KELLY THE GREAT

IN­TEL­LI­GENT, DRIVEN AND ONE OF THE GREAT­EST EVER ATH­LETES, ELEVEN-TIME WORLD SURF­ING CHAM­PION KELLY SLATER OPENS UP ABOUT DON­ALD TRUMP, DRUGS AND JUST WHAT THE NEXT WAVE WILL BRING.

GQ (Australia) - - CHAMPION -

Kelly Slater is di­vid­ing opin­ion. As he’s done be­fore. As he’ll do again. At the core of it is the wave pool he un­veiled to the world last De­cem­ber. De­scribed as the most per­fect wave to ever be shaped by man, it stole the spot­light from Adri­ano de Souza’s 2015 world ti­tle win – the ac­com­pa­ny­ing videos of a crouched, pit­ted Slater rid­ing a me­chan­i­cal swell the only surf­ing head­line to reach a wider au­di­ence. To­day, sev­eral months on, the WSL (World Surf League) has pur­chased a ma­jor stake in the Kelly Slater Wave Com­pany. It’s ig­nited a ruckus, built on the no­tion of what might be lost should com­pet­i­tive surf­ing move inland, far re­moved from the un­pre­dictabil­ity of the rolling oceans. The 44-year-old shrugs off any such de­ri­sion. As he sees it, man-made waves will never re­place those that oc­cur nat­u­rally – they’re a “sup­ple­ment” to the main ac­tion; a way of en­abling more peo­ple to ex­pe­ri­ence what Slater’s known since he first stood on a twin-finned body board in the Florid­ian white­wash, 40 or so years ago. Ul­ti­mately, the fact that a surfer pad­dling to­wards the fi­nal wave of his com­pet­i­tive ca­reer is the same guy shap­ing the fu­ture of the sport neatly en­cap­su­lates what Slater’s about – a thinker, a man driven to suc­ceed, peren­ni­ally rest­less and the best to ever place two feet on a surf­board. He’s also the sport’s con­tem­po­rary con­stant – a man who’s been there as the ac­tion went from am­a­teur to aerial and be­yond, with the in­volve­ment of big busi­ness and the bil­lions now in­vested. “There were no mil­lion­aires in surf­ing when I started the tour. I mean, now you’ve got guys start­ing their first year on tour who are mil­lion­aires,” Slater tells GQ. “It’s a very pro­fes­sional arena now – the coaches and teams... Back in the day, it was noth­ing to go out and party all night, be­fore you surfed. That was the norm when I got on tour.” It was a scene that claimed the sen­si­bil­i­ties of Aus­tralian hard man and Pipe Mas­ters cham­pion Tom Car­roll – who re­cently wrote about his strug­gles with drugs, specif­i­cally ice – and, sadly, the life of Slater’s close friend, the fear­less Hawai­ian charger and former three-time tour win­ner, Andy Irons. Slater says it’s bet­ter now, but stops short of claim­ing that pro surf­ing is truly clean. “Well, are there still drugs in peo­ples’ lives, on earth? I’m not go­ing to come out and say ev­ery­one on tour is on drugs, but I’m not go­ing to come out and say ev­ery­one on earth is clean, ei­ther... I’m not go­ing to say there’s noth­ing [on tour], but it’s a lot less preva­lent than when I started out – back then half the tour did what­ever.” Slater’s al­ways been sober, bar­ring the oc­ca­sional beer (“I just choose to not get out of con­trol”). He’s also pro-le­gal­i­sa­tion. “I’m all for the le­gal­i­sa­tion of drugs – all drugs, in fact. Ed­u­cate [peo­ple], tax [drugs] and make so­ci­ety not have these stig­mas on some­one who is a drug ad­dict. You know, a lot of the time, a drug ad­dic­tion is a side ef­fect of an emo­tional prob­lem for peo­ple.” He’d know – his fa­ther was an al­co­holic. “I think he turned to it be­cause he had a tough time deal­ing with love.” It’s not to say he had a dif­fi­cult up­bring­ing – there were “toxic” mo­ments, and his fa­ther even­tu­ally left home, but Slater main­tains that he en­joyed his Co­coa Beach child­hood. “It was this strange melt­ing pot of peo­ple – you had NASA as­tro­nauts and engi­neers, they were the rock stars, and then the surfers and some burnouts... It was an in­ter­est­ing place grow­ing up, filled with ex­cite­ment about the un­knowns of pos­si­bil­ity.” Cut to now and, after 11 world ti­tle wins and an in­cred­i­ble quar­ter cen­tury on tour, ex­cite­ment, Slater ad­mits, is wan­ing. It’s been two years since his last event vic­tory, with

“YOU CATCH A WAVE THAT COULD BE THE BEST OF YOUR LIFE, OR THE LAST.”

per­sis­tent ru­mours re­gard­ing re­tire­ment shad­ow­ing him. At the time of writ­ing, he’s 19th on the leader­board. “There’s no plan for re­tire­ment... But yeah, some­times I get bored with the monotony of [the tour], and re­cent re­sults have given me a new chal­lenge to get around. But peo­ple tend to for­get that ’93 was the worst year I’ve ever had com­pet­i­tively – I was the world champ and was sit­ting at al­most 30th, [star­ing at] not re­qual­i­fy­ing the next year... So that was a strug­gle and I was stressed out.” There’s no such stress to­day – the wave pool and his newly launched fash­ion la­bel, Outer­known, are just two side projects to break up the tour. Of the lat­ter, which is backed by French con­glom­er­ate Ker­ing – think Gucci, Ba­len­ci­aga, YSL – Slater says he was ea­ger to pur­sue fash­ion “the way I thought it should be done. “After 30 years of be­ing spon­sored by cloth­ing com­pa­nies and get­ting most of my in­come from fash­ion, I still didn’t know much about it. So, I’ve spent the past eight years look­ing into it and un­der­stand­ing it.” The Outer­known la­bel, he of­fers, is built on a com­bi­na­tion of ethics and sus­tain­abil­ity. “Peo­ple know how to make clothes, now it’s time to bet­ter some of those meth­ods... You don’t think about who made [the clothes], and the sup­ply chain and the labour con­di­tions and their wages and life sit­u­a­tions. Look, some peo­ple will never ask those ques­tions, but I think that through what we’re do­ing, hav­ing this healthy de­bate, there’s an op­por­tu­nity to talk about it in a way that could change some things.” Change. It’s an idea that brings up pend­ing White House up­heavals and, surely, the fear at­tached to a pos­si­ble Trump tri­umph. “Yeah, but who’s scarier – him or Hil­lary? Let’s be hon­est, they’re both so po­lar­is­ing... And you know what? That doesn’t scare me, be­cause no mat­ter who our Pres­i­dent’s been, it’s never changed my life.” So just what, or who, scares Kelly Slater? “Medi­ocrity – not liv­ing my life to the fullest. I have to find the bal­ance of how much to go for some­thing and when to tether it, but I never want to look back and say, ‘I should have caught that wave that I pulled out of.’ And I know that sounds stupid but, to a surfer, that’s what it’s about – to catch a wave that’s po­ten­tially the best of your life, or life-threat­en­ing. I don’t want to miss op­por­tu­ni­ties in life – that’s the les­son here.” outer­known.com; world­sur­fleague.com

SLATER THROUGH THE YEARS

BAR­RELS, OFF THE LIP MA­NOEU­VRES AND WILD CEL­E­BRA­TIONS ARE THE 44-YEAR-OLD REG­U­LAR FOOTER’S FORTE.

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