So last week, Huntington Beach gave Kelly Slater a key to the city.
Didn't they name a street after him, too? You know, Slater Avenue, between Talbert and Warner avenues?
Anyway, he deserves it. Some call him the best surfer ever, and it's hard to argue when you go on facts — like the fact that he has won 10 ASP World Titles, including one as recently as last year.
No one has won even half as many men's world titles as Slater, and four years ago, he passed one of his childhood heroes, Tom Curren, to become the all-time leader in World Championship Tour (WCT) career event victories. His total is now up to 46.
Slater has had as much to do with surfing's growth in popularity as any individual, and where would "Surf City" be without surfing? Maybe it'd be an abandoned oil town with inoperative oil drills scattered all over.
But there is one event where Slater hasn't necessarily been at his best, and it's coming soon — the U.S. Open of Surfing in Huntington Beach from July 30 to Aug. 7. Slater has won the event once, and that was 15 years ago when Slater was at his peak in the midst of a five-year run (1994-98) of world titles.
Slater's still in great shape, but truth is, he turns 40 next year. His window of opportunity for winning again in Huntington Beach is slowly closing. Whether or not he can win again in Huntington is up for debate, but one thing I know for sure is he can't win if he doesn't compete.
Last I saw, Slater had not yet confirmed his participation in this year's U.S. Open.
C'mon Slats, we know the wave at Huntington is not great. We know you love Lowers. We know the Open is more about the enormity of the event than it is about the surfing. Nobody's fooling themselves.
We know you don't need it. You don't need the money, and you certainly don't need any more fame. I checked out your Twitter page, and your "followers" list total seemed to grow as fast as the charges on the gas pump when filling up your tank.
Slater is No. 1 in the latest ASP Men's World Ranking, ahead of No. 2 Jordy Smith, who placed second to Brett Simpson in last year's U.S. Open. Simpson, an H.B. local and the two-time defending champ at the U.S. Open, is ranked No. 14.
It's remarkable that Slater has been able to maintain a No. 1 ranking when his priorities certainly have changed over the years. Surfing is right up there, but competing isn't.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. Just a couple of months ago, Slater was all signed up and ready to compete in the Nike 6.0 Lowers Pro at Lower Trestles in San Clemente, but he withdrew, choosing to extend a stay in Australia.
Some say it was because the waves were really good Down Under and he wanted to stay another day. Slater, though, said he had a cut on his leg that had gotten worse.
Either way, Slater returned to Southern California too late to compete, so he took advantage of some unexpected spare time to meet with the Dalai Lama.
Slater was part of a panel at UC Irvine where they held the third annual PTTOW (Plan To Take On the World) Youth Media & Innovation Summit.
The Dalai Lama talked about how young people today have the power and responsibility to effect change in the world and begin thinking globally, not so much nationally. (I won't get political here, other than to say I'm sure he means well.)
Slater had the opportunity to ask the Dalai Lama a question, and knowing ahead of time he'd have that chance, he asked his Twitter followers to come up with the question.
"Have you ever thought about catching a wave?" he asked.
It took some awkward silence —and some explanation — from his translator before the Dalai Lama answered: "Never."
Turns out he can't even swim.
Got to give Slater credit. If he doesn't compete in the U.S. Open next month, I'm sure he'll have a good reason.
Slater has used his fame and notoriety to make a difference in the world. In 2007, he created the Kelly Slater Foundation, whose mission is to "raise awareness and financial support for existing social and environmentally conscious charities," according to the foundation website.
Last year, he was honored by the U.S. House of Representatives for his "outstanding and unprecedented achievements in the world of surfing and for being an ambassador of the sport and excellent role model."
Good work, Slats, but still, the Open is calling. One more time, for H.B.
JOE HAAKENSON is an Orange County-based sports writer and editor. He may be reached at email@example.com.