He is simultaneously the Duke Kahanamoku, Miki Dora, Tom Curren and Kelly Slater of his sport; its godfather figure, its biggest legend, its most stylish practitioner and its greatest champion.
A genre has formed within surf journalism around dissecting the motivations of Kelly Slater.
Why does Kelly do what Kelly does?
The killer competitive drive and all its associated personality traits that fuelled 11 world titles and 20 plus years at the highest level have also proven to be a little of his undoing.
With every passing year, Kelly isolates himself with a need to stay relevant.
The now infamous “Sound Waves” episode offered a telling window into the depths he is prepared to plunge to stay in the game.
How does Kelly, as a once omnipotent surf god, manage the later stages of his career?
Kelly has said he feels like he’s alone and that no one understands him.
But, what if there is someone who has been through similar experiences that he could turn to for guidance?
Mike Stewart, owner of nine world bodyboard titles and fourteen world bodysurfing titles knows what it’s like to be venerated within a surfing sport.
He is simultaneously the Duke Kahanamoku, Miki Dora, Tom Curren and Kelly Slater of the bodyboard world; its godfather figure, its biggest legend, its most stylish practitioner and its greatest champion.
But next year, at fifty-six years old, Mike won’t be on the bodyboarding professional tour, known as the APB. For the first time since 1982(!) he won’t directly qualify to compete on the grand stage at the highest level.
That’s thirty-seven years at the top.
Listening to Stewart speak in a recent episode of the “Le Boogie” podcast, the commonalities between his and Slater’s hyper-competitive personalities become clear.
At one stage, Stewart rattles off a list of things he feels he needs to improve to remain competitive against riders who may be up to a third his age: get more flexible, get stronger and adjust his mindset so he’s willing to endure the punishment of landing moves after hitting heavy sections on sizeable waves.
Says Stewart, “If you want it bad enough, you’re going to have to endure some mean poundings. It’s not a fun thing.”
Remember, he’s fifty-six and has been at the top of the sport since its inception.
The competitive desire to achieve obviously still burns strong. It’s just that these days, the goalposts have shifted.
“I’m competing, but I’m not here to win contests. I’m here to participate, which is a totally different mindset, just to be able to go out there and still mix it up, is a super big thrill for me, and I’m just stoked to do it.”
It’s a headspace that sounds eerily familiar to the one supernatural healer Charlie Goldsmith was trying to impart to Kelly.
Which is, find the joy within the opportunity and experience, rather than the thrill of vanquishing all before you to reach the top.
During the commentary of the last day of the Pipe Masters, Shane Dorian said that Kelly had expressed a desire to do the tour again next year, although this time exclusively riding a twin fin.
It sounds like a perfect fit for 2020 Slater. An opportunity to push and explore board design possibilities.To continue to expand the parameters of what people have assumed possible. The possibility of new and novel experiences.
The chance to still compete, but on his own terms.
So, Kelly, forget about an Aussie shaman and go seek out the one other man on the planet whose competitive drive and wave riding experience is comparable to your own for a little advice.
I’m sure you might be able to bump into him at pipe.
Or at the very least, listen to the podcast.