “I could have drawn out my career and stayed on tour but for me it was… I needed my sanity, in a way. I wanted to travel less, I didn’t want competition surfing to be the focal point of my life because my kids are now, so for me it was easy to walk away from it.”


CJ’s lines will be sorely missed. WSL/Kirstin

CJ Hobgood is another veteran who will hang up the jersey come the end of the year. He admits the prospect of going out on a high is tantalising but not necessarily realistic. “You’re trying to find this perfect exit plan, and a lot of times the perfect exit plan is to win a contest and walk away on top,” he told the WSL after announcing his retirement back in June. “Hopefully I can turn around and put some entertaining heats together. I don’t care if I win or I lose, I do wanna surf my best and push these best guys in the world to the limits.”

WSL/Kelly Cestari

TB brings the thunder at every stop on tour. Will we see him powering through Chopes next year? Please, let it be so! WSL/Kelly Cestari

Rumours of a possible retirement for Taj Burrow have been circulating since he recently became a father (though, any fan of good surfing will hope this isn’t true). It caused him to miss the Quik Pro, France, though he should still retain his spot on tour for next year with a current rank of 14th. Once the best freesurfer in the world, the fact he never won the world title so many predicted would sting if he were to walk away. But after 18 years on tour, including 15 top-10 finishes and two runner-ups, his legend status will remain regardless of his decision.

WSL/Sean Rowland

TB won Lowers in 2013, to the surprise of absolutely no one. WSL/Sean Rowland

“Yes they (Taj/Kelly/Parko) are getting old but they are still such incredibly freakish surfers that the world still wants to watch. The day when people stop running up to them after a heat for an autograph is the day they should give it up. Until then, keep rockin’ it, I say,” says 10-year tour veteran and former Pipe Master Jake Paterson of the retirement question. He believes the key to knowing when to pull the pin is understanding the strength of your desire to compete.

“The tour can become a full grind and if you don’t have the passion to make it worth the time on the road, your performance suffers,” says Snake. “If you’re one of those guys that have finished top 10 your whole career, why not go out on top?”

But everyone knows how much Kelly, Parko and Taj all love pumping waves, especially with one other guy out. As Snake points out, there’s worse things than travelling the world with your mates scoring waves, minus the pressure of a world title hanging over you. “Surfing is a lifestyle sport so after they’ve chased their world titles they can have a few years on tour having some fun and surfing the crazy waves with only one other guy out,” he says, adding, “I was on the World Tour for 10 years and I retired because I dropped off tour. I would have gone again 100 percent if I’d made it (requalified).”


What’s most strange about this whole conversation is, really, these men are all still top-five skilled surfers. WSL/Poullenot/Aquashot

For Parko his world title dream was realised but it took four heartbreaking runner-up finishes to get there. Tour observers say the fire hasn’t been there since, and he’s slumped to 18th this year. With a young family on his hands, and 15 years of Tour life under the belt (including 11 top 10 finishes), you could understand if his motivation was wavering.

WSL/Kirstin Scholtz

Parko, Peniche. WSL/Kirstin Scholtz

So is it possible to tarnish a legacy with a string of uncharacteristically lacklustre performances? “I want to say no but in reality the answer would have to be yes,” says Snake, though points out, “Pro surfers have pretty thick skins so they don’t care too much what other people think.”

The big question, as always, surrounds Kelly. After 24 years on tour, 11 world titles and more event wins than I can be bothered adding up he will undoubtedly be remembered as surfing’s greatest of all time (not to mention one of sport’s). With a consecutive third round exits in France and Portugal likely killing off his title hopes this year, how much fight can the champ possibly have left?


Kelly’s been in the whole retirement conversation for longer than anyone. And still we’re no closer to an answer. Photo: WSL/Poullenot/Aquashot

“Anyone who really knows Kelly knows he’s a surf dog and he’s a competitor to the end,” says Freddy P. “I think he really, truly loves being number one but at the same time I don’t ever really see that guy not surfing in a jersey. I swear that guy could be on tour til he’s 65, maybe even longer!”

For Kelly, it will be a question of staying inspired, says Freddy. “I spend a lot of time around him and I know it takes a lot to inspire him these days, and it seems like he needs to be inspired to really enjoy competing.

“You could see it when he was younger, he was always motivated to win, always pushing. But now, if the surf isn’t that great, you know, he’s not that inspired to win.”

WSL/Damien Poullenot

“The day when people stop running up to them after a heat for an autograph is the day they should give it up,” says Snake. So, uh, yeah… Kelly shouldn’t be going anywhere. WSL/Damien Poullenot

And at the end of the day, where’s the shame in a midlevel world tour veteran capable of pulling out the occasional upset against a competitor who wasn’t even born when you were winning world titles? As Freddy points out, that often makes for the most compelling viewing on tour: “True fans want to see you surf and they enjoy it and they wanna see the older guys beat the younger guys, the power surfers beat the air surfers, so I think it comes down to what kind of fans there are,” he says.

That said, don’t get to thinking Slater’s over the hill.

“I think alls it takes is for him to see the swell is gonna be there and the wind is right. He’s one of those guys who stays up all night looking at Wind Guru and all those things. I think he will win a 12th and alls it will take is one year of being inspired by boards, and surf, and he will feel like this is gonna be it, this will be my last hurrah. Even then, he might not quit,” laughs Freddy.


How is it that Kelly simultaneously has more right to retire than anyone else in the world, but would be the strangest departure? Can you even imagine the world tour with KS? WSL/Poullenot/Aquashot


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