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Kelly Slater just turned 48 years old. He’s not only the best surfer in history, if you polled every serious surfer on the planet, he’d likely be considered the best surfer right now. At 48! Forget about surfing; golfers start to slow down by that age—he’s only two years from qualifying for the senior division of the PGA Tour at age 50 (Slater, a scratch golfer, may very well try). He just missed out on qualifying for the Olympics in Tokyo this summer but that’s only because the US gets only two slots and two of his peers are ranked higher than Slater on the world tour, mostly because Slater doesn’t devote his full attention to competition anymore. If Slater had qualified, he’d almost certainly be the oldest competitor at the games, outside of shooting and some equestrian events.

Slater is an outlier—he’s way, WAY outside the normal realm of even high performance—but he does provide a jolt of confidence to those of us north of 40, hell, north of 30 even, who still want to perform well into our middle-aged-and-beyond years. He’s also a walking, well, surfing anyway illustration of how a lifetime of practicing something can, in some ways, trump youthful fitness and flexibility. Surfing may just lend itself to this. Paddle out at a popular good wave and you’ll have an age spectrum of rippers, from pre-teens to men and women in their 50s, and, inevitably, it’s the silver-haired surfers more worth watching. The young, rubber-limbed surfers can do lots of head-spinning airs, but the aged surfers have a practiced knowledge that comes solely from having ridden countless waves over a lifetime, building a relationship with the wave that makes so many movements second nature, effortless. You know, grace.

Here, watch:

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Though we hurt more once we turn 30, we’re smarter, more efficient than we’d been a decade earlier when fitness and youthful vitality papered over flaws in technique and poor decision-making.

Or maybe we just tell ourselves this.


*BONUS QUESTION: If yes, what are you doing about it? Slater eats nothing but chia seeds and acai, as far as we can tell. Is it worth it? No idea.

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