How close are we to losing four of pro surfing's veterans?
If the last two years weren’t proof enough, the first two events of this season have cemented it—the guard has well and truly changed. After decades of dominance, guys like Taj, Joel, Kelly, and to a lesser extent, Kai, are beginning to show signs of weariness in the face of their more youthful, energetic opponents. It seems like everyone wants to beat them now—the rookies, the would-be world champs, the guys who’ve been on the receiving end for years—and unlike in times past, they’ve finally worked out that they can. With the path ahead not looking any easier for the old dogs, and with Fanning taking an indefinite hiatus despite the fact he’s been showing the best form of all the vets, it’s time to consider just how close we are to losing some of the sport’s biggest legends. Do they still have wins in them? Is there anything left to prove? We look at four of the tour’s most elderly statesman and ask if they’ll be here this time next year.
Even at forty-four, and with more world titles and tour victories than anyone could ever dream of accumulating, Kelly’s movements are still the hardest to pick. Given the size and scope of what he’s achieved, most people would’ve hung up the booties years ago, but surfing’s greatest ever practitioner has never been satisfied with anything less than constant self-improvement. The fact he’s still on tour after so many years of speculation is indicative that, for Kelly, there’s probably still some goals that remain unrealised. Whether he continues to chase the tour in 2017 or not, it’s likely we’ll continue to see Kelly competing for a few years yet. Do you really think he’s going to knock back the wildcards that’ll inevitably come his way once he retires?
The whispers are already there, 2016 might very well be TB’s last year. After nearly two decades competing at the sport’s highest level, and having won pretty much every event there is to win, the man widely acknowledged as the best to never claim a world title is looking at life after the tour. 2015 was woeful by Taj’s standards, and his start to 2016 hasn’t been much better, but with a child now in his life and his reputation cemented as one of the most influential surfers of the last twenty years, it’s not necessarily a case of his performance levels decreasing but rather that there’s nothing left to prove. Still, it doesn’t take a lot to get TB frothing, and if the right kind of conditions present themselves he could still be good for one more win.
For all the tour’s dreaminess, for all the envy the top 34 cop from laymen like us, it’s still a full-time gig, and god damn all that travel and ratings pressure must take its toll. Especially if you’re doing the thing with your wife and kids in tow. Parko’s been travelling, competing and taking his family along with him for years now, and he’s done a bloody good job of it. Twelve tour victories, four runner-up finishes and a world title is one hell of a record. But with his style slowly falling out of favour with judges in recent years and his world title aspirations safely accomplished, it’s hard to imagine Parko wanting to grind it out on tour for another five years in the hope of scoring a few more victories. The big Queenslander still has plenty to offer the sport, but whether he has more to offer the jersey past 2016 remains to be seen.
Although Kai’s never been held in quite the same regard as the other three surfers on this list, with ten straight years on tour and a victory in Portugal behind him, the perennial underdog from the South Coast of New South Wales has achieved a lot more than most people would’ve expected when he qualified at 27. The last few years have been tough on the gutsy goofy-footer, though, and with the recent arrival of his second grommet and rumours circulating that he might give Rio the flick in order to chase slabs at home instead, one gets the impression that Kai’s on the wind-down and saving himself for some farewell heroics at waves like Teahupoo and Pipe.