The day Kelly Slater lost his faith in science

January 21, 2022 | Surfing
Kelly Slater: a science man who is not a fan of Covid-19 vaccines | Photo: WSL

Kelly Slater has been a role model for generations of surfers and surf fans, but his latest remarks on Covid-19 vaccines have split the fans.

I've been following Kelly Slater's career for three decades.

I've never had the privilege to meet him in person, but it's pretty easy to like - and admire - the athlete, the gentleman, and the person we get to know from what we see, read and listen to.

However, lately, the greatest competitive surfer of all time has been at the center of a heated debate on whether we should all be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The champion athlete entered a never-ending discussion on whether tennis player Novak Djokovic should be allowed to compete in the Australian Open without a vaccination certificate.

So far, the Covid-19 pandemic has generated 350 million confirmed infections and 5.5 million deaths worldwide.

My parents taught me to try and talk about things that I know or am sure of.

I've certainly failed to follow this valuable lesson several times but, luckily, I am not a public personality or a uber-talented sportsman.

This time, Slater couldn't resist and joined a rather embarrassing Covid-19 discussion with anonymous people on social media.

Exchanging ideas and opinions is always healthy, and part of modern democracies, but health issues aren't necessarily football games or tight surf heats.

It's a bit more complex; it requires years - and sometimes decades - of study, research, experimentation, trial and error.

At the end of it all, there's something very dear to us all - life.

There have always been antivaccination movements. It's part of human nature. We rarely agree on anything, and that's fine.

However, we must respect those who, outside our world, have rules and policies regarding their national security, especially when public health is at stake.

In modern democracies, people vote to have people they trust running their countries the best way they can.

By now, and to the surprise of many, we all suspect Kelly Slater opted not to get his Covid-19 jab.

Kelly Slater: the 11-time surfer champion says he knows more about being healthy than 99 percent of doctors | Photo: WSL

To Vax or Not to Vax

The history of the vaccine is a mirror of the evolution of medicine and science.

According to historians, the Chinese employed smallpox inoculation as early as 1,000 CE.

However, the most critical breakthrough and innovation only appeared around 1796 with Edward Jenner's use of cowpox material to create immunity to smallpox.

Since then, vaccine research has evolved rapidly, resulting in the eradication of dozens of more or less severe infectious diseases and health conditions.

Since 1880, vaccines have saved billions of people from dying from malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, meningitis, whooping cough, dengue fever, polio, Zika fever, measles, birth defects, hepatitis, diarrheal disease, Ebola, cervical cancer, AIDS, and Covid-19.

As a result, it is no surprise that nine in ten people in the world - 92 percent - think that vaccines are essential for children to have.

We sometimes tend to forget that vaccines are developed by people like us, with families, friends, and loved ones.

The only difference is that they dedicated their academic and professional lives to research and science.

They've studied and earned their degrees in biological sciences to pursue the dream of saving lives and improving the quality of life of their peers.

In most cases, they know way more, they're more trained and skilled, and eventually more intelligent than me and you, dear reader.

Are vaccines perfect? They will never be.

Will there be side effects? Yes.

Can they cure or eradicate all diseases? No.

Otherwise, humans would be perfect or play the role of one of our gods. But those are not the relevant questions.

The relevant question is: "what are my chances of surviving a pandemic - or reducing the risk of hospitalization - if I take a shot that has had no statistically relevant adverse side effects after billions of inoculations?

We only really needed a graph to take a decision - the one that tells us how many people died or were rushed to ICU before and after the Covid-19 vaccination.

Here's how it played out in Portugal, the world's most vaccinated country:

Covid-19: Portugal before and after the vaccination

Despite the increase in the number of cases in January 2022 - five times more due to a more contagious variant and the start of the third jab - the number of deaths and hospitalizations is dramatically lower than in January 2021.

I have to admit I did not want to be the first person to get the first Covid-19 shot. Did I fear the consequences or undesirable side effects it could have on my body? Absolutely.

But I was determined to trust one thing.

For the first time in human history, people from all over the world were able to work cooperatively and share their knowledge to work and get a couple of safe formulas to save lives in record time.

I am one of those who have always looked at the pharmaceutical industry with mistrust.

However, this time, I think that companies involved in the multiple vaccines did what we should expect from them.

Yes, there's a lot of money involved, but if they make a difference in saving my friend's life, it's a no-brainer.

And so, I decided to postpone my first Covid-19 shot a month.

I wanted to see for myself if the early adopters were OK after getting their injections. One month later, I was in for it.

And I got my second shot. And I'm about to get my third shot.

Kelly Slater: he won't compete at Bells Beach in 2022 with the Covid-19 vaccination certificate | Photo: WSL

My Science and The Official Science

Kelly Slater is one of the savviest professional surfers the sport has ever had.

He reads the ocean like few oceanographers and surf forecasters; he's into reading about science, politics, biology, nature, etc.

Slater is a well-informed person with an open, tolerant, and modern man with multiple interests besides surfing.

The 11-time world champion pioneered the new generation of wave pools with a full science-based approach to his groundbreaking artificial wave technology.

Kelly Slater has always been keen to learn and study every detail of a surfboard and fin, leaving no hydrodynamic variable unturned.

So, how do his latest comments on Covid-19 vaccines - developed by hundreds of thousands of skilled researchers, biologists, epidemiologists, doctors, and science masters - fit in the Slater mindset we got used to?

From a democratic perspective, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. And, in most countries, the Covid-19 vaccine is not yet mandatory.

Thus, Slater has the right to refuse the shot, even though he has probably been vaccinated all his life - when he was a child and when he had to travel to countries that require specific injections.

But I still don't quite believe I've read these lines:

"If something happens to me, it's on me, not someone else."

"And for people saying listen to the doctors, I'm positive I know more about being healthy than 99% of doctors (...)."

"(...) most of my Covid info comes directly from doctor friends, many of them in disagreement with the official 'science.'"

The problem with the "it's on me, not someone else" is that, like with many infectious diseases, the more infected people there are, the more people they will infect.

The trick is to try and break the chain while simultaneously reducing the chances of dying or getting hospitalized.

Again, are Covid-19 vaccines perfect? Unfortunately, no. But they're the best we can get right now.

If we were in a critical condition and given a choice to try a new, untested pill with a 55 percent chance of surviving, would you not take it?

I would take it. So, why wouldn't we get a shot with 95 percent overall efficacy?

But what really disappoints me is reading from someone I respect that he knows more about being healthy than 99 percent of doctors. Really, Kelly?

At the same time, Slater admits he gets Covid-related information from his doctor friends, who don't follow the "official science."

So, again, he chooses to listen to his alternative doctor friends' arguments even though he knows more about health than most MDs.

I don't get it.

No Vax, No Surf

A few days after Novak Djokovic's soap opera moment in Australia, the federal health authorities stressed that the Covid-19 rules "apply to everyone."

In other words, unvaccinated travelers will have "no chance of getting into the country."

As a result, unless Kelly Slater proves he got his jab, the Floridian won't compete in the Australian Championship Tour leg, which features Bells Beach and Margaret River.

Each country has its own regulations, and it is fair to accept that the decision of the majority - an elected government - must be accepted and respected.

Everyone would love to see Slater unleashing his best surf. Hopefully, he might change his mind and join the vaccinated world.

Because I would always reconsider my pro-Covid-19 vaccination viewpoints if proven wrong.


Words by Luís MP | Founder of SurferToday.com