OPINION: Kelly Slater Should Not Get an Injury Wildcard

Matt Rott

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Updated 41d ago

The second half of the Margaret River Pro will be completed at Uluwatu in a couple of days, and John John Florence will not be competing.

Florence has had a bit of a rough start to the year competitively—something that’s not unheard of when defending multiple world titles—and his run of bad luck seems to be continuing, as he injured his ACL and LCL during a free surf on Bali this past week.

Just take a second and process this... @surfnavarro kicked out right next to me and all I could do was give him a big hug. Today will never be forgotten. It was an honor to be in the presence of an ocean doing this. There is no better wave on this earth than #Cloudbreak. Lots of questions about competition and the event in Bali...Long story short, I am not on the level I want and need to be to compete. I did catch one really nice wave today, went straight perfectly well, and saw a hundred other good waves. When I’m ready, properly healed, and able to compete with the world’s best, I will. Good luck to everyone in Bali for the @wsl event and hoping for some more tomorrow in Fiji. Wow is all I can say. I’m inspired and more excited than ever to see surfing where it’s at! I’m calling at least 1 Billion people on this earth should have witnesse what went down today. This stuff is like people going to the moon...by tomorrow people will say it didn’t happen.

A post shared by Kelly Slater (@kellyslater) on

Knee injuries that involved torn and strained ligaments often take months to rehabilitate, so it is possible that Florence could miss the rest of the season. And that would create an interesting situation, because obviously the defending two-time world champion (and best all-around surfer in the world) would deserve an injury wildcard if he were to miss half the season with a bum knee.

But there are also two other competitors who have missed numerous events this season due to injury—Caio Ibelli and Kelly “Jimmy Slade” Slater. And there are typically only two injury wildcards each season.

Of course, there are many out there who feel that Slater should no longer qualify for an injury wildcard. Slater broke his foot last year at the J-Bay Pro, and missed the rest of the 2017 season, earning an injury wildcard this year. But he has missed the first five events of the 2018 season as well, contending that he is not yet able to surf at 100 per cent.

The problem many people have with that contention is that Kelly hasn’t exactly been bed-ridden while “rehabbing” his ankle. Last week, he skipped the Corona Bali Protected event due to “injury,” but then flew to Fiji and surfed the biggest Cloudbreak swell in recent memory—making one of the best paddle barrels of the session while his fellow world tour competitors were contesting round 1 at Keramas.

That night, Slater posted on Instagram about how excited he was to have been in Fiji for the historic swell, and ended by saying, “Long story short, I am not on the level I want and need to be to compete…when I’m ready, properly healed, and able to compete with the world’s best, I will.” As you can imagine, this didn’t sit well with a lot of people.

Now it may be somewhat true (as Slater loves to point out) that going straight in the barrel doesn’t put as much stress on the foot as high-performance surfing does (forgetting for a moment the high risk of re-injury that huge Cloudbreak poses). But the fact of the matter is, everyone knows Slater is full of crap, because 10 days before the Fiji swell he pulled the exact same stunt, surfing the Founders’ Cup at his wave pool—a high-performance event held in head-high waves—and then pulling out of the world tour event in Rio three days later due to “his ongoing foot injury.”

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with wanting to prioritizing certain events or swells over others, and not being fully committed to the world tour. I think we can all understand and support this. To be honest, huge Cloudbreak and the world’s best wave pool sound a lot more exciting than Rio and Keramas. As far as I’m concerned, Slater can do anything he damned well pleases

If Slater doesn’t want to surf these events—if he wants to go elsewhere and do better, more exciting things—then that’s exactly what he should do. He has contributed more to competitive surfing than anyone else in history, won as many world titles as the next four guys combined, and been an admirable ambassador for our sport and lifestyle for nearly four decades. As far as I’m concerned, Slater can do anything he damned well pleases.

The wave that took down the champ at J-Bay.

The wave that took down the champ at J-Bay.

© 2018 - Maarten Van de Velde

But let’s call a Slade a Slade here. Let’s not pretend one thing and do another. Slater doesn’t have to be fully committed to the world tour, but he should probably be committed to NOT being fully committed. Especially now that the injury wildcard situation just got a bit more convoluted.

The world tour is a place for people whose priority is winning the world title. Julian Wilson is contending for a world title right now, and has surfed every event this year—despite having a severely injured shoulder. Owen Wright took an entire year off of surfing to heal from his head injury, and then, when he was ready, got back on a board and showed up for all of his events

Owen Wright took an entire year off of surfing to heal from his head injury, and then, when he was ready, got back on a board and showed up for all of his events, finishing the year in the top 10. Tyler Wright won a word title with torn ligaments in her knee, and Sally Fitzgibbons competed at Cloudbreak with a blown eardrum.

These are the actions of people who want world titles—who want to compete, want to show up in Bali and Brazil and slog it out for points instead of surfing better waves in better places.

If Slater doesn’t want to prioritise competition, that’s great—I’m sure the WSL will be happy to grant him wildcards into the events he wants to surf, for as long as he remains competitive.

But the injury wildcards are full-time spots on tour, and should go to guys who intend to surf all of the events. If we get to the end of the season and the WSL has to choose which two of the three injured competitors deserve full-time spots on tour, the decision should be pretty obvious.


Matt Rott

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