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Saturday, November 6, 2010
Kelly Slater wins his 10th world title

By Jake Howard
ESPN Action Sports

Kelly Slater claimed his record 10th ASP world title Saturday at the 2010 Rip Curl Pro Search in Puerto Rico.

In clean, contestable 3- to 4-foot surf at Middles, Slater advanced out of his quarterfinal heat over Brazil's Adriano De Souza to mathematically eliminate world No. 2 Jordy Smith from the world title race.

The second of Slater's two opening barrels.

Since his previous title, in 2008, there had been a great deal of speculation as to whether Slater would go for a 10th, and after an uncharacteristic ninth-place finish at the Quiksilver Pro this year, questions about his motivation surfaced.

But Slater, 38, went on to win the second event of the year, the Rip Curl Pro at Bells Beach, Australia. From that point, he gained momentum and went into Puerto Rico on a tear, having finished third, first, second, and first in the previous four contests.

Had Slater failed to advance through the quarterfinal, Smith could have kept the title race alive by winning the event. But Slater caught his first wave within seconds of the heat's start, fading deep into a barrel and emerging with a 9.00 out of a possible 10.

Minutes later, Slater caught a second wave -- this one providing two separate barrel sections that he cleared with ease. The wave earned him a 9.87 and, just like that, De Souza faced a nearly insurmountable hill to climb. It was never even close.

"I'm just really relieved right now. It's not one maneuver or one wave, it's a year-long thing. I'm so tired of worrying about my boards, my food and everything. This comes as such a relief," he told ESPN after his heat today.

Slater's professional career spans nearly 20 years. Hailing from Cocoa Beach, Fla., he first exploded onto the scene in 1992, when he won his first world title at age 20. By 1998, he had six world titles to his credit.

"This is the closest world tour event we've ever had to where I grew up, and there are a lot of familiar faces and old friends here. It's been 25 years since I first came here, and it's nice to have so much support around me for this," Slater said.

He unexpectedly walked away from tour life in 1999, only to return to competition in 2001. His 2008 title came at the Billabong Pro Mundaka in Spain, when he held off a very on-point Joel Parkinson.

Slater holds the distinction of being the youngest and oldest ASP world champion. He has a record 44 world tour wins, as well as six Pipeline Masters victories.

Slater's win comes after finding out Tuesday that three-time world champion Andy Irons was found dead in a Dallas hotel room.

As Slater was returning to competition from his hiatus in 2001, it would be Irons who emerged as his fiercest, most determined adversary. Their battles in the water since have become the stuff of legend.

A medical examiner said a ruling on the cause of Iron's death could take several weeks, but said there were no signs of trauma or foul play. A police report stated prescription anti-anxiety and sleeping aid medications were found in Irons' hotel room.

More than 100 surfers had paddled out on Wednesday to honor Irons, including Slater. They clasped hands and formed a circle, as tradition dictates, to honor a surfer who dies.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.