COCOA BEACH, Fla. – The proverbial rocking chair on the porch is closer to reality for surfing legend Kelly Slater.
According to News 6 partner Florida Today, the 46-year-old 11-time world champion from Cocoa Beach has announced he will step away from the world tour after the 2019 season.
“My basic plan is to get myself really healthy, get ready for April next year, and make next year be my last year on tour and just be done with it,” he told World Surf League media members in what seemed like a spontaneous statement at the time.
The announcement came on the heels of Tuesday’s rare second-round elimination at the Corona Open in Jeffreys Bay, South Africa, where he lost to Jordy Smith 14.33-11.74. During his career, Slater has won 80 percent of his Round 2 matchups, according to statistics compiled by Surfagram.com.
Slater’s retirement plans have been reinforced by Father Time, a couple of shattered bones in his right foot from a year ago and, more recently, a "turf toe" on that same foot in which ligaments are stretched in his big toe. His broken foot occurred last July while free-surfing between heats at this same event in South Africa.
Despite an array of injuries throughout his career, such as broken toes and a well-worn back, surfing's "Superman" may have finally found his Kryptonite.
In his opening round Monday - his first tour appearance of the year - he finished third in a three-man heat with a score of 8.73 against Japan’s Kanoa Igarashi (13.50) and Brazil’s Italo Ferreira (11.94). Slater blamed being “rusty” for his performance and wave selection.
"I thought he looked amazing," said Melbourne Beach's Matt Kechele, a former touring pro who used to "bum fries" off a really young Slater in exchange for driving him to Sebastian Inlet. "He was only a couple of tenths out (at one point) and made one mistake. Overall, I think he surfed some of the best so far in that contest."
Kechele said he's familiar with the condition known as "turf toe."
"I've had that myself; you don't realize how much you use your toes until you're actually using them," he said. "It seemed like it was hindering him. The (broken) foot's healed but maybe he put too much emphasis on healing the foot and maybe the toes weren't strong enough and he hyperextended (the big toe). Through good nutrition, he might be able to get it better (soon), but it can take up to a year sometimes.
"(But) he said he's going to Tahiti. He feels his chances are a little better; he knows what his body is capable of doing. He feels comfortable and confident enough surfing on his backhand off his heel. On the Tahiti wave, you can be completely on your heels the whole time, through the tube, if conditions are right. Maybe he can find a brace for his toe."
It’s not the first time the retirement word has been associated with the superstar, who has compiled 55 career Championship Tour victories (Tom Curren is second at 33). After winning his sixth world title, Slater took a three-year full-time break from 1999-2001 but came back stronger than ever.
There was also speculation that once Quiksilver was no longer his sponsor in 2014 after 23 years, he’d never come back.
And two years ago, he said he was going to give it one more good shot at a 12th world title in 2017. But the broken foot last July shelved him, except for a daring comeback at the Pipeline Masters in December, where he made it all the way to Round 5 on a foot he felt was only “65 percent” healed. He lost to Gabriel Medina on what many felt was a controversial no-interference call against the Brazilian.
Up next for Slater - should his foot allow him - is the Tahiti Pro Teahupoo event Aug. 10-21, followed by the inaugural event at his own Surf Ranch in Lemoore, Calif., Sept. 6-9. Slater surfed in that wave pool earlier this year during a Futures event that was nationally televised, and looked impressive.
Next season, the WSL reportedly is proposing a major shift in the schedule, trimming the season to about eight months, including a championship playoff in Indonesia and ending the schedule in Tahiti. A playoff, say among the tour's top six or eight surfers, could favor Slater. Overall, according to Surfagram.com, he has won 74 percent of his career heats.
This year’s famed Pipeline Masters in December - an event Slater has won a record seven times - might be his last there because, as of now, Hawaii is not on the reported 2019 proposed schedule.
Also in the mix is the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, Japan, where surfing will be introduced as a medal sport. Slater, who recently said that would be a perfect way to end his career, would have to be ranked as one of the top two Americans after the 2019 world tour ends in order to qualify. Hawaii's John John Florence, Kolohe Andino and Sebastian Zietz; California's Patrick Gudauskas; and New Smyrna Beach's rising star, Evan Geiselman - should he qualify next season - would be among the contenders along with Slater for those two spots.
Pro surfing, like NASCAR in recent years, has lost much of its veteran star power. Just this Monday, Joel Parkinson, 37, the 2012 world champion, announced he would be retiring this season, following on the heels of last year’s farewell tour by fellow Australian and three-time world champ Mick Fanning.
Two years ago, Satellite Beach’s C.J. Hobgood, the 2001 world champion, stepped aside.
There was also 1999 world champion Mark Occhilupo retiring in 2009 and the untimely passing at age 32 in 2010 of Hawaii’s Andy Irons, a three-time world champion who had created a “super rivalry” with Slater.
Now the tour’s focus has swayed to the young guns such as Florence, 25, the two-time defending world champion, and Brazil's trio of Adriano DeSouza, 31, (2015 champion); Medina, 24, (2014 champion); and Felipe Toledo, 22, a former World Qualifying Series champion.
During his illustrious career, Slater has earned over $4 million on the circuit, became the youngest (age 20 in 1992) and the oldest (39 in 2011) to win world titles, and compiled an amazing 820 heat victories in 257 major contests.
In 2019, Slater’s KS Wave Co. plans to open a second wave pool, this one in northwestern Palm Beach County.
But there's still plenty of work to be done on the world circuit.
"You know Kelly, right?" Kechele said. "He'll say he's retiring ... until he wins. And I wouldn't put it past him to win in 2019. I think he's still got a lot in the tank yet."