NOW and then, in the realm of sport, there are athletes that seem to defy the advances of age.

Think Tom Brady, LeBron James, Rafael Nadal. Arguably the greatest of all time in their chosen sports.

American surfer Kelly Slater is part of that elite group.

Slater, 49, a week away from turning 50, was crowned the king of the Pipeline in his final against Seth Moniz in Hawaii’s iconic Oahu reef break.

Slater was understandably highly emotional after his win.

The 12-time world champion was celebrating the victory at Pipeline 30 years after he first won the event in 1992. Then, he was surfing’s youngest champion at 20, its oldest at 30 in 2011, and has a record 56 World Championship Tour victories.

It was the eighth time he has won the Pipeline Pro. Remarkable.

Slater’s passage to the final was anything but easy. He avoided being knocked out before the quarterfinals only by catching a wave with four seconds left in his heat.

As if spurred on by his victory, he followed with wins over Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi and Miguel Pupo before coming up against Moniz in the final.

Not only did he win the final, but he also won it easily. Slater consistently picked out the best waves in the final, focusing on the long, deep barrels at Backdoor, Pipeline’s less predictable and higher risk right-hand alter ego.

In fact, his best wave of the entire event in the last minute of the final, where he scored a 9.77 to take his total score to 18.77. Moniz pulled out a 9.43 in the final minute, but it was not enough to overcome the American.

“It was an honour to surf against him and a big privilege for me to be out there with him,” Moniz said.

“The greatest of all time is back,” a WSL TV commentator said.

“The fairy tale begins now for Kelly Slater. I’m speechless. This is amazing.”

“Kelly is in his own universe, he’s making history right now,” World Surf League commentator and “Momentum Generation” friend Ross Williams said on the event broadcast. “Speechless, chicken skin all over, what a moment for sport, let alone surfing.”

Slater was met with adulation if not hysteria by his adoring fans. They carried him up on the beach on their shoulders as he was mobbed.

Slater was so overcome, that he struggled to find the words to describe the experience when he was finally interviewed.

“I don’t know what to say man,” he said.

“I was out there telling myself just be in the moment. No matter how much tension there is. Just breathe.”

Slater then heeded his own advice by taking a big breath before gushing about the importance of surfing on his life.

“I committed my life to this you know,” he said.

“To all of this. The heartbreak. All the winning. All this crap. I’ve hated lots of it. But I just savour these moments and this is the best win of my life.

“I don’t even know how to explain this moment. It’s like so spiritual for me.”

Slater now believes he is in a position to win the world title this year.

But he will have to become fully vaccinated to do so, since he will need to travel to Australia and adhere to its sporting requirements for competition.

Slater has previously admitted he has an anti-vaccination position. Similar to the fiasco surrounding tennis player Novak Djokovic and the recent Australian Open.

Indeed, Slater recently opined “maybe Stockholm Syndrome can now change its name to Melbourne/Australia syndrome” and “so much brainwashed hatred in people’s hearts regardless of vax status”.

The situation will no doubt unfold before the WSL men’s championship tour heads to Australia before the Bells Beach Pro is scheduled to begin on April 10 in Victoria.

Even so, the age defying achievements of this supreme athlete should be an inspiration for those who are much younger and considering retirement.

 

Image via usatoday.com

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