A 46-year-old Kelly Slater matched his best finish on the World Surf League in more than two years, reaching the semifinals of the Billabong Pipeline Masters in Hawaii on Monday. With that kind of surfing, he could next year qualify for the sport’s Olympic debut.
The 11-time world champion lost to second-ranked Australian Julian Wilson 14.2 to 11.17 at the season-ending event.
Earlier, the seven-time Pipe Masters champ Slater eliminated Brazilian Filipe Toledo, who came into Hawaii ranked third in the world this year. Slater’s highlights included what’s being called “the Houdini tube ride,” which went viral a day later on Monday.
Brazilian Gabriel Medina clinched his second world title by reaching the final. Medina, a 24-year-old who landed the first backflip in a contest in 2016, is so popular that he has 6.5 million Instagram followers, nearly three times Slater’s amount.
Slater has said the 2019 season will be his last on tour, but he has not ruled out competing at the Tokyo Olympics should he qualify as one of the top two Americans in next year’s standings.
“If I make the [Olympic] team, I’ll compete,” Slater said in April.
Slater dropped to the third-ranked American in 2016 and missed four of 11 events last season after breaking his foot.
Still, he was the only U.S. man to record multiple top-three finishes among the 11 World Surf League contests in 2018, even though he only competed three times total due to injury.
“I actually think my hand cut the other day took my mind off the foot,” Slater said Monday. “And then yesterday I banged my other foot on the reef. That took my mind off of this. Then this morning I landed on my back.”
The U.S. had no men ranked in the top six in the world going into the Pipe Masters. The 2016 and 2017 World champion — 25-year-old John John Florence of Hawaii — has been out since tearing an ACL in June.
The 2019 WSL season — and the start of Olympic qualifying — begins in Gold Coast, Australia, in April.
“It’s just nice to dust off the contest thing a little bit,” Slater said while at his 26th Pipe Masters, according to World Surf League commentators.
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