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Ninth title for Slater

October 04, 2008|Pete Thomas | Times Staff Writer

Kelly Slater has authored a soon-to-be-released book, in which he describes himself as "about the luckiest guy you'd ever meet."

That's putting it humbly. Remarkable talent and execution are what have enabled the pro surfer to flourish under the sun and set him apart from all other surfers.

Slater, 36, who won his first ASP World Tour championship in 1992, when he was 20 and not long before he began to lose his hair, on Friday clinched a ninth championship.

No other surfer in the 32-year history of the Assn. of Surfing Professionals has won more than four.

And despite a recent infusion of younger, new-age power surfers, nobody has come close to consistently matching a stylish master who is the second-oldest athlete on the 45-man tour roster.

Slater clinched the title after winning a third-round heat in four-foot waves against Eneko Acero during the Billabong Pro Mundaka in Spain.

Emotionally drained, he was subsequently eliminated by Australia's Tom Whitaker in the fourth round of a contest scheduled to resume today.

"It's going to take a little while to sink in," Slater told reporters as he was mobbed at water's edge. "I'm probably going to have to call home and talk to family for it to really hit me."

Slater, who resides in Cocoa Beach, Fla., is enjoying what could become his most prolific season in 14 years on the World Tour. He has won five of eight contests with two remaining.

He had won seven times in 1996, but there were 13 contests that year.

"I think I'm a better surfer than I ever have been," said Slater, whose photo- and commentary-driven book, "Kelly Slater: For the Love" will be released later this month.

He's now the youngest and oldest world champion and a question that has lingered like mist on the seashore remains: When will Slater retire and allow parity onto the tour?

Slater has said he'll compete as long as he remains competitive. But he has also acknowledged that finishing with 10 titles would round out his career nicely.

It's a question he has wrestled with for 10 years. After winning five consecutive titles from 1994 to '98, Slater, citing burnout, went on hiatus. He didn't return to full-time competition until 2003.

He lost a close title race with Andy Irons that year and watched as Irons prevailed again in 2004. Inspired by the losses, Slater regained his form and has won titles in three of the last four years.

And luck has had nothing to do with it.

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pete.thomas@latimes.com

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