When it comes to how he trains and prepares himself, over the course of his nearly 30-year career, 11-time World Champ Kelly Slater generally plays his cards pretty close to his chest. He may show up on Instagram every once awhile in a jujitsu gi, but by and large, he keeps it all pretty tight-lipped.
But this winter, looking for an added edge coming into his return to competition at the Billabong Pipe Masters, he invited big-wave hellman Mark Visser to come and stay with him at his house at Ehukai and help him find the confidence he was going to need to step back into the arena.
First hearing about Visser's Ocean Warrior Course training program through mutual friend and iconic charger Shane Dorian, Slater was intrigued by the series of courses that Visser has been developing over the last several years.
"Shane called me and said he was working on something with Mark," said Slater in an interview at the opening of the Pipe Masters. "I had seen a little of footage of Mark and heard he'd worked with some military guys, so I was interested to learn more. A lot of the stuff Mark had been doing had been pretty quiet in the surf world. It was more behind the scenes with the SEAL guys. It was like he was cross-pollinating for what he needed and what they do in the water. That seemed like a pretty intriguing mix."
Slater and Visser began their conversation back in September, and this December, at a pool at the Boy Scout Camp above Foodland in the Pupukea hills, the two got down to business. Spending a number of mornings together, going through the Ocean Warrior Course, which teaches basics of breath holding, underwater psychology and physiology, as well as basic rescue and first aide protocols, they were joined by Dorian and jujitsu world champ Marcus Almeida at times.
"Even after one session I noticed a confidence boost," said Slater. "The last two winters I haven't been game to even look for a big wave, I just haven't been active because I've been injured. But after one session I can already see myself applying the confidence in certain situations."
Slater applied the lessons at Pipe straight away and went on to put on one of the most remarkable performances of the entire event. Over the course of the contest, 46-year-old Slater kept mentioning that he needed to calm down, that he was too excited. That's exactly where Visser's training came in.
"A big day at Pipeline I wouldn't say constitutes giant surf, but it is intense. You have to stay calm. I think applying the confidence to stay calm ahead of time is one less thing you have to worry about," explained Slater. "It's like having your fins in your board already, you don't have to worry about putting them in, they're there."
"While we were training I was actually thinking about how I feel when it's really crowded, I wasn't even thinking about big waves so much," continued Slater. "I was thinking about it in terms of really crowded lineups like Pipeline. It's the most frustrating wave in the world to surf because of how crowded it is. When I was a teenager and in my early 20s I could get most any wave I wanted out there simply because the crowd wasn't that game for certain waves. And if you're confident and you're in that lineup a lot and people give you a little room to move you could take advantage of that and get those waves you see from the beach. Nowadays, there's so many guys that charge that you have to be okay if you go out and you don't get a wave."
One of the characteristics that's always set Slater above the rest is his mental approach to the sport. Whether it's getting in the heads of opponents or convincing himself that it's a good idea to push over the ledge at 20-foot Waimea, his cerebral psychology has helped put him in a league of his own. And beyond Pipe, Slater sees Visser's Ocean Warrior Course as being beneficial in any and all conditions.
"I think there's things you could apply very specifically while you're surfing small waves. The mindset you go into surfing small waves with, being aware of where you're catching waves, how you paddle back out, how you breath when you're paddling back out, how you breath when you're sitting on your board waiting for a wave, it opens you up to thinking about all that," said Slater.
At the end of the Pipe Masters, Slater noted that he was going to spend the offseason getting himself prepped and ready for the 2019 CT season. He noted that he'll probably skip the Pipe Pro in January to focus more on getting his body and mind tuned and ready. What he learned from Visser this winter will factor into that equation.
"Anything that can help give you confidence in the water and keep you calmer in the lineup I think is a good thing. I don't think it matters if you're surfing big waves. It doesn't really have anything to do with surfing big waves," said Slater. "It can be applied to anywhere, any lineup."
The WSL has teamed up with Visser this December to offer a sale on the Ocean Warrior course for only $99. The full training course is normally $400. It's a great opportunity of take advantage of the same tools the world's best surfers are utilizing. The course makes a great holiday gift for the aspiring charger in your life.
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