Kelly Slater: a 9-time ASP world champion

Kelly Slater, 36, has won a record ninth ASP World Title after advancing out of Round 3 of the Billabong Pro Mundaka – the ninth event of 11 on the 2008 ASP World Tour.

Slater came into the event needing an equal ninth finish to clinch the title. He secured that by beating local wildcard Eneko Acero (EUK) in four-foot waves at Mundaka this morning.

“It’s going to take a little while to sink in,” Slater said when mobbed at the water’s edge. “I’m probably going to have to call home and talk to family for it to really hit me.”

Slater’s 2008 crowning comes 16 years after securing his first ASP World Title at age 20.

He is the oldest and youngest surfer in ASP history to win a world title. The now nine-time ASP World Champion joined the tour in 1991 and won his first ASP World Title in 1992.

When asked if he had ever dreamed about achieving such a feat when he came onto the scene 17 years ago, Slater was close to speechless.

“I never even thought about it,” Slater said. “It never even popped into my head. It’s crazy.”

Despite entering his 14th year on tour already the owner of most every accolade in professional surfing, 2008 has been a banner year for Slater.

With five wins in the first seven events of the year, a second-place finish at the last event in France, and a Round 4 berth at the Billabong Pro Mundaka later today, Slater is on track to post his most successful season to date. Slater’s winning average in 2008 is 89 percent at present.

“I felt a lot more at ease this year,” Slater said.

“It’s probably my personal life. That’s the biggest change in my life. I’m happy and settled, and I’ve got the support there that just feels amazing."

"Nothing else has really changed, I’ve worked with my boards a little bit here and there and I’ve always worked on my mind and my emotions, but something just really clicked into place this year.”

After winning his first ASP World Tour title in 1992 and claiming five titles in a row from 1994 to 1998, Slater went into semi-retirement at age 26, citing burnout and lack of motivation.

He returned to the tour full-time in 2003, lost a heart-wrenching title race to Andy Irons (HAW) that same year, and wasn’t able to reclaim the crown until 2005.

Slater cruised to title No. 8 in 2006, finished World No. 3 in 2007, and is once again World No. 1 after winning his ninth ASP World Title today.

“In 1996, I had a good year – I won 7 out of 13,” Slater said.

“In 1996 I won five events of 12 – but both years I was counting ninths at the end of the year. This year I’ve won five events of eight, I’m sitting on a second and I still have a throwaway to spare. The depth of success I’ve had this season is the deepest of my career.”

With such a monumental lead so early in the season, it was less a matter of if Slater would win the title and more a matter of when.

“I think there were key heats this year, a few I had with Taj, Parko, and even Bobby in Fiji, where I got waves under the other surfers’ priority and won important heats, that it really sunk in that it was going to happen,” Slater said. “It was probably JBay where it really sunk in.”

Slater was quick to acknowledge 2007 ASP World Champion Mick Fanning (AUS) and the support he’s given him both professionally and personally today.

“When Mick won last year, I was obviously really stoked for him,” Slater said.

“I think I knew from the first contest last year that Mick was going to win. He was really focused, and he didn’t have anything standing in his way mentally or emotionally. He was the one person who sent me a text when I was looking at leaving that said, ‘We need you to stay on tour. Don’t worry, you’ll find that personal stuff. It will happen,’ and now it has. Even though he is the toughest competitor on tour he’s always been a good friend and I have a lot of respect for Mick.”

Because Slater lost interest after winning five titles in a row from ’94 to ’98, and then toyed with retirement again after winning No. 7 and No. 8 right after each other, it would seem like winning back to back titles might have lost its appeal for the world’s most decorated surfer.

“No, winning them back-to-back is still pretty sweet,” Slater said with a smile. “If I can go back to back starting now, that would be pretty sweet. It is really nice to come back and win it after you lost it the year before, though. I’m sure if Mick were to come back and win one, or Andy was to come back and win one – C.J., any of those guys, they would definitely say how sweet it is to win it again.”

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