Pro Surfer Kelly Slater loses, then wins 11th World Title

Kelly Slater the night he thought he won the ASP World Title.

A mix-up in scoring stripped Slater of his World Title on Wednesday, but on Sunday the Malibu resident officially earned his 11th title.

By Ben Marcus / Special to The Malibu Times

A mix-up in the math by the Association of Surfing Professionals had them rescinding professional surfer Kelly Slater’s 11th World Title for the Rip Curl Search Pro contest last Wednesday at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Then, four days later, Slater officially earned the title during the contest that took place on Sunday. It was Slater himself, who, after a night of celebration, alerted the ASP that he did not actually win on Nov. 2.

Slater is considered to be the greatest surfer in the history of the sport, and because he is still dominant at 39 years old, some argue he is one of the greatest athletes of any kind of all time.

He won three of the first nine events on the 2011 ASP World Championship Tour and was in a title race with Australian Owen Wright going into the Rip Curl Pro Search last week. The ASP announced that Slater only had to win his Round Three heat to claim his unprecedented 11th World Title. The title is won based on the number of points earned throughout the season in ASP contests.

The Malibu surfer won his Round One heat on Nov. 1, the first day of the waiting period, and advanced directly to Round Three on the second day, where he went up against Australian Dan Ross. The sun was up, the sky was blue and surf conditions were beautiful, but it looked like an upset was in the making as Ross led Slater up until the last minute, seven seconds of the heat.

But then, Slater rode a long right from one side of the judges’ stand to the other, finished almost on the beach, scored a 7.60 and was swept to the podium on the shoulders of friends.

There, Slater made a victory speech that was described as “lackluster” by a longtime friend of Kelly, who said, “That wasn’t weird enough for Kelly. It was a little dramatic, but not the way he likes it.”

Later, it got weird.

That night, Slater’s manager, Malibu resident Terry Hardy, threw a victory party at the Sea Bowl in Pacifica. Surfers from Dane Reynolds to Tom Curren were eating pizza, drinking beer and bowling. As the surfers were talking about Cuba and having some food, Slater’s manager Hardy beamed as Sports Center showed their Top 11 Plays of the Week to honor Kelly’s championship.

That night, after bowling, Slater was surfing the Internet when he saw a comment on by someone named Mark that suggested the World Title math was wrong. Slater worked it out with a pencil, and discovered that this random Surfline comment was actually true. He could have kept it to himself, but his sense of integrity wouldn’t let him.

“I texted my mom and said it was funny that I didn’t really have any emotion about it when I won,” Slater was quoted by Jake Howard on ESPN, “so maybe deep down I knew. But this is my profession, so it’s a little on me to know the situation.”

Slater told a disbelieving ASP, and then the world, that he hadn’t actually won the 11th Title. The next morning, the ASP fessed up to a major mistake.

The Rip Curl Pro Search contest ran again on Sunday. Slater surfed in Heat Two of Round Four, competing against Brazilians Miguel Pupo and Gabriel Medina, whose combined ages of 19 and 17, respectively, don’t add up to Slater’s 39 years.

“I’m going against two kids that could literally be my kids,” Slater said in a pre-heat interview, “and those kids throw gnarly turns. I was actually hoping it would be offshore and barreling instead of onshore.”

The waves were funky and cold. Medina led, then Pupo led and then Slater scored a 9.10 with a big “floater” over a rough section that gave him an almost insurmountable lead.

When the horn sounded at 12:26:21, Slater was officially the 2011 ASP Men’s World Champion. But then Slater did what he does best. He caught a non-scoring wave and flew through a grinding, exploding tube and disappeared. Everyone, including the event cameramen, assumed it was a wipeout. But Slater came flying out the end of that wave, and the Sunday crowd went berserk. Slater stopped at the water’s edge, smiled and bowed humbly. He stepped ashore and was swept up the beach in a wave of admirers, all of them hailing the now official 2011 World Champion.

The next day, Slater lost his quarterfinal heat to Brazilian wunderkind Gabriel Medina, and the 17-year-old went on to win the event.

Slater flew off to Hawaii with his 11th World Title safe and secure.