With Kelly Slater in his happy place at Tavarua, you'd think being relaxed wouldn't be an issue. Injury and a poor run of form, however, have taken their toll recently and going into the Outerknown Fiji Pro he was nowhere near the peak fitness or ranking that he demands of himself. That gap has led to some inner turmoil for the 11x World Champion.
But this week a simple piece of advice from a friend has caused him to change tack. The text message might not have helped to adjust his aching back, which has seen him surf through the pain over the last three years, but he said in yesterday's WSL Post Show that it has provided a much needed mental realignment.
"The text said, 'Just be proud that you are sponsoring the event, be helpful to the young guys and show them the way, just enjoy yourself and not put the pressure on,'" said Slater. "That was a good way of looking at it and helped released so much stress. I suddenly felt so relaxed."
It is the mentoring role that Slater seems to have embraced more than at any stage in his career. Kelly has never been one to not provide advice when asked. Parko, for example, recently outlined the crucial role Kelly played in helping him learn the ropes at Cloudbreak. However, such has been Kelly's unstinting burning competitive desire, he also hasn't been one to give an opponent any sniff of a concession, no matter their age. His mind games are legendary and most rookies often felt too intimated to tap into surfing's deepest well of talent and experience.
Now, through a combination of age and a respect for the new level of talent on the CT, the champ has begun to open up. "The level of surfing really excites me. Honestly, when I got on tour in 1992 I though the level was terrible," he said, no doubt causing many a top former pro to spit out their cornflakes. "Now though, with any guy you get, you can't underestimate them. If they lack a little something at a certain break, they have a mental plan to approach the heat to try to get a dominant position."
He also heaped praise on relative new comers like Caio Ibelli ("He has phenomenal wave choice and while he's a small guy he has amazing power and flow between turns."), Ian Gouveia ("When I got on tour Ian wasn't even born, but he's a great barrel rider and he loves the tube."), and Ethan Ewing ("His struggles on tour do not reflect his surfing. He's an incredible surfer and I'm a big fan.").
Of course being a big fan didn't stop the four-time event champion from dismantling Ewing in their Round Two heat, leaving the rookie winless on the CT in 2017. Kelly might be open to helping the future stars of the sport, but when the singlet goes on, well, all bets are off.
In the last exchange on the Post Show when they were going through the remaining Round Three matchups, Slater asked Rosy and Ronnie to remind him who he was facing. Now we are pretty sure Kelly knew full well he was up against another rookie in Connor O'Leary. Maybe those mind games aren't quite done yet after all.