Kelly Slater’s Olympic surfing hopes in trouble

Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater needs wild card help, and then needs to rocket up the standings if he is to qualify for the 2024 Olympics at age 51.

Slater, the record 11-time world champion, was eliminated in the round of 32 from the Margaret River Pro in Australia on Saturday. That ensured Slater will miss the WSL “cut” at the midpoint of the 10-contest regular season, a concept introduced last year.

The world’s top 24 men can continue competing this season, and chasing 2024 Olympic bids that will be doled out based on the final season standings.

Slater is ranked outside the top 24, but he could stay on tour if awarded the WSL’s wild card spot given to a surfer who is a former world champion or made it to the five-surfer finals event in either of the last two seasons. That wild card will be given after the Margaret River event ends.

Each of the five remaining contests can also offer one wild card per gender specific to their competition.

In a broadcast interview minutes after Saturday’s elimination, Slater was asked his plans for the future but not specifically if he wanted or would accept wild cards if offered. The next competition in late May is at the Surf Ranch, an artificial wave pool that he created in California.

“Plans for the future?” Slater said in the interview. “I want to get really barreled somewhere.”

Slater has been eliminated in the round of 32 in four of the five contests this season and lost in the round of 16 in the other. Last year, he won the season-opening Pipeline Masters, then made one quarterfinal the rest of the season while missing two events due to a torn psoas or labrum, an injury that’s lingered into 2023.

“I’ve just been in a slump for like a year,” Slater said after the previous contest in Australia earlier this month.

The top two U.S. men in the WSL standings after this season’s finals in September clinch 2024 Olympic spots. Going into Margaret River, Griffin Colapinto ranked fifth in the world and John John Florence was tied for seventh. Slater needs multiple quarterfinal-or-better finishes to make up the gap, as well as to pass a few other Americans between him and Colapinto and Florence.

The U.S. could get a third men’s Olympic spot — which wasn’t available for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, when Slater missed the two-man team by one spot — if it wins next year’s World Surfing Games team competition (Brazil may be favored). U.S. officials have not announced how that spot would be filled.

The U.S. women are already guaranteed three Olympic spots, with at least the first two determined by this season’s WSL standings.

Carissa Moore, the Tokyo Olympic champion, went into Margaret River as the highest-ranked American at No. 3 in the world, followed by 17-year-old Caity Simmers.

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Kelly Slater is trying to qualify for the Olympics at age 51

Kelly Slater

On Dec. 19, 2019, Kelly Slater missed qualifying for surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo by one spot. It came down to the 11th and final event of the season-long World Surf League Championship Tour in a tight battle with his Hawaiian neighbor John John Florence.

At age 47, it appeared that surfing’s Olympic inclusion came just a bit too late for the greatest surfer in history to take part.

Slater continued to enter the sport’s other premier contests.

He opened the 2021 season with a third-place finish at surfing’s crown jewel, the Pipeline Masters on the North Shore of Oahu. But Slater then missed half the season, citing injuries to both ankles and his right hip. It was a reminder that every athlete succumbs to age — even if few have successfully fended it off longer than Slater.

Yet there Slater was last Feb. 5, being carried out of the water, raising his arms in triumph after winning his eighth Pipeline Masters title, six days shy of his 50th birthday and 30 years after his first victory. It was his first title on tour in nearly six years.

That win — which Slater called the best of his record 56 on the Championship Tour — also meant something more. Maybe, just maybe, he has enough left in the tank to qualify for the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Slater made just one more quarterfinal in his remaining seven events last season. Still, he finished the year ranked 15th in the world and, more importantly for Olympic prospects, third among Americans.

Everybody starts from zero points again as this season opened Wednesday with the first rounds of the Pipeline Masters. The top two Americans per gender in the season-ending standings in September are likely to qualify for the Paris Games.

The U.S. could get a third men’s Olympic spot — which wasn’t available four years ago — if it wins next year’s World Surfing Games team competition (Brazil may be favored). It’s unclear what will determine which surfer fills that potential spot.

If he could only have one, Slater would take a 2024 Olympic spot over another win at Pipeline.

He is trying to become the oldest U.S. Summer Olympic rookie competitor in a sport other than equestrian, sailing, shooting or art competitions(!) in the last 100 years, supplanting Martina Navratilova (who was 47 in 2004), according to

“This will be my one chance [at the Olympics],” Slater said Saturday while promoting the upcoming season of “Make or Break” that premieres Feb. 17 on Apple TV+. “The next [Olympics] I’ll be 55 years old. I’m not going to be on tour by then. I did say that at 40, though, when I was talking about being 50.”

Slater, speaking on Wednesday’s opening day Pipeline broadcast, said he messaged Tom Brady after the NFL star announced his retirement (for a second time) earlier in the day.

“I don’t think there would be a player in the league right now that wouldn’t say that Brady can still win a Super Bowl right now, so it’s a hard carrot to dangle in front of yourself and not go for it,” Slater said. “I can relate to that after so long, but I love to surf, and this is the outlet for it, still. I feel that candle kind of burning out for me. That’s been for a while, but I think I’m just going to surf until it’s totally done, and I don’t really care at all about surfing a heat and want to be somewhere else.”

Slater is pumped for the 2024 Olympic venue: Teahupo’o,  a daunting reef break nicknamed “The End of the Road.” It is in Tahiti, an island in French Polynesia that is about 9,800 miles from Paris. It will break the record for the farthest Olympic medal competition to be held outside the host city.

Slater won there five times on the Championship Tour, the last in 2016.

“It’s one of the truly great challenging waves in the world,” he said. “If I can get on that team, I feel like I have a good shot at potentially winning a medal or gold medal. If that were the case, I will drop the mic and quit right then, but, you know, I got a lot of work to do between now and then.”

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Carissa Moore the latest Olympian to receive Sullivan Award

Carissa Moore

Carissa Moore, who won surfing’s Olympic debut in Tokyo, joined a long list of gold medalists to receive the Sullivan Award, which has honored an outstanding U.S. athlete outside of major professional sports (usually NCAA or an Olympian) since 1930.

The other finalists were Olympic wrestler Jordan Burroughs, Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Bryce Young, NCAA Softball Player of the Year Jocelyn Alo and NCAA Baseball Player of the Year Ivan Melendez.

Moore followed her Olympic title in 2021 by finishing second in the season-long World Surf League, upset by Australian Stephanie Gilmore in the finals in September. Most of the 2024 Olympic spots will be determined by next season’s World Surf League standings.

She is the first surfer and first Hawaiian to win the Sullivan Award.

Past honorees include Michael PhelpsCarl Lewis and Eric Heiden.

The Sullivan Award “recognizes the outstanding athlete whose athletic accomplishments are complemented by qualities of leadership, character and sportsmanship.”

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Olympians/Paralympians to win Sullivan Award since 2000
2022: Carissa Moore (Surfing)
2021: Simone Biles (Gymnastics) and Caeleb Dressel (Swimming)
2018: Kyle Snyder (Wrestling)
2016: Breanna Stewart (Basketball, shared award)
2013: Missy Franklin (Swimming)
2011: Evan Lysacek (Figure Skating)
2009: Shawn Johnson (Gymnastics)
2007: Jessica Long (Swimming, Paralympics)
2005: Paul Hamm (Gymnastics)
2004: Michael Phelps (Swimming)
2003: Sarah Hughes (Figure Skating)
2002: Michelle Kwan (Figure Skating)
2001: Rulon Gardner (Wrestling)