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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