For many of us, aerial surfing through the 90s and early 2000s was synonymous with the name Kelly Slater. He was the person who brought above the lip the manoeuvres to competitive surfing, perplexing judges and delighting fans.
It would take some time for the world to catch up and it was only when Andy Irons and Taj Burrow joined the competition circuit that we started seeing others pushing the boundaries of aerial surfing, at least in competition.
Slater continued to innovate and his airs in his forties were bigger and more radical than those in his late teens. Not many people will ever be able to say that. Kelly’s incredible decisiveness enables him to eye up opportunities for airs and execute them smoothly, often with amazing recoveries.
We’ve curated 5 clips that represent five of the GOAT’s best airs across the ages.
1. New York lift off
Surfers around the globe were surprised that a surf competition was possible in the Big Apple but conditions were firing and Slater put on a show that no-one will forget. Attempting an air of this magnitude in a contest takes serious confidence and Slater was rewarded with a perfect 10.
2. Bells Beach Hail Mary
Desperate for a high-scoring ride Slater laid it all on the line at Bells with a huge air and subsequent vanishing act into the foam. No-one expected him to emerge but in true Slater style, the GOAT stood up and rode out.
3. The 720
A reminder that good things can happen on the most dreary days, Slater eyed up a section and spun a full 720 degrees before riding out smoothly. The speed with which Slater spins, assisted by strong wind, is unbelievable. This is the stuff of video games.
4. The 540
Inverted and extreme, this wave showcases Kelly at his best. The air is seriously high, executed on a critical section and with complete control.
5. The 747
A young Kelly Slater talks us through his crazy air to floater manoeuvre that he introduced in the days of his white wetsuit. It is a radical air, similar to those that Andy Irons was landing at the time. You don’t see this kind of air very often and Taj Burrow once suggested that air reverses are easier. Jordy Smith took the 747 and turned it into a superman.
Either way, it’s a rad air.
6. The Air Recovery
In the 2015 Hurley Pro, held at Trestles in California, Slater took off on a small left hand wave and aimed his board at the breaking lip. He hit the lip, projected several feet into the air and commenced an incredible spinning aerial manoeuvre. However, while in the air, the board came unstuck and fell away from his feet. In mid-air as Slater and his board succumbed to the pull of gravity, he somehow found himself holding onto his board, which was facing the right way. He vanished for a moment into the white water and then emerged standing up, completing several more manoeuvres before finishing the ride.
Fans were furious that the miracle was not awarded 10 points, but Slater seemed not to care. It is without a doubt one of his more memorable airs.