Under The Influence: Kelly Slater

posted by / Magazine / September 17, 2013

Photos: Morgan Maassen

Kelly Slater, 41 years and counting.

Kelly Slater, 41 years and counting.

The snozzberries taste like world titles.

The snozzberries taste like world titles.

Kelly with a lot on his mind.

Kelly with a lot on his mind.


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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.

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  • manbearpig

    love hearing kelly talk…if he could add one more thing to his busy plate, i think alot of people would love for him to create a cook book or a book on eating right. Maybe even with Shane. These guys are an inspiration in the water and for eating healthy.

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    “Another attendant in the sea of thousands that support him on his never ending quest for perfect waves and world titles”, wow, what a bunch of hyber-bole. What about the hundreds of thousands that don’t support him and couldn’t care less about pro surfing or pro surfers. And from looking at the amount of comments here, it looks like not that many people really care about competition, when it comes to surfing. And we think ZoSea, (“Zoo at Sea”), may be a dead horse in the water already.

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    “The ocean is going to get so crowded, people will want to have sort of control”. Possibly, thanks to Quickdollars, rip cur, biilabog ect.,and kelly, who have been exploiting surfing to the masses for their own personal gain. And now kelly wants to charge you, for the privilege of riding an artificial wave. And when you leave, kelly and friends, will probably smile at you and say, “hope you had a good time, we enjoyed your company, come back again sometime, and oh, just one more thing, don’t forget to bring your wallet”. NO one -should ever have to pay anyone- to ride a wave. “Thank God, for a few free waves”. MSD

  • Kelpy Slaughter

    @ Tony for someone who doesn’t care you sure took a whole lot of time out of your day to tell everyone you don’t care. Your actions speak so loud I cannot hear what your saying…kook.

  • Bushy

    It’s called choice Tony, if you can’t afford to surf in a wave pool or don’t want to, don’t buy a ticket, simple. Really not something you should have to take the moral high ground on?

  • Montana

    That chia seed stuff taste like straight served ass. I don’t know how he does it.

  • Disappointed

    If Zosea is running the Hurley Pro then it’s a horrible start. This is one of the worst contests I have seen in a long time I’m not referring to the quality of waves. The judging has been horrific. The camera work has been terrible. The webcast has had numerous issues. Even the On Demand on the website isn’t working and it’s the final day of comp. This contest has been a joke. It makes Hurley look bad.

  • 805Local

    LOL at the wave pool comments… Kelly is so far ahead of everyone and has the actual pull to make big things happen in surfing, his ideas are so far ahead we can’t relate to him. I will admit a wave pool will take the soul out of surfing in the ocean and nothing will ever compare, but being 20min from SB I would occasionally pay to go surf a consistent wave, or maybe the pool will keep the kooks up in SB when a south hits VTA in the summer!

  • R.Mellin

    so Maassen not only takes insane photographs but also writes pretty damn well.

    that’s a great intro.

    nice work, people.

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    “Another attendant in the sea of thousands that support him in in never ending quest for perfect waves and world titles”. Did some one actually write that??? Hey dudes, I’m just voicing my opinion, the same as you are. No one- should ever have to pay anyone- to ride a wave. And thank God for the liberation of Tavarua. Peace…

  • Ryan

    Tony, if Kelly and is crew build wave pools do you really think you will be able to ride them for free? You ask about being charged for the privilege, yes of course you will pay because it is a privilege and they intend to get a return on their investment. I can’t believe anyone would expect it to be free. What planet are you from?
    I think of it like snowboarding, you can hike the mountain and earn your turns or pay for a lift ticket. Same as the wave pool V the ocean.

  • liza tappin

    I believe having a wave pool will help children learn to surf especially if they don’t live near the beach. having the opportunity will be great for them .

  • diego

    he should do inspirational speeches, maybe like a TED Talk

  • beachcrewzer

    love to see that he does care. Not that he wants everyone to start surfing but that he cares enough to want to show how technical surfing really is to everyone and anyone who thinks that a wave is a wave.

  • noel

    Ok seems like everybody just loves the idea of making surfing grow to the popularity of Basketball…
    Do you really want every wave in this world to be discovered ? Crowded Lineups everywhere and Surfing all over the TV. I just don´t get that.

  • to noel

    “Crowded Lineups everywhere and Surfing all over the TV.”
    Noel, what planet do you live in? Let’s face it, it’s already happening. Surfing has been uphill since gidget. Wake up.

    And yes, I do hope Kelly can make the artificial waves to happen, he’s the right man for the job. I just don’t know why it’s taking so long…

  • tony (ty) carson big island

    Ryan, never thought it would be free, just seems like another money making scheme from some one. And personally, I wouldn’t consider riding a man made chlorine wave a privilege, (my original remark was a sarcasm). Now riding some waves in the God given free ocean- is definitely a privilege and a blessing. Right on Noel, some excellent points. And, “Thank God for a few free waves.” MSD Peace…

  • Nic

    Ignore the haters. The man is an inspiration for more reasons than we can count. No matter where you have the pleasure of surfing you’re more than likely to be surfing with someone who is inspired by Kelly, from his talent to his health habits. I too would love to see a cook book by Kelly and friends, it could be a big step in implementing change on a unsustainable system, something everyone should agree on improving.

  • Richard Lavoie

    I don’t surf as often as I would like to . The journey to the beach is a long one , 100 miles for me. The surf reports are always wrong,they say 2 to 4 feet and I get there and it’s 2 feet and blown out. The crowds are unbearable today , everyone hungry for waves. The pier has more snakes than the Mojove and they all want a be surf stars… An organized wave pool would be a nice break from all the kooks out in the water today, no matter what the cost. Build it and they will come…
    At any price ………….. Good luck Kelly

  • Alwin

    I believe in what Kelly does, he is a fighter in and out the ocean, if he wants to provide this new era and oportunnity for the sport, i wish him all the success, he deserved, and other kids that dont live close to the planet ocean, will and can experience the adrenaline of Surfing. La envidia es normal, Kelly siempre va a ser grande, regards

  • Ash

    Yes, Wyoming does have a wave demand! Research it!