Kelly Slater is the greatest sportsperson of all time, Fuel TV presenter Mark Occhilupo says
Kelly Slater is the greatest sportsman of all time, Fuel TV presenter and former surfing world champion Mark Occhilupo says.
While there’s no doubting Slater’s standing in the surfing world, Occhilupo put forward a strong argument in saying Slater should join the likes of Muhammad Ali, Pele and Roger Federer at the very top of the world sporting pyramid.
"I think he’s as good as any sportsman, for sure," Occhilupo said.
"He’s dominated our sport as much, if not more than anyone else has done in other sports.
"In some ways, surfing is harder because not only do you have to be the best, but you have to have luck with the waves.
"It’s pretty ridiculous that he’s been able to win that many times."
Occhiluppo notes that Slater has dominated over several decades, much as Michael Jordan and Don Bradman did in basketball and cricket respectively.
"He’s covered two eras," he said.
"First there was me and Tom Curren in the 1990s, and now there’s the likes of Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson. So he’s really covered a 20-year span."
Occy believes the secret to Slater’s success lies in the American’s adaptability.
"He can surf big and small waves," he said.
"He hasn’t really got any weaknesses in his backhand or forehand, and he rides such a different variety of boards.
"He’s changed his surfing to adapt to the new criteria. He’s not as powerful as before, but he’s very exciting to watch because he’s more creative so you’re never sure what he’s going to do.
"He’s always mentally switched on, and he’s really confident. He’s certainly the hardest guy I’ve ever surfed against."
It’s often forgotten there was a seven-year gap between Slater’s sixth and seventh titles, but Occy never doubted it was only a matter of time before the American added to his trophy cabinet.
"I saw him surfing in Hawaii in the years he was off, so I knew that if he was going to come back he was going to win more titles because he was still so far ahead."
Likewise at the end of last year, when some tipped Slater to retire after the death of his close mate and former world champion Andy Irons.
"Those guys were good friends, but I don’t know if it would have changed him that much because he’s so focused, he knows what he wants," Occy said.
"I don’t think he was ever going to retire (after Irons’s death).
As for when - or if - Slater’s incredible run is going to end, Occhiluppo isn’t making any bold predictions.
"I’ve got a vision of him retiring with a walking stick in hand, which would be scary for everyone," Occy said.
"I finished when I was 41, he’s 40 now and I think he’s going to make it next year, so maybe he’s going to try surf the longest on tour."
Occy is tipping several Aussies to be part of a mix of new and old heads that will be the next cabs off the rank.
"The new guys like Julian Wilson and Owen Wright, Gabriel Medina and Miguel Pupo from Brazil, and also some of the older guys like Mick Fanning and Joel Parkinson could be next in line," he said.
"I think Joel will really go hard next year.
"And I think Mick had a bad year (in 2011) so he’ll want to come back strong next year."