Kelly Slater is the Kelly Slater of surfing.
He’s won every contest, he holds every record, and he’s probably not done yet. The problem is, we rarely get to see the real Kelly. We’ve been bombarded with pictures, videos, and interviews on the guy for the past quarter-century, but do we actually know him?
Every once in the while, Kelly decides to peel back the layers and show us what’s going on in his multifaceted mind. Despite the 11 world titles, Kelly’s life hasn’t been all blueberries and paper planes. He’s faced the death of close friends and relatives, heartbreaking competition losses, and basic relationship problems that many people deal with on a regular basis. Turns out he’s human after all.
We’ve compiled a list of the most interesting excerpts from his interview with Joe Buck on the Undeniable Show.
*Quotes have been paraphrased in order to fit the print medium.
Kelly on his tenacious mother: My mom moved to Florida when she was 18, and she started to work at NASA. By the time I turned 8, she had become an EMT and firefighter — the first female fire fighter in our county. All the guys would try to tell her that she couldn’t do it, but she was determined. I think I get my competitiveness from her. When she grew up she never played tennis, but when she got to Cocoa Beach she was in the social club and she got into playing tennis. And there was this one friend of mine, and no one liked his mother, no one wanted to play tennis with her. So my mom said, “Ok I’ll play with her,” and they went on to beat everyone in the tennis club.
Kelly on early influences: My favorite surfer was always Tom Curren from Santa Barbara. His style was very flowing and smooth because he grew up surfing Rincon. I grew up surfing with very talented surfers in Florida, but their style was to do aerials and olly-hops because of the short waves on the east coast. So I wanted to be able to blend Tom Curren’s style, power and flow with that trick style that had come into play.
Kelly on high school: Mike Stewart — who is one of the best surfers of all time, regardless of what he rides — is a really smart guy. He once said, “High school is easy. If you can’t finish high school, you can’t finish anything.” Once I heard that, I was like, I’m finishing high school. I think I finished with a 4.6 GPA, and I didn’t even give it my all.
Kelly on Baywatch: When I was a kid I wanted to be an actor, but when that became a reality I didn’t want to be at all. I was taking my surf career very seriously and I didn’t want to be taken as a joke. Some of the things they would do on the show, like fake CPR, were hard for me to align with, because I’ve had friends that have drowned. I know that real CPR is a little bit different than what they show on TV. I tried to get out of the show but I was contractually obligated, so I had to go through with it. I faced a lot of criticism though – I’m just glad there wasn’t Instagram or Twitter at that time, I probably would have killed myself [laughs].
Kelly on being suicidal: 1993 was a rough year for me. I barely requalified after winning my first world title in ’92. I had a girlfriend, we were engaged, and then we broke up. At the same time I was totally broke, in debt, and then balancing both surfing and Baywatch. Basically everything went south for me at that point, and in the beginning of 1994 I was depressed and suicidal for a few weeks.
Kelly on his obsession with statistics: I knew that I wanted to win more than just one title. My idol Tom Curren had three, and then an Australian guy named Mark Richards had the record with four world titles, and he won them consecutively. So my goal was not just to win more than Mark, but to win more consecutively. When I won my fifth title in ’97, I had surpassed Mark in total titles, but in my head I still needed to win another one in ’98 to beat him with five consecutive titles. So I gave that season everything and pulled it off.
Kelly on his dad’s emotional distance: My dad had never been to one of professional competitions. When it became clear that his cancer was taking a turn for the worse, I flew him out to Hawaii so he could see me compete at the Pipeline Masters. I ended up losing a heat, only to come to the beach and find him crying off by himself. I was like, “Dad, what’s going on?” He told me, “I’m just so proud of you.” That was the first time he had every vocalized that he was proud of me. It was a really big moment for me.
The entire interview can be found here.