After 23 years of sticking Quiksilver’s logo to the nose of his surfboard, Kelly Slater has parted ways with his longtime sponsor.
“Whatever you think of, you can do. It’s just about having belief in yourself. With life there are always doubts, but if you know what you can achieve, or you believe you can, then you go out and you do it.”
Kelly Slater said this to me almost six years ago, but I still think it’s relevant to the news that he will be going his own way. Quiksilver signed Kelly Slater when he was just a 19-year old kid with a sun-bleached blonde coif, and together they’ve ridden a long and beautiful wave that culminated in 11 World Championship titles. Now it’s crashed, and Kelly Slater is paddling back out, ready to catch the next ride.
I’ve had the opportunity to speak with Kelly Slater on a handful of occasions. We first met at the Billabong Pro in Jeffrey’s Bay, around 2008 or so, and ever since then Kelly has always been generous with his time.
And let me tell you, it’s not easy being like this when you’re a bona fide living legend. Kelly Slater is the type of famous that only a select few will ever get to experience.
“Kids will see me, kinda do like a double take, then sort of play it cool. I get all kinds of reactions. Everything from people who’ll just kinda stay away from me and give me my space, to people who are totally in my face, and then there are people who are really rude and just over the top. I get the full spectrum.”
Kelly Slater has grown used to the number of people around him, admitting that it was tough for a long time and that when it first started happening he didn’t really know how to deal with it.
“I came from a small town and up until the time I was 18 I was really embarrassed to do things like photo shoots, and so I had to go through a process of being okay with that and living quite a public life a lot of the times. I have two brothers one older, one younger both surfers. My father passed away from cancer and my mom lives in Florida. My whole family lives in Florida, actually pretty much, besides me. My parents split up when I was 10 or 12 years old and basically we were raised by my mom. I don’t think my mom’s ever ridden more than two days in her life, my dad was a surfer, but we can’t really seem to get my mom out there.”
Kelly Slater believes that his mom, and anyone else who hasn’t tried it yet, should get out there because surfing is cool. It’s fun. It’s healthy.
“There’s always going to be something mystical about riding waves. It’s all natural and made by nature. You don’t have to pay for waves, all you do is buy a surfboard and a little gear. You never have to buy a lift ticket you never have to build a ramp, the waves are there and all you have to do is wait for them.”
If you had access to a time machine, would you use it to go back or is surfing at it’s peak right now?
“If I could take the boards that I have now I’d go back 100 years. Maybe 1000 years? It’s hard to say. I’d probably go back to Hawaii 100 years ago and surf the waves that guys have only been surfing for the last thirty, forty years. Surf Backdoor and Pipeline with no one around… get to surf Haliewa and Sunset and all these great waves with no one there.”
What about looking into the future?
“The future might be pretty cool too. When travel gets faster, maybe in a few hundred years we can just kind of be somewhere instantly. I like gadgets, I like technology. I like being able to tune into a satellite and check waves any where and any time in the world. So you can have a satellite beam down and check the conditions and then just zap yourself there. So maybe 1000 years from now?
And the actual riding?
“Unfortunately with surfing the board is as big as us, where with skating it’s up to your knee so it’s easier to flip the board around and do a lot more technical stuff. With surfing I don’t know how much more there is than with what guys are attempting now, but guys will just start pulling more stuff off consistently in the future. That will be the foundation of surfing, aerials.”
Kelly went on to say that he’d like to see someone create good man made reefs. That there are a lot of good places in the world to put reefs that don’t have them now, places exposed to swell that get good winds, but just don’t have good waves because of the bottom contours.
“That would be something I’d like to usher in and be a part of. I think it’s possible but it’s going to take some experimenting, some understanding and care for the environment at the same time. Something that’s environmentally friendly or beneficial to the creatures that live there. You got to be careful if you undergo a big project like that what you’re going to dump into the ocean.”
Even though Elvis was already starring in surf movies in the ’50s, Kelly Slater is the dude responsible for helping to usher surfing into the mainstream. Perhaps the rumours of Kelly Slater Surf Parks will be a reality now?
“Playstation games were just part of the movement and that would have happened with or without me. Business wise I guess it’s nice to be part of the stuff that happens. Has it affected surfing in a negative way? I think its more surfer’s anxiety. I don’t know how many people surf now because there’s a video game. There are more people in the world now, so more people are going to surf. Surfing’s a magical thing, I don’t mind sharing it with people. I still get plenty of waves.”
And sorry I have to ask you this, but what about Baywatch?
“Baywatch is a whole other story. Basically that had to do with a manager I had at the time. He really wanted me to step out of surfing and I think he had dreams that I was going to become an actor, a star, instead of a surfer. I never had any of those dreams ahead of surfing. When I was a kid and I first started writing music I wanted to write great songs and make albums and things like that, but there’s never been anything ahead of surfing for me.”
Despite Kelly Slater and Quiksilver parting ways, both will continue to be just fine without the other. It’s like the married couple who get divorced after the kids have left home and then still remain friends.
I for one am excited to see where each will end up now that they’re no longer together.
Click through to this touchingKelly Slater vid created by the folks at Quiksilver.