Since the day Duke Kahanamoku became the ambassador of surfing, sharing the laid-back yet competitive, zen-like sport with the rest of the world, there is a rich history of talented, world class surfers. Whether you judge by style, power, giant waves, or short boards, the criteria do not matter. There is only one Greatest of All Time in the sport of surfing.
Amazing people have influenced the world of surfing, forever leaving their mark on the sport and changing it forever. Nick Galbadon was the first surfer to begin breaking down the race barrier by surfing the waters on all “white” beaches. Segregation knew no bounds, and surfing was no exception. However, he was extremely talented, and he became more accepted over time.
Lisa Anderson shattered the glass ceiling for women in surfing with her powerful style. She wanted to show the world that she could surf like a man, taking on big waves and having the same strength and endurance. Not only did she prove she could, but she was beautiful to watch. Her strides paved the way for women across the world and put women's surfing on the map.
The birth of pro surfing can be attributed to Wayne Bartholomew. He was an incredibly talented and stylish surfer who realized there was money to be made of sponsorships and organized competition. He was one of the first surfers ever to be paid for the sport.
Perhaps some may argue that Tom Curren deserves the GOAT title, and, if you are a purist, you would be right. He epitomized the surfing culture of anti-establishment, free spirited living. Not to mention, he proved his competitive worth on the waves with his world championships titles. Certainly, it could be argued that he is the best in the sport.
However, there is one name who rises above them all—the first household name in the sport, a worldwide recognized athlete with ELEVEN world champion titles to his name. His career has spanned over 20 years, and some say he is the greatest athlete, outperforming the likes of Michael Jordan and others in that elite category. Kelly Slater is by far the GOAT in surfing, and perhaps greatest athlete the world has ever seen.
It isn't only his incredible prowess on the waves, his endurance that led him to a world championship at 39, nor his undeniable talent riding big waves. All of these are widely accepted facts, but they aren't what make him the greatest.
The nature of surfing is changing and will never be the same again. When Kelly Slater won his first championship in 1992, the internet was barely known, car phones and cell phones (the big clunky portable telephones that weighed 5 lbs.) were for businessmen, politicians, and drug dealers only. People got their news from TV, newspapers, and magazines. The only way you could find out about Kelly Slater was from movies or magazines and an occasional airing of a surf competition on TV.
Today, the world is saturated with amazingly gifted surfers from every corner of the world. With the ability to share videos, pictures, and news globally in seconds, the spotlight is no longer focused on a single competition in Pipeline or any other world-renown surfing haunts. From weekend warriors to the pros, from the beaches of California to the reefs of Thailand, surfers around the globe post videos of epic rides every day.
The world of surfing has changed dramatically and permanently, as most of our lives have, because of technology advances. Kelly Slater may hold more titles and is arguably a gift from the heavens to give every surfer inspiration and an exceptional role model, but what about the no-name fifty-year old surfer living in the jungles near Patong Beach?
The world has been blessed to witness the greatness of Kelly Slater; no one can argue that fact. He is essentially the last, singular greatest surfer that we have had the privilege and honor to watch and be inspired by in the history of surfing.