A very pretty, contest-winning five-ten from the champ’s eponymous label…
Last September, Kelly Slater grabbed perhaps the final win of his three-decade career, combo-ing John John Florence in the final of the Tahiti Pro.
Kelly included a 9.77 and a 9.90 in his heat total of 19.67. It was Kelly’s fifty-fifth contest win.
And the surfboard he won the event on, which is called The Gamma, is Kelly’s “utility short board” design. It means he can ride ‘em in a variety of conditions. Kelly keeps a a quiver of Gammas in one-inch increments from 5’9” to 6’1”.
However, this version, a 5’10” x 18 3/8” x 2 5/16th, just shone from the batch. A touch shorter a little more beef for getting it over the ledge.
I ask Kelly, who is at the Slater Designs factory in Carlsbad, just north of San Diego, what specific pleasures it has given him?
A wave, a turn?
“I won Teahupoo and got a twenty-point heat on it. What else do you need?” he says.
Were you intimately involved in its design?
“I wasn’t in the shaping bay but I did verbally design the board and worked through a few renditions of it to get to this.”
Were you immediately thrilled, or were you displeased, by its appearance?
“Yeah, well, if you don’t like what a board looks like you don’t pick it up and ride it. So…yes! I’ve had the board for over a year now but I retired it after that contest because I was waiting to use it in similar waves again.”
Can you tell if a board is going to be good before you ride it?
“I feel like I can, but that said, I had a board recently that was an early version of the Gamma, one of the first iterations of it. And at the time I was putting a little more foam in my boards, more volume, and this one felt too fine so I didn’t touch it for two years. And then I rode it recently and it felt amazing. Sometimes your mind can tell you one thing and then you get on something and it can be the best board you’ve ridden. You have to feel it out without judgement.”
When you stood up on that first wave of Teahupoo on it, did it feel special?
“That’s the secret to a good board is that feels like it jumps on you,” says Kelly. “It feels like it moves where you want to so you don’t really have to think about it. I haven’t ridden that board since Teahupoo last year, I might’ve ridden it in France briefly, but yeah, I got on it and it was one of those surfboards that went wherever I thought and I was able to make a lot of waves that for whatever reason I didn’t think I was going to make, busting through the foam or whatever.”
Tell me some of the specifics of the design.
“It’s a steady rocker. A continuous rocker. It has a single concave so that flattens the rocker in the centre. It’s a standardised board for what people are doing but the trick is in the rocker and working out, over time, the concave so you don’t get too much lift in the tail. It’s about finding balance in the curve and the lift.”
You treat this board real good? In cotton wool?
“It’s a weird thing,” says Kelly. “You win a contest on a board and you want to keep that thing on ice but at the same time if you’re not riding it consistently then you don’t know all the little intricacies that made it so good. So you gotta beat up a board to be in tune with it. That’s the Good Surfboard Dilemma for us.”
I got a little cash. How much to buy?
“How much you got,” says Kelly. “You gotta start negotiating sonewhere. How much you got?”
Not much! I gave it all to Matt Warshaw!
(Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Surfing Life’s surfboard issue, number 338. Buy it or subscribe here.)