In black and white.
Kelly Slater is the latest coverboy for legendary athletic publication Sports Illustrated and provides new insight as to what makes him tick and how long he plans to keep being the center of our attentions. The interview begins with the 11x world champion, his girlfriend, and the journalist Brandon Sneed driving south from LAX to San Clemente.
It is hot, apparently, so hot that Slater must remove his pants in order to cool.
It is taken as metaphor.
And, I suppose it is apt. Of all the many Kelly Slater chats I’ve both conducted and read, this one seems… most raw. The just-north-of-fifty-year-old discusses his interior garden, for example, and what seems to be its manic landscape:
Slater says he, too, experiences emotions with a profound intensity, beyond the norm. Extreme highs and lows. Early on, those highs came with fame and fortune and that world championship at 20, clinched at Pipeline. It was a hell of a crest for a self-described redneck from the Space Coast. But the lows came just as heavy, one year later. He ended an engagement, he lost the world title and he found himself six figures in debt. He has never publicly shared the depths that his anguish reached, but emotionally he felt almost like he was pinned against the reef again. He says that one night he found himself at the edge of an apartment building’s roof in Coolangatta, on Australia’s Gold Coast, with a beautiful view of the eastern Indian Ocean. He remembers “just looking down . . . like this would all be over in a few seconds. That’s where my mind was. . . . I was suicidal for a minute.”
His response to the great blackness:
To quell this he says he tried therapy (but inconsistently at the time) and antidepressants (but he didn’t like how they numbed him). He cares too much about his body to escape into drugs, and he found drinking’s hangover a waste of time. Instead, in these peaks and valleys, he says surfing became a place to funnel those emotions, redirecting them toward the waves. “I learned how to focus and channel that energy [into competition]. It consumed me. I became really obsessive about it.”
The coming career end:
He can picture it. Surfing just to surf. Maybe he’ll taper off, a couple of competitions each year, then let it all go. “There’s a part of everyone that, when they quit, becomes a little empty,” he says. He does wonder, though, what might fill that void. “Maybe something could.” But he won’t know until he lets this go. “Not until [surfing]’s done.”
And the most important lesson he has learned throughout his half-century:
The big lesson has been simple: “I definitely have learned to be kinder to myself,” he says. “I used to have a really negative internal dialogue.”
Tom Brady is also consulted and shares secrets of greatness. Tony Hawk too. Slater eventually puts his pants on but then, presumably, takes them off again to get a painful massage wherein the masseuse castigates him for being a wimp.
Essential, to crib Derek Rielly.