Kelly Slater ‘No Chance’ of Coming to Australia
By Luke Kennedy
Kelly Slater must have watched the recent, off-court chaos surrounding Novak Djokovic’s involvement in The Australian Open and wondered ‘Am I ever going to Australia again?’ While it took Djokovic several court cases and a stint in detention to get an answer, the Australian government has stated unequivocally that Slater will certainly not enter the country in April if he can’t prove he is vaccinated.
Sports Minister, Richard Colbeck claimed that Kelly Slater has “no chance” of getting into the country if he’s not vaccinated. Meanwhile, straight-shooting independent senator Jackie Lambie reiterated the sentiments on ABC radio. “You might want to tell Kelly Slater we’re not the only country putting our foot down on this…. Unless you are double vaxxed and pretty much lining up for your booster, you ain’t coming.”
As it stands the Rip Curl Pro, Bells, the first event on the Australian leg of the tour, is scheduled to run on April 10.
Bells may not be Kelly’s favourite wave but he has won the event four times (Equal with Mick Fanning and Mark Richards) and he would surely love an opportunity to become the only male surfer to ring the bell five times. Missing the two-event Australian leg would also significantly diminish Kelly’s chances of making the final five and thus the finals day under the new WSL format. ( he may hypothetically find other travel loopholes to other locations)
If Kelly did compete in enough events under the new WSL CT system, a top five finish still seems achievable for the GOAT. The WSL just announced Trestles as the location for the finals once again. Kelly’s success at the cobblestone A-frame is well documented and he would certainly be a serious contender for the title if he made it to finals day.
Kelly has a long and celebrated relationship with Australia. He inked his first, big Quiksilver contract Downunder, he’s owned several properties here over the years and won dozens of contests before adoring Australian fans. It has at various times been his home away from home. Ironically in the first phase of COVID in 2020 this is where he bunkered down after the contests were cancelled. There is no doubt fans want to see him surf; it is less clear how many are willing to overlook his forthright stance on vaccinations.
For Kelly the danger is that after such an illustrious career his final legacy may be associated with his willingness to take up the anti-vax mantle. Perhaps Kelly and many of his fans will see this as his noblest battle of all – the fight for choice being far more important than his surfing conquests.
On the flip side, the problem for Kelly is that even if he wanted to acquiesce and get the jab, he has positioned himself as a champion of the pro-choice movement. It’s a long way back from where he is now and it seems highly unlikely he will reverse his stance.
At present Slater is in Hawaii making preparations for his 50th birthday, which is in a couple of weeks on February 11. Hopefully we will see him compete in the first two events of CT, scheduled at Pipeline and Sunset.
The WSL has not stated whether or not Kelly or world champion, Gabriel Medina,(also not clear on his status) have to be vaccinated to compete.
In any case, the two event Hawaiian leg may be the last chance we get to see Kelly compete this year – or possibly ever if the scenario prompts an early retirement for the person many consider to be the greatest individual sportsman of all-time.