That’s it. We’re weighing in.
The debate has always raged about just who is the greatest athlete in the world. Really it’s a stupid process comparing a multitude of great men and women playing completely different sports. It’s always going to end badly.
What annoys me whenever this debate rages is that Kelly Slater gets disregarded so quickly.
The argument is always the same. Surfing isn’t a sport that can be undertaken in most countries around the world and, whilst Kelly Slater is a top athlete, there isn’t enough competition to suggest that he is one of the greatest. The people that say these things are flaming morons for a number of reasons.
Surfing is the most difficult sport in the world to master
Every sport in the world takes practice. If you’re a swimmer, you swim lap after lap after lap. If you’re a runner, you run and you run and you run. If you’re a football player, you kick and you kick and you kick. Groundbreaking stuff.
But what if practicing that sport wasn’t as simple as just jumping ‘back on the horse’ and going again?
When a surfer paddles out and gets a wave, it’s an extremely special moment, simply because it will never happen again. Never again will the exact same wave roll through the lineup, pitch in the exact same way and then break in the exact same spot.
So how do you keep trying and refining your skills if the playing field changes with every attempt?
Basketball players don’t have the floor and the ring moving around when they are trying to practice free throws. Everything is in the same spot and you can shoot that ball until your arms won’t move. Better yet, you can practice at any time – day or night.
Even other action sports like snowboarding or surfing allow you to practice the same trick over and over again.
A surfer is restricted by time, tide, wave size, wind, banks, crowds and more. All these obstacles and you haven’t even caught a wave let alone completed a turn or air.
For a surfer to catch a wave and ride it to perfection, it’s the culmination of a lot of factors and a lot of talent.
When it comes to catching waves, Kelly Slater is the best.
Kelly is 40 and has dominated the sport for two decades
So there are a lot of great athletes out there who have won multiple medals, titles and records. But have many of them done so over two decades?
Kelly has seen challengers come and go since 1992, and none of them have removed his crown. The argument that not enough people have the chance to learn and become great surfers weighs in heaviest here.
If Kelly had won a few world titles over a decade, it wouldn’t be impressive enough for this conversation.
5 world titles over a decade like the great Mark Richards. Still not enough.
The man has won 11 world titles in a 20 year period. The first in his early 20′s, the last when he was about to tick over to 40. He’s even leading the world title race this year to go number 12.
I’d like to see any other sportsman of that age paddling out to 10ft Cloudbreak and putting their lives on the line. The argument for surfing being an ageless sport does not apply at the top level.
Kelly Slater’s dominance on surfing hasn’t just been great, it’s been phenomenal.
However, despite all this rambling and raving, I’d still not call him the greatest athlete of all time (the title was just to catch your attention). The reason for this is what I mentioned earlier. There are many great sportsmen and women playing a different variety of sports. You can’t just rope them all into one.
What I’d hope to come from this is that Kelly isn’t shunned to the side anymore. He is a freak of an athlete, and should be recognised for that.
Next time you’re having the greatest athlete debate with the lads, throw his name in there with these arguments attached.
And yes we know this is getting off the topic of Australian surfing, but we had to give our shout. Parko, Mick, Taj, Julian, Owen – happy now?