Stab Magazine | Kelly Slater: "It's becoming a monkey on my back"

Kelly Slater: “It’s becoming a monkey on my back”

The Champ, raw, real and enjoying it, despite his defeat at Bells. 

news // Mar 29, 2016
Words by Jed Smith
Reading Time: 5 minutes

He might be one of the most recognisable sportsmen in the world but when Kelly Slater fronts for his 10-thousandth post-heat interview, he remains one of the most thoughtful, honest and giving subjects around. Following his loss to Tahitian Michel Bourez, in round three at Bells, he evaded the media for almost an hour, presumably letting the sting of defeat wash off, before turning out at his refreshing and honest best, fielding questions on retirement, motivation, business ventures, Bells, old age, inspiration, and more.

(Interview with ESPN Reporter) 

The power’s never wavered, Slater hard on rail at Bells.

On whether this is his last year:
Kelly: I dunno, I mean, I’ve been thinking about that for 15 years. Even my mum texted me and said, ‘Maybe you should think about it you know, but then I’ve done that before and you came back and won the world title that year.’ I don’t think anything is impossible. I just think things haven’t been done. People haven’t been on tour at my age, and it’s real easy for people to expect it could be the time (to retire) and that adversity can’t be overcome at this age… It comes down to freeing your mind up, keeping your body healthy, having goals, and desire. 

On his form right now: I see myself in a longterm slump right now. I didn’t expect to be getting last place at the first event and close to last place at this one. But it can happen. As a competitor you don’t want the guys that you expect to do well to do well. But watching Joel (Parko) John John and Gabriel (Medina) go down, I breathe a little sigh of relief in a way. I don’t wanna be too hard on myself because those guys had equal frustration on the day. None of them had really great first contests. I’m just gonna settle in and brush off what’s happened so far in Australia. 

No surfer in history has adapted and led progression the way the King has.

On winning the title: My first contest ever on tour was Bells in ’92, I got 31st. I started basically as bad as I could but then I got second in the second one and built my confidence from there. With the way these first two contests have panned out, someone could definitely have two throwaways and still come back. But to be honest I haven’t really stared down a world title in a couple of years. I don’t feel like I’m really there in the mix anymore. 

On whether he cares enough to get himself back in the race: I don’t know. I’m struggling with that to be honest. I mean, I hate losing heats but I used to really thrive on the challenges. I was excited in the morning to wake up, have the challenge and it would push me all the time to obsessively think about it when I free surf and I dunno, I don’t feel that way now. I really look forward to those heats where the waves are real good and there’s a lot of waves to ride, then you don’t feel the pressure of surfing. After having a few losses and not living up to what your own expectations are it starts to wear on you. 

It’s not often I’ve had a run like I’ve had in the last two years, so you haven’t heard me say that really (laughter). I had a couple years where I didn’t win a contest in the early 2000’s but now it’s becoming a little bit of a monkey on my back. 

That hot dijon to Backdoor’s cool blue.

On whether business ventures and other distractions might be the reason: It’s probably letting the foot off the gas pedal a bit as far as constantly pushing myself. But you know I have had some distractions and more pressures in my life and I’m not gonna blame those. I go out and put what I can into every heat. For me I just feel like I haven’t surfed as freely in my heats. When you’re surfing well, competing well, you make really easy decisions, you don’t think about them, you don’t question them. I need to find that place again.

On what keeps him coming back to Bells: I think Mick said it when Andy passed away, it’s really obvious to us (the tour) is like a traveling family, you know? Even though we’re competing with each other most of us are good friends. It is a comfortable environment. This event, I stay with a family I’ve been staying with forever and it’s become tradition. I’ve been critical of the timing (of the event). I think Bells should be in July or August wave-wise and wind-wise, but it’s become a thing that we look forward to every year.

The generation gap, Conner Coffin: 22. Kelly Slater: 44

On how competitive the 2016 field is: …It’s just opened up now. I told (ratings leader) Wilko, if you win a couple of heats you put a lot of daylight between you and number two. It’d be pretty insane to see Wilko pull another win off and be on 20,000 points when nobody else is even at 7000.

Heats happen and on paper you think there’s a favourite, then when it starts to happen you see guys with nothing to lose realise it more and more… and they can surf from a dominant place. I don’t think there is one guy in this field who underestimates another guy. After seeing what we saw on the Gold Coast and what we’ve seen at this contest, you know, anybody can beat you at any time.

On North Point’s including as back up venue for the Margaret River World Tour event: Hype it up, man! We’re gonna go to Margarets and surf 20 more years before we get to surf North Point. It’s just not gonna happen. I love the idea, I actually like the idea of running it there if it was only four feet ’cause there could be some big airs and a couple little barrels. The Box is a super good possibility. I think we saw a lot of people get their feathers ruffled there last year, which was I think for guys who love it and surf fans, a good thing. You know what to expect at The Box. It’s a three second long ride, it’s intense, the wipeout we saw Melling have, the barrel we saw Owen get, some of the positions guys got put in because they were out of their comfort zone was a healthy thing for us. Those are the heats I look forward to. 

The King’s last event win, Volcom Pipe Pro, 2016

On what he would change about this event, or anything for that matter: It’s really easy to look back and say you shouldn’t have taken that wave, you should’ve taken that wave, or you should’ve surfed it this way. For me breaking down that last heat for instance I’d look at it and say, well I took a shitty wave with priority and that ended up giving Michel his eight. But then what would have happened later in the heat? Would Michel have gotten the one I got? You can’t go back and change time. So that’s why I’m sorta philosophical or analytical about things. I see a lot of patterns in my heats. Competition is an intense environment, a pressure environment, so you make bigger mistakes than you make in life in short term. But I can definitely draw some comparisons between my life and my heats right now (laughter). I need to sit back and have a look at it. 

Foam balls were meant to be navigated.

On the sportsman he looks to for motivation: Probably somebody like Tiger (Woods). He was so dominant for so long, and it was never a surprise if he had a little set back. You’re kinda like, oh cool he’s human. Then if he came back the next week and won you’re like, that’s sick, he’s nuts! I look at someone like him, he’s really struggling, he has some physical problems with his body and I think he also has some mental baggage. He was probably the most scrutinised guy on earth for ten years in competition and in sports. You either thrive on or feel that pressure. I think he’s just in a place where he’s feeling that pressure. And I can relate to that myself. I really thrived under pressure for a lot of years and now I’m not enjoying it as much. And I think a lot of that I put on myself. I kinda like to see how other people deal with that too. 

Still Slater…


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