We Asked Seven Pro Surfers About Kelly Slater On His Birthday
“I prefer the Kelly who invited me on a private jet with Paris Hilton and friends to Vegas, to the Kelly of today.”
The King is 45 today. And in honour of his birthday and legacy, we asked seven of our favourite surfers for their favourite Kelly anecdotes, memories and tidbits. Some are quick and to the point, some more detailed, but all are memorable. There’s no concise way to articulate who, and what Kelly Slater is, so we’ll allow Mick Fanning, Taj Burrow, Mason Ho, Jamie O’Brien, Craig Anderson, CJ Hobgood and Dane Gudauskas to provide sentiments… because any individual with a love for surfing has fallen under the spell of Kelly Slater.
Kelly is adored everywhere. Seriously, everywhere. Here, in Portugal.
Taj Burrow: “We’ve got to appreciate how good the guy is, and the longevity of his career is just ridiculous. It’s phenomenal what he’s done, and the amount of times over the years he’s been losing a heat, and this magical wave comes and he surfs it to a 10… it’s happened so much, it’s just not even real. He’s freakish.
But, I prefer the Kelly who invited me on a private jet with Paris Hilton and friends to Vegas, to the Kelly of today. That was fun. I’m happy that I got the invite. That was a highlight of our friendship.”
The secret to success? Kalani irons out some kinks for The Champ in France.
Mick Fanning: “He’s one of those guys where you just have to totally be on your A-game. Especially through those years where he was winning back to back titles, and when he was competing against Andy. Actually, all the way up until now, you just have to be on your game, because he really lifts when he comes up against people he really wants to beat. You have everything to gain against him. He’s the greatest of all time, and any chance you get to beat him, you’re giving it your all. I think that’s what made me push so hard. He’s raised the performance level on tour. Every time you’re able to beat him, that’s a pretty damn good feather in your cap. The years when he and Andy were going at each other were so gnarly. They were so, so far ahead of everyone else. All the rest of us, if you got a third behind those two, that was like winning the world title. We were looking at those two in amazement, and every time they came up against each other everyone would just stop and watch, so into it. It was epic.”
A wrinkle in time. In another life, Kelly might’ve been Australian, such is his panache in Australian waves.
Mason Ho: “One time at the Eddie Aikau event – I think I was eight years old – Kelly was sitting on the back of a truck with Pamela Anderson. I had a huge crush on her and knew Kelly, so I figured it was my chance to impress her. I walked up and said hi to both of them. I wanted to make her laugh and the first thing I could think of was to tease Kelly. So I told him “Kelly is a girl’s name.” Then he jumped off the truck, chased me down the beach and stuffed my face in the sand. When we walked back up to Pam she was all smiling at me. I was like, yeah! Kelly teamwork, my favourite surfer!”
Dane Gudauskas: “Kelly asked me to come stay with him in Tavarua for a Cloudbreak swell, and I was so excited. We went out on the jetski in the afternoon and he had a backpack with him. Some dolphins swam by so he jumped off to take some pictures, and somewhere in the process I became in possession of his backpack. And I was so frothy on the swell that I spaced out on taking care of Kelly’s stuff. I got off the ski to paddle out and Kelly’s like, “Dude, where’s my backpack?” And I was like, “fuck I don’t know where it is!” It ended up floating somewhere in the channel between Cloudbreak and Tavarua and he took off on the ski to go look for it. I didn’t see him for the rest of the afternoon so I kept surfing. When I came back Kelly had his cellphone taken apart into 400 pieces. He had every little piece separated on a cookie tray and was trying to dry it out in the oven. I felt like such a grom; it was absolutely devastating! He took it out and pieced the phone back together perfectly – which is amazing in its own right. I remember just praying that it turned on. It didn’t. We still crack up about me just blowing it and losing his backpack at sea. But, on that trip he did some of the most futuristic surfing I’ve ever seen. Tomo was there too and they were working together on boards. I was on a 6’5″ and he was riding a 5’4″. Kelly was doing these under the lip turns that I’ve never seen before. They weren’t even snaps; it was bizarre, I’d never seen anything like that in person. The way he surfs in Fiji gets me so psyched.”
Mr Slater, John John and Jamie O’Brien are three of the only gents who can ride hands free in a lefthand barrel of this calibre. Here’s Kelly in his Fijian element.
Jamie O’Brien: “Kelly’s the type of surfer who tries to sell you a wave and when you don’t go, he takes the wave he tried to sell you on and gets a 9.7 almost every time.”
Dane Reynolds in a singlet, Slater chugging champagne and John John as a grom – what’s not to love about this photograph? France, 2012.
Craig Anderson: “The first time I was on a trip with Kelly, and Dane (Reynolds), it was up at Straddie. I was 18, eyes popping out of my head. He just had such an aura. He’s this spiritual guru, like… a higher being. He’s 45, probably been surfing for 35 years, and when I think back, my favourite stuff he’s done is all his Taylor Steele video parts, and Kelly Slater In Black And White. In my opinion, Andy was right up there with video sections that he put out, but I would say that Kelly’s put out the best video parts of all time. That’s the stuff I look back on and can really appreciate. Every section of Kelly was just groundbreaking, and he was doing something different to everyone else, bigger airs, bigger turns, with a ton of style. That’s what I’ve appreciated most out of his career in the last 20 years. I used to psych on the Focus video, the waves weren’t the best, but when he first started doing those big carving 360s – it would’ve been early 90s – they were the smoothest, most buttery moves. It wasn’t a crazy wave or a huge wave, but I thought they were insane.”
Fact: There will never be another surfer as competitively dominant as Kelly.
CJ Hobgood: “I’ve always been beyond amazed how he’s gone head to head with three generations, and he’s already working on a fourth. Kelly’s surfed against Tom Curren, Tom Carroll, Sunny Garcia, Andy Irons, Mick Fanning, Joel Parkinson, John John Florence, Gabriel Medina, and now Kanoa Igarashi and Zeke Lau. It’s crazy how anyone can stay that motivated. He’s the GOAT!”
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