Surfing-Slater wins his first heat of 2024 at Bells Beach as retirement looms

By Thomson Reuters Mar 26, 2024 | 12:39 AM

(Reuters) – Surfing’s 11-time world champion Kelly Slater won his first heat of the 2024 tour on Tuesday as the Rip Curl Pro Bells Beach got underway in Australia, but the 52-year-old acknowledged his remarkable career was nearing an end. Slater went into the Bells event ranked a lowly 33rd in the world having struggled in the first two contests in Hawaii and missing the most recent competition in Portugal while battling to recover from hip surgery.

“I haven’t made an announcement, but I’m going to wrap this thing (career) up pretty soon,” Slater said after beating Hawaii’s John John Florence and Seth Moniz in their opening round heat.

“So I’m just trying to enjoy each one that I’m at now.”

The world tour field is cut by one-third after the next event at Margaret River in Western Australia and Slater would need a huge finish at one or both events to make the cut.

“If I win this one or Margarets, I earn my way back on tour next year,” he said. “But other than that, I’m fine if it’s my last one, 30 years since I won my first, it would be a nice bookend.

“Bells isn’t one of my favourite waves, but coming down here, it’s one of my favourite events – just the experience. It will be a little bittersweet sadness when I’m not coming back for the event.”

Slater, who recently announced he is expecting his second child, has rung the winner’s bell four times over 32 years competing at the famed pointbreak.

The Floridian is by far the most successful competitive surfer in history, becoming youngest world champion at 20 in 1992 and its oldest at 39 in 2011, drawing comparisons with sporting greats like Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods.

Slater initially retired in 1999, stepping away from the world tour for three years, before coming back and winning another five titles.

He had hoped for an Olympic swan song this year at the Paris Games to be held in Tahiti’s Teahupo’o, but missed out on making the U.S. team.

Other standouts in the opening round at Bells included South Africa’s Jordy Smith, Brazil’s Gabriel Medina and 2023 world champion Caroline Marks.

(Reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney; Editing by Peter Rutherford)