Kelly Slater wins Billabong Pro Pipeline 2022 in Oahu, Hawaii

OAHU, Hawaii — On Day 3 of the Winter Olympics, America’s greatest victory might very well have come not on a frozen halfpipe in China but in the warm waves of the Banzai Pipeline thousands of miles away in Hawaii.

The win belonged to Kelly Slater, who great surfing who turns 50 this week. Slater defeated a rider less than half his age to capture him one of the iconic events of the sportthe Billabong Pro Pipeline near Oahu’s famous reef.

Now that he’s on top – again – Slater is starting to think about retirement. Nothing official, of course. I’m just thinking about it. For advice on the matter, Slater sent a message to his buddy Tom Brady to switch back and forth from one athlete dubbed the GOAT, or Greatest of All Time, to another.

“It would be interesting if that happened in the same week,” Slater joked in an interview with The Associated Press on Sunday (Saturday in Hawaii) about the possibility that he might retire after that Brady’s announcement. “We’ll see how that goes. I’m debating whether to stop now or really go full throttle this whole year, which I think would really be for the fans and say goodbye to everyone after all these years of support they’ve given me.”

Should he step down, he already has his retirement plans: surfing.

“Anyone who retires from surfing just surfs more,” he said.

Not everyone has won that much. Slater was the youngest world champion when he won the title at 20. He was also the oldest when he won it at 39. He also just finished his last competition in his 40s with a win. He turns the big 5-0 on Friday.

Overall, he has become a household name and has won a total of 11 world championships. His win over the weekend was his eighth World Surf League Championship Tour win on the Banzai. It was also his 56th overall Tour win.

To cap off his recent win, he beat Seth Moniz, a 24-year-old sensation from Hawaii. Slater goes back a long time with Moniz’s father Tony, whom he looked up to as he rose and came. One of the most touching moments of the day came when Seth hugged Moniz Slater who was in tears after the win.

“An honor to surf against him,” said Moniz.

Just days earlier, it looked like Slater could be eliminated by 22-year Pipeline favorite Barron Mamiya. There were a few seconds on the clock when Slater caught a magic wave to steal the heat and advance.

It was a matter of his vast experience combined with some timely luck that prevailed.

“I mean, I see it as a bit of a martial art — you don’t get worse as you get older, you get more experienced,” said Slater, who also happens to be a scratch golfer.

That was the surfing equivalent of winning Pebble Beach.

“I’m turning 50, but I look at it more like I’ve had almost 40 years of experience on this wave and I can go back to moments that I’ve had out here before and have confidence in them,” Slater said.

Still, the win was surreal even for him.

“Indescribable, indescribable,” he said. “A lifetime of dedication to one cause and it all comes together in a moment like this, I don’t know how you compare it to anything else.”

Over the years catching waves, he’s seen the sport’s popularity explode. This win comes just six months after surfing made its Olympic debut. In keeping with the ethos of a true action sports star, part of him loves exposure and another part hesitates.

However, sometimes it’s best to go where the wave carries you.

“I guess we all feel a little weird when it comes to any sort of mainstream surfing thing,” Slater said. “We want it to be a sport, we want it to have an outlet and get paid for it and stuff like that. But at the same time, we all feel so passionate about it that we just want it to be somehow sacred and secret and special.”

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