Kelly Slater has a knack for grabbing the surfing spotlight. For two and half decades, with the odd exception of a Hollywood romance, he did it with his surfing. Increasingly though he tends to be generating headlines by not riding waves. 

And so when the first footage of Ramón Navarro’s “biggest ever Cloudbreak wave” filtered through the internet it was perhaps no surprise that the only other human in the frame was Kelly Slater, arms aloft in the channel. 

This wouldn’t have been much of a big deal, if he hadn’t withdrawn from the Corona Bali Protected just two days earlier citing his ongoing foot injury. When further footage showed Slater threading the eye of a 12-15 foot Third Shelfer, he was forced to respond to his absence. 

“Lots of questions about competition and the event in Bali...Long story short, I am not on the level I want and need to be to compete,” he posted on Instagram. “I did catch one really nice wave today, went straight perfectly well, and saw a hundred other good waves. When I’m ready, properly healed, and able to compete with the world’s best, I will.” 

Now nobody knows Kelly’s foot better than Kelly himself, but it defies belief that surfing in one of the heaviest big-wave sessions in recent history would place less strain on his foot than competing in four foot Keramas. More footage of him negotiating six-second tubes at Restaurants didn’t do his argument any more justice. 

It seems he is claiming his absence is a performance issue rather than an injury one. Again that wouldn’t be a problem, if he himself hadn’t applied for, and been granted, a yearlong injury wildcard back in December. Surely after five events where he withdrawn at the last minute it’s time that his WSL injury spot should be rescinded. After all he didn’t seem to have any issues being just one of three injury-free male surfers to compete for Team USA in the Founder’s Cup at his own Surf Ranch. 

Now it’s a given that Kelly Slater’s role in surfing means he has a lot of credit in the bank. I think most surf fans are happy to cut him a little more slack than most. Yet with the timing of his withdrawals and his surfing elsewhere it seems to have reached the point where is now taking the piss. He’s withdrawing significant amounts of urine from the WSL, surf fans and his fellow athletes. 

If the WSL were to take action, his season-long injury wildcard spot could be allocated permanently to someone who is guaranteed to start each event (be it a CT alternate or QS frontrunner) or open up a spot for a local or legend at the different stops. When Kelly is ready to compete, a normal event wildcard spot could be offered. 

As it stands the current will-he-won’t-he isn’t making anyone look good. His actions are making the WSL look pissweak, denying other surfers the required time they need to prepare adequately and sending mixed messages about just what his future. Having achieved so much and made the sport what it is, it would be nice for him to go back to making headlines for his surfing and not for his absence.