Pro surfer Kelly Slater, who won his ninth world title in 2008, is often described as “the Michael Jordan of surfing.” This is not just a simple comparison. The comparison goes far beyond both being known as the all-time bests in their respective sports.
Kelly Slater and Michael Jordan both took breaks in the middle of their careers and then surprised fans when they returned at even higher levels of excellence. But in the comeback department, Slater has been even more amazing than Jordan. The time gap for Michael Jordan was less than two years. For Kelly Slater, it was five years.
Both Kelly Slater and Michael Jordan coped, at mid-career, with the loss of their fathers. James Jordan was murdered in 1993, and Steve Slater died of cancer in 2002.
Another common factor is that Michael Jordan (2-17-63) and Kelly Slater (2-11-72) both are Aquarians, for what that may or may not be worth.
Despite the nine-year age difference, they became champions only one year apart. Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls won the first of their six championships in 1991, when Jordan was 28. Kelly Slater captured the first of his nine titles during 1992, when Slater was a mere 20.
Jordan “retired” after winning his third consecutive NBA (National Basketball Association) title in 1993. Slater stopped competing after he captured his sixth crown, including five in a row, in 1998.
Jordan’s absence ended when he rejoined the Chicago Bulls near the end of the 1995 season. The Bulls were defeated that year, as Jordan fought to rediscover his game, but they won another three in a row in 1996, 1997 and 1998.
Slater came back for the 2003 season of the ASP (Association of Surfing Professionals ) but barely lost the season championship to Andy Irons. He says his frustration with the defeat caused him to slump during 2004, but he won championships in 2005 and 2006, and again in 2008. Slater says he remains undecided regarding the 2009 season, but competitors such as 2007 champ Mick Fanning have encouraged him to stay on tour.
Michael Jordan adjusted during his comeback career by shooting more jump shots, rather than driving so often for dazzling dunks. Kelly Slater has shifted to a smaller board, more than a foot shorter than his foes.
Kelly Slater says that 2008 was his best season ever. The surfer once was a mate of celebrities such as Pamela Anderson and Cameron Diaz, but he keeps private the name of his current significant other.
Kelly Slater explains: “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.”