As an activity, surfing has everything going for it -- the sun, the waves, the rush. As an organized sport, not so much. Tournaments are staged over holding periods that last nearly two weeks and are comprised largely of inactivity while surfers wait for good waves.
So forget about showing events on live television, or even giving fans the kind or predictable schedule that makes the sport easier to follow. Which is why the rivalry that's been going on in recent years between all-time greats Kelly Slater and Andy Irons -- surfing's equivalent of Nicklaus-Palmer or Borg-McEnroe -- has received less notice than it deserves.
Slater won six ASP world titles between 1992 and 1998 before heading into semi-retirement. He returned for the 2002 season to find Irons ruling the waves. Entering this year, Irons had won the last three season championships while Slater, whose winning was an assumption in the 1990s, finished ninth in his first year back, and then second and third the next two seasons. Slater nearly had Irons in 2003 -- he actually held the points lead entering the season's final event at Pipeline. But the Hawaii-born Irons delivered a big performance, winning the event and frustrating Slater's effort to reclaim his crown.
This year Slater didn't let the race get to Hawaii. He dominated the season, winning four of the first nine events -- in Tahiti, Fiji, California, and South Africa. By midseason the only surfer even within striking distance was Irons, who had edged Slater in a final in Japan. But last week in Brazil, Irons lost in the quarterfinals, giving Slater the season points title. In 1992 Slater was the youngest surfer to win an ASP championship, at age 20. Now, at age 33, he is also the oldest. His seven world championships are a record.
You most likely didn't see a moment of Slater's triumphant season. But that doesn't make him any less worthy a candidate for Sportsman of the Year.
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