Kelly Slater (USA) has been surfing's "next best thing" for the past three decades. It's an accolade that has been earned both in and out of the jersey and an accomplishment that is unprecedented in all of sports. Now the 11-time World Champ heads to Fiji donning the yellow jersey once more. During the brief intermission between the Billabong Rio Pro and the Fiji Pro, Slater spoke with ASP about the road to Tavarua and lent some musings on the Tour and the surf culture at large.
#1 You sustained a number of injuries in 2013 and you obviously have had a lot going on in your life professionally at the start of this season regarding your recent split from Quiksilver. Do these types of things distract you from performing in heats or focus you further (the "wounded animal" theory)?
They're both correct at times. I think mostly I've been distracted and not felt super confident so far this year. The good news is I'm in a pretty consistent position with all keepers, but the bad news is those numbers lie a little. When we throw events away, I slip back so I need to get a win soon to solidify. I still have some injuries. My hip and lower back are real issues for me but when the adrenaline kicks in that dissipates.
#2 Compared to the current ASP Top 34 field, what are the most dominant components of your surfing? Conversely, what are the most vulnerable components?
I think I'm vulnerable for sure at waves like Margaret's and Bells and Rio so I'm happy with results in those places. My strengths have always been carving and barrels and in the early days I feel like I had an advantage at small beachbreaks because I grew up in that and it was my bread and butter. Traveling and searching for good waves, my priorities and excitement has changed and I feel like I am much better in what we'd typify as 'dream waves'... good, barreling reef waves.
#3 To that end, do you feel that, relative to other venues on tour, the opening third of the season didn't favor you schedule-wise? How have you still managed to find yourself out in front at this juncture?
I didn't like the sound of that first third going in, but felt if I could be in the running after those events that Fiji on would be a great place to make a move. These next four events are historically good for me. Inconsistent waves and closeout beachbreaks like Rio leave everyone open to being taken out unexpectedly by low seeds. Everyone has been vulnerable, but I've squeaked by a few close ones to stay out in front.
On a side note, I really think Fiji and Pipe and possibly Teahupo'o and/or J-Bay should be considered "Majors" for us and be given double points. Three or four events with 20,000 points for first. The money doesn't matter; it's the value for quality locations that should have an emphasis placed on it and the non-dream tour waves can stay, but take a back seat. There would then be a real impact from what everyone considers to be the best surf spots.
#4 Following your public split from Quiksilver, you lost a Round 1 heat in West Oz and one online commentator said, "He just looks like another old guy without stickers now?" Is there any credence to the 'psychology of the sticker' theory? In other words, after having one on your board for decades, does its absence create any self doubt?
It's taken some getting used to. Imagine you have an army or a camp behind you to fight a battle and you're not just fighting for yourself and then all of the sudden you show up solo (at least mentally because I still have my friends and backing) to go to battle. It's a certain psychology for sure. But I feel like I found my feet in the end of that Rio event. Fiji is like my second home so the comfort should be there, I just gotta let it flow. It's a new world for me. (laughs)
#5 The ASP has never had a leg like the one forthcoming--Fiji, Jeffreys Bay, Tahiti and Lower Trestles--all events that you'd still be considered the odds-on favorite at, and you're leading the current rankings. How does that look to you? Should everyone else on tour be worried?
They should be ready. So should I. This is the best part of the tour and this stretch should determine who wins the title, in my opinion.
#6 Given that our industry has an obsession with "cult status" and paying for potential rather than accomplishment, it's clear that some of your current contemporaries on tour have been groomed as the "next Kelly Slater" since their early teens. Now that they're finding themselves in the mid-to-late-20s with no titles (as you continue to rack them up) do you feel like they're vulnerable to crumbling somewhat psychologically from failing to deliver on expectation?
There is more pressure today. I talked about it with regards to Kolohe (Andino) at the last event, but he's one of many who've been dealt that hand because they're great surfers with lots of potential. Winning events is psychological and spiritual and intelligence as much as it is talent driven. Michel (Bourez)'s two wins this year remind me of Danny Wills' steely determination in '98 having never won an event then winning back-to-back weeks in Japan. It was insane. But when you're mind is in the right place and you have belief in yourself and no outside chatter, things come together. That's the spirituality and zen of competing.
I see guys carrying around personal issues all the time that they do or don't realize either cause them to win or lose, and the result usually gets compounded by people telling them they either got ripped off or were destined for this moment. Don't believe any of it. We're all meant to live big and great lives but not enough people connect with that and understand or believe it.
#7 MR had a dynasty (four titles), Curren had a dynasty (three titles) Andy had a dynasty (three titles), Mick recently secured his own place in history (three titles) and yours is well cemented at 11. Is there any surfer currently on tour whom you could realistically see clinching three or more titles?
JJF (John John Florence (HAW)) and (Gabriel) Medina are destined for greatness based on ability. (Filipe) Toledo is the best small wave air guy I have ever seen. There are a lot of really talented guys coming up. We'll see if they can bring all the necessary personal decisions and beliefs together and professional pressures into context to handle the expectations they and others have on them.
I'm a kid from a small town of [terrible] waves. I had a strong belief I'd get myself out of this little life here to a big place and do things I could imagine. If everyone did that, the people we think have done great things would be envious of all the amazing things going on around them with other people every day. People are too caught up in problems and food and drugs and issues to become the best versions of themselves. You just simply can't listen to other people telling you what to do (unless it's your parents and you're a kid, but they can be way off base also!).
These guys I've mentioned need to apply the same approach to heats that they already have to riding waves the way they do and I think they're doing that. Contests are just contests and they don't really mean anything in the big scope of the world but they are small indicators of how you are implementing your skills in a tangible way. Some people call me obsessive or driven or lucky or whatever. I'm all of those things. Shouldn't we all be? We are dynamic creatures. We've gotta use all those moods to achieve things in life.
#8 Would you consider Fiji one of your strongest events on tour? Is it a venue that you could remain competitive at for several years to come?
I feel at home in Fiji and when things come together I feel like I could be competitive there forever. The waves do most of the work for you, you just need to fit into it properly and pick the right ones. Experience has won me events there for sure a few times.
#9 When most people reach for step-up boards (6'3"s, 6'6"s, etc.), your tendency is to grab a 5'9". What's the theory behind this and why don't you think more of the Top 34 do the same?
I can't talk about that...
#10 Could Kelly Slater be satisfied by walking away from full-time competition without ASP World Title No. 12?
It's frustrating that I won three events both of those years (2012, 2013) at good locations in good waves and ended up losing the title. I think we should really contemplate the "majors" idea for quality wave locations and put emphasis in those places. That being said, I'm stoked. I've had an amazing career and life and am not crying about anything I don't have. I have been given plenty of great things and opportunities in life. A twelfth might just be worth fighting for and have more meaning if it happens.
I've been one heat away, and more likely, one single scoring ride away from three world titles in my career. That's how it goes in life and in sport. If it's all only about the end game and the result then just don't bother trying 'cause you're gonna fail 'cause we all have things to learn. When you lose, that's where you find things you haven't learned yet. And when you lose you find out who your good friends are. And when you win, the people most upset are the ones who really don't care about you.