A scene-by-scene analysis of accidental masterpiece Sound Waves: Kelly Slater, Surf Ranch…
(Editor’s note: The WSL-produced series Sound Waves unexpectedly created a masterpiece with its recent seventeen-minute short on Kelly Slater, and which was filmed around the Freshwater Pro event. The elements that make it compelling are the lovely and loyal girlfriend, the healer and best friend who fills the air with his treacly homilies and then the great surfer, himself, aged but still brilliant, a slightly melancholy bachelor defiant yet beset by insecurities. It’s the sort of documentary even the most jaded voyeur of surf would pay a small fortune to watch. In this story, the Scottish writer JP Currie analyses the play, scene by scene.)
Kelly Slater. At once the most complex and straightforward character we’ve ever seen.
His latest exposure, produced by the marvelously positive WSL Studios, who seem bent on making the WSL look like a cross between Friends and Teen Mom, is superb. Once again, for all the world to see, here is Kelly the Psycho.
We begin with some footage of Kelly surfing the right at the pool. He is shirtless, loose and bald. He blows the end section.
There are slow piano keys. Is it a memorial?
Then the narrative.
Cut-away shots of Kelly, arms aloft, celebrating in happier times. Now he’s camped out in a caravan at the pool like an old tramp, desperately trying to conquer his demons. Kelly’s voiceover states his desire to win another title.
“Everything is against me,” he claims. Age, evolution, etc.
The conflict. The Question: “How many of those world titles would you give me to be happy, to enjoy this experience, to not have stress,” asks Charlie Goldsmith, Kelly’s brain nanny.
We’ll come back to this.
Kelly leaves his caravan and cycles around the Surf Ranch. He’s like an exotic pet they keep on site. He mingles with the other competitors. He gives Strider a hard time for catching too many waves.
He got two.
But there are only seven spares each day, allegedly.
This is Slater at his passive aggressive best. Strider senses this and flees. Kelly tries to justify it to no-one in particular.
There is some footage of Kelly being interviewed, about the Ranch, about his season. There’s the veneer of a smile, but his eyes, oh his eyes! Here he is, surrounded by media and adoring fans, at the landmark technology he designed, built, and cashed in on. He is rich, he is successful, yet…
Kelly is on an exercise bike poolside. Kalani stands by his side, with the poise of a dog warden answering a neighbourhood distress call.
“What board you riding?” she asks, awkwardly.
“A thruster,” Kelly replies.
It felt a bit like when my mum used to ask me if anything interesting had happened at school.
“Kelly you know this wave. Better than anyone. You made this wave. Have fun,” Kalani says.
She’s trying to help. I feel bad for her. It must be a nightmare being around Kelly. But she should know better.
What pre-heat advice to give to the most analytical, self critical, ruthlessly competitive man in surfing?
How about reminding him this is his own creation, that he should have an advantage over everyone?
Or how about telling him just to have fun.
Have fucking fun.
Even I want to reach into the screen and throttle her.
Kelly is gracious, but his disdain is palpable. It oozes through the pixels, it makes your hair stand on end. It’s utterly riveting viewing.
Kelly lies down to do some stretching. Anything to avoid having more board discussions with Kalani.
Charlie appears. Like a silent fart. He wants a hug. He wants to know how Kelly is feeling.
Charlie stares. Charlie has a silly grin on his face. Charlie asks stupid fucking questions.
“Have fun, Kelly,” says Kalani again.
“Huh?” Says Kelly, barely concealing the volcano inside that is screaming HAVEFUN?HAVEFUCKINGFUN?WHATTHEFUCKISTHATSUPPOSEDTO MEAN? WHYTHEFUCKAREYOUTALKING?”
“Have fun,” she says for the third time.
Kelly forgets his vest for his heat, presumably because Kalani and Charlie have been nipping his head and he can’t think straight. It’s ok, Kai Lenny gets it for him.
“You ok, brother?” says a pre-diabetic Raimana as Kelly gets on the back of the ski. “Feel good?”
In lieu of strangling him to death with his leash, Kelly gives him a sharp tap on the side of his gut. It’s a shade away from a kidney punch, and the tone is the same.
Shut it and drive.
But Raimana can’t help himself. He rabbits about the wind. Tells Kelly not to surf in the pocket. Tells him to watch the replays, “good for your confidence”. And then the “have fun”.
Fucking have fun.
Kelly’s first waves are done. He’s back by the side of the pool. Charlie is there.
“I still think you should meditate for five minutes,” Charlie says, coquettishly.
Kelly tells him he doesn’t have five minutes, lies down and shuts his eyes.
Charlie clearly doesn’t get it.
“Can’t you see that it’s better to show people you can still be out there at an older age, enjoying yourself, competing with younger people, than worrying so much about winning.”
His voiceover says as we see shots of Kelly, walking, miserable.
Listen, Charlie. Mate. I’m very pleased that at your school everyone got a medal and a glass of milk and your two mummies were there to cheer you on, but wind your neck in.
Charlie’s website hails him as “Healer. Inventor. Businessman.”
Charlie has invented a healing question, “How many of those world titles would you give me to be happy?”
“The answer should be…the quick answer should be…” Kelly attempts, with the good grace of not ripping Charlie’s happy throat out.
Hold on, Kelly, I want to say. I’ll get this one for you, mate.
“NONE. YOU WET, PATRONISING HIPPY CUNT. NOW GET FUUUUUCKED!”
You can’t be everything, Kelly, just be yourself.
Embrace the madness.
Happiness is overrated. Anyone can be happy.
It’s the dullest ambition a human can have. How many people could paddle out anywhere in the world for three decades and dominate? Only you.
That’s your Faustian pact. Enjoy it.
Kelly and Charlie are meditating, side by side on a sofa. Kelly’s eyes are closed. He’s going along with it.
“I’m proud of all my achievements,” goes Charlie’s echoey whine. “I love that I’m still competing…”
“How you feeling?” he asks when they finish.
“Good. I almost passed out,” says Kelly.
I’ll translate that for you, Charlie.
What Kelly means is that it was a nice five minutes blanking your whining platitudes. He does feel more relaxed, sure. But only because it took a very deep state of concentration and inner sanctum to overcome the absolute pish you were talking.
“It’s nice to feel like…connecting with the…whole thing,” Kelly says, trying desperately to recall something he heard on the Tim Ferriss podcast. Something that will make Charlie shut the fuck up.
But he is undeterred.
“What’s your job?” Charlie oozes.
“Have fun,” says Kelly, with all the conviction of a schoolboy apology.
Then, suddenly, he breaks gloriously from the facade!
“Smash my competitors!” he exclaims with a grin and a devilish laugh.
It’s beautiful, utterly beautiful.
This is our Kelly. Be our Kelly.