The debate about the stature of surfing in sports mainstream can safely be concluded as something that we will agree to disagree about.
Nevertheless, it is a sport.
It just so happens that Kelly Slater is the undisputed champion of the surfing world. His unprecedented success in the water warrants the respect to have a conversation on whether he is the greatest athlete of all time.
The Florida native has proven time and again that age is just a number, which typically does not resonate in sport.
At age 41, Slater has collected 11 ASP World Tour titles and 51 Elite World Tour victories. Oh, and he has been doing this for more than two decades. His closest rival in the sports history, Tom Curren, finished with just 33 tour victories.
Today, he is competing and beating guys who were infants when he won his first title. He is the youngest world champion at 20 years old and the oldest at 39 years old.
The time span of his dominance is unheard of. Occasionally guys show levels of courage and skill beyond their years and have careers that exceed are expectations.
But the names that come to mine, Brett Favre, Jamie Moyer and maybe Andre Agassi, all had long careers, but up-and-down ones.
The name Slater has been a constant at the top of surfing since Jordan won his first of six rings.
Who is the Greatest Athlete of All Time?
I do not think that any pro athletes have left legacies on their particular sports to the extent that Kelly has.
I know, what about Tiger? What about the Michael’s? Well, the last time I checked, fame is not a criterion for the best athlete of all time.
In terms of dominance, career length, number of titles won, you name it, Kelly has ticked all of the boxes compared to those names.
Under Kelly’s reign, the sport is becoming global. Long gone are the days when surfing’s elite were all residents of either Australia or Hawaii.
Even though surfing lacks the mainstream allure, Slater is proven that it does not differ at all from the clutch putts, buzzer beats and crushing hits that you see commanding SportsCenter.
Finally, the most telling piece of evidence is the fact that we are having this conversation while Slater is still competing. With whispers of Kelly wanting to surf until he is 50, it looks as though his case for the greatest athlete of all time will only strengthen.