Feb 5 (Reuters) - Kelly Slater conquered life-threatening waves, the world's best surfers and his own age to win his eighth Pipeline Pro in Hawaii on Saturday, 30 years after winning the contest for the first time.
Six days before his 50th birthday, Slater's win over Hawaii's Seth Moniz reignited debate about whether the Floridian might be the greatest athlete of all time, let alone best surfer ever.
"Kelly is in his own universe, he's making history right now," World Surf League commentator and "Momentum Generation" friend Ross Williams said on the event broadcast. "Speechless, chicken skin all over, what a moment for sport, let alone surfing."
Slater has won 11 world titles, becoming surfing's youngest champion at 20 in 1992 and its oldest at 39 in 2011, and now has a record 56 World Championship Tour victories.
"I committed my life to this you know, to all of this. All the heartbreak, and the winning and all this crap," Slater said, fighting back tears after the final. "I've hated lots of it, but I'll just savour this. It's the best win of my life."
Slater's win in the first event of the 2022 World Championship Tour propels him to the top of the rankings, but he hinted he might retire.
"I don't know how many more of these are going to happen. This honestly might be it, I might not show up to (the next contest at) Sunset (Beach)."
Slater has been warned by Australian officials he will not be allowed to compete in upcoming events there if he doesn't get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Slater, who hasn't revealed his vaccination status, defended tennis world number one Novak Djokovic last month after the unvaccinated Serbian was detained and later deported by authorities ahead of the Australian Open.
Pipeline, the world's most famous and dangerous wave, was not at quite the same level of ferocious perfection as earlier in the event. Stiff trade winds made the giant peaks more treacherous than usual and forced the final of the first women's event at Pipeline to be delayed, likely until Sunday.
Slater consistently picked out the best waves in the final, focussing on the long, deep barrels at Backdoor, Pipeline's less predictable and higher risk right-hand alter ego.
With less than two minutes to go, Slater scored his best wave, dropping out of the sky, barely avoiding the plunging lip and getting deep in the barrel for 9.77 out of 10.
"I thought I was going to break my neck," Slater later told Moniz on the sand. "I thought I'm done but I've just got to try it. I barely got to my feet. I got pretty deep and it blew me out."
Moniz, 24, caught the next massive wave and survived an incredible barrel but it was not enough and he helped carry a triumphant Slater up the beach on his shoulders.
"It was an honour to surf against him and a big privilege for me to be out there with him," Moniz said.
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