- The Washington Times - Monday, May 17, 2010

The success and clean-cut image of pro surfer and Florida native Kelly Slater has inspired Rep. Bill Posey, a Republican, to propose a House resolution Tuesday recognizing Mr. Slater as unofficial American ambassador and force behind the roughly $7 billion surfing industry.

Posey spokesman George Cecala said the congressman worked for nearly a year to convince House Oversight and Government Reform Committee members that Mr. Slater was more than a local hero or cult sports icon.

“Kelly Slater has represented our country across the world, and the congressman feels he should be recognized,” Mr. Cecela said.

Mr. Slater, 38, was a surfing prodigy growing up in middle class Cocoa Beach, part of Mr. Posey’s district. But critics questioned whether he could compete among surfers raised in Hawaii, Australia and other big-wave surf meccas.

Mr. Slater surprised the world by reeling off five consecutive Association of Surfing Professionals titles. Other career highlights include 43 World Championship Tour victories, including six wins at the Billabong Pipeline Masters, in Hawaii.

At the age of 20, Mr. Slater was the youngest surfer to win the Association of Surfing Professionals World Championship. He was inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame in 2002.

Still, he remained in relative obscurity until playing a lifeguard on the TV show “Baywatch” in the 1990s.

Posey staffers say Mr. Slater has helped the surfing industry grow by 10 percent over roughly the past five years and has contributed to annual sales of $7.22 billion in 2008, the most recent figures. Surf shops alone recorded $2.47 billion in sales, according to TransWorld Business.

Ron Jon Surf Shop, which opened by in Cocoa Beach in 1963, now employes 500 workers and has $50 million in annual revenue, according to Mr. Posey’s office.

“Slater has worked hard to master a sport that so many have tried but so few have actually been able to conquer,” Mr. Posey said. “His world championship record is impressive and is certainly worthy of recognition.”

• Joseph Weber can be reached at jweber@washingtontimes.com.old.

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