Photos: Morgan Maassen
Room 211’s door is slightly ajar when a timid knock announces that room service has arrived. The server, a cute girl of no more than 19, is welcomed in. She had already seen the name on the order, but the way she giggles upon eye contact with the guest is telling. Of all the professional surfers and skaters she’s accommodated during the week of the US Open, none were as remarkable as this one.
Kelly smiles and cracks a joke about the amount of food we ordered, an array of appetizers, hamburgers and salads, and the girl blushes. She tugs nervously at her apron as her eyes dart around the room, noticing the boxes of chia foods, headphones, cameras and unwaxed boards — all gifted to him. Kelly makes a self-deprecating remark about our fruity drinks and asks her about the “variety” of characters walking the streets of her beloved Huntington. Three minutes later, with the food and bill sorted, her guard has dropped. “Don’t forget to wait 30 minutes before surfing,” she says with a grin. Kelly pivots in his chair, laughs and bids her farewell. This is another minute encounter for Kelly, another attendant in the sea of thousands that support him on his never-ending quest for perfect waves and world titles. But for her, a young girl who just met a superstar, you could see it on her face, her realization that the King of surfing is not what she expected. This man is normal, though the life he leads is everything but. —Morgan Maassen
KELLY: Early on my inspiration for eating well came from Tom Carroll. I’ve since searched out wormholes online — kind of done my own studying — and now I pretty much try and keep it simple. When I stop traveling I want to grow my own food and have an aquaponic garden, which uses fish waste and not soil. When I make a surfboard I have a lot more respect for the process and how difficult it is, how much time and thought and energy goes into it. It’s the same with food. You grow your own food; you have a certain level of respect for the food going into your body. Self-sustainability should be a goal for everyone. Creating less garbage.
Lately my eating habits have been all over the place. Generally when I settle in one place for a few days I’ll go to a good store and load up on my staples — from almond milk to fruits and veggies. I’ve been into Paleo cereals and I’ve been staying away from meats, although I’ve been eating bison. Ground bison is great. I go to Shane Dorian’s house and steal it out of his freezer.
Eventually, wave pools are going to happen. The ocean is going to get so crowded and people will want to have some sort of control. We’re [Kelly Slater Wave Company] working on it right now, hoping it will be done next year. In the beginning wave pools need to go in around good waves, rather than in the middle of America. Santa Barbara, for instance, where it’s flat in the summertime. Surfing isn’t in demand in Wyoming right now.
People think I’m hard to get a hold of, but I’m just so busy. I haven’t called my mom in three weeks. I have more things to do than I can find time for. This morning I had a meeting at 9 but didn’t get to sleep until 1 after jiu-jitsu. I slept until 9:15 a.m. and Bob McKnight texted me, like, get down here. Then I came back to my room and Terry Hardy was here and we talked business. After that Travis Lee brought me a board Al Merrick made out of a redwood, I surfed in the contest, signed stuff for about a half-hour and finally tried to find time for myself somewhere in there.
Right now everyone is looking to John John to start winning world titles, but you can’t discount Gabriel Medina. He’s not having the greatest year, but I think he learns faster than anyone on tour. He was dominant out of the gates, and it wasn’t luck. Those first two events he won were in his wheelhouse, held in waves that suited him really well. Now he needs to improve in different conditions. And when I say improve, I don’t mean his surfing. He carves good, rides the barrel well and his airs are unbelievable. I think he’s on par with John John with airs. People find John John’s style more pleasing but Medina makes some of the gnarliest stuff. It just looks like he gets nervous when he gets behind and makes weird decisions and gets broken, that’s all. Between the two, I can’t say who will win a world title first.
Maybe Dane Reynolds is the one keeping me on tour. I just like watching him surf — and then I go surfing inspired, although I don’t know how that relates to competition. On tour there’s John John, Mick and Parko, but I don’t feel a rivalry with those guys on a personal level. More than anything I get pleasure from pushing myself and staying healthy and strong and competing at the highest level.
It seems like ZoSea is putting together a good team. The ASP was run on a shoestring budget for years, having no financial or business plans. They’ve had no way to monetize their product other than selling singular events. You haven’t seen people wearing ASP shirts; there’s not a website where people can interact with the surfers. Now it’s about marketing and placing the sport in a bigger realm — on the news at night and on SportsCenter. Whatever it takes to familiarize the general public with what surfing is. Let’s be honest: How many people sit at home and watch football or baseball but aren’t a fan of any team or athlete in particular? The majority. I’m interested to stick around on tour another year and see how it goes. That’s my excuse.