"I feel like I can improve my surfing without even going in the water.“
The sports journalist Will Swanton, a winner of multiple writing trophies, has released an archived interview with Kelly Slater on the occasion of Kelly’s fiftieth birthday.
The scene is the outside verandah of the Rainbow Bay Surf Club during the now defunct Quiksilver Pro event at Snapper Rocks.
Kelly sucks a spoon he’s been using to eat his yoghurt “like he’s smoking a pipe.”
“I can practise in my mind,” he tells Swanton. “I can look at a wave and I imagine myself on that wave. I literally get the feeling in my body and in my muscles of how it’s going to be when I ride that wave. I didn’t surf a wave for three weeks before I got here. I went out and it felt like I’d been surfing every day. It’s a spiritual thing for me. It’s just ingrained in my muscles and connected to my mind. Somehow, I feel like I can improve my surfing without even going in the water.“
Talk turns to Snapper’s crowds.
“Two days ago, I had someone‘s leash wrapped around my neck out there. I hit a kid yesterday. I fell on him because I was trying to avoid a different kid. You get out of the way of one kid and run into another one. It’s frustrating for all of us as surfers and humans.”
And Snapper’s hierarchical void.
“Pipeline has a tight takeoff zone. It’s a dangerous wave and you ignore the pecking order there at your peril. You know who the locals are at Pipe, you know who the good guys are, you know who’s going to get the sets, you know who’s going to get the best waves. You know the guys who are going to utilise the waves in the best way.
“That’s nowhere near what happens here at Snapper, unless it’s behind the rock or you’re at Kirra on those rare special days. On the normal days here, you just constantly get run over. You run into people yourself. It’s the same for me, it’s the same for you, it’s the same for everyone. It makes me think a pecking order is a good thing.
“There’s some weird stuff that goes with pecking orders but it does create a sense of order, for better or worse. And whatever you think about localism, a pecking order allows people to fit in where they should. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to have a pecking order at a place where the wave breaks for a mile. I actually got a few waves at Snapper yesterday but nearly every single wave, there was someone in my way. You want to be Zen but you feel yourself tightening up.
“A friend of mine was out there and we were laughing because I was losing it a bit. I said, you know what? I think I need to go to the beach and dry off. Press the reset button and paddle back out because I really am losing it here.
“You just have to get out of there sometimes. You see people paddling in and they’re just … defeated. It’s kind of hilarious because you know it’s probably going to happen to you. You don’t want it to happen to you. You do everything you can to make sure it doesn‘t happen to you. And then it happens to you.“
Slater, then, pivots to human’s base needs.
“We’re so pre-programmed, for some reason, on the caveman level. We’re pre-programmed for survival. The most basic levels are: I need to eat, I need to kill an animal, I need to prove myself, I need to get the girl so I can procreate – all those weird genetics and encodings that are built into us. They’re present in all of us.”