A funny thing happened to Kelly Slater on the way to his unprecedented 11th ASP world title at San Francisco's Ocean Beach last week. While the surfing world celebrated and marveled at the longevity of the 39-year-old, who won his first title in 1992, two fans of the sport were busily undermining his claim to number 11.
One of those skeptics was Slater himself. The day after his coronation at the Rip Curl Pro Search San Francisco, he saw a comment posted on a surfing website. A reader named Mark contended that by his calculations, Slater hadn't quite clinched the title: A surfer named Owen Wright still had a slender chance. After crunching—then recrunching—the numbers himself, Slater concluded that Mark was right. In a revealing gesture Slater phoned the Association of Surfing Professionals and reported the mistake. After checking the math, the ASP sheepishly agreed that it had acted prematurely. "Your parents always tell you that honesty is the best policy," remarked Slater, who added that he was "hugely relieved" to dethrone himself.
That relief was shared by the ASP two days later when Slater won the title for real. Surfing Ocean Beach on Sunday, he held off up-and-coming Brazilian teens Miguel Pupo and Gabriel Medina in the fourth round of the Rip Curl event. "I was going against kids who could be my kids," said the rethroned king, "and they throw radical airs."
The old man answered with one of his own signature aerials on a ride that scored 9.10, clinching the heat and the title. Again. It is Slater's versatility that marks him as the world's best surfer: He's as comfortable in the chop of Ocean Beach as he is in the tube on Oahu's North Shore. We knew the guy was a freak. It was refreshing to be reminded that Slater's as honest as he is talented.