Kelly Slater on

  • 04.16.2021

Kelly Slater

Kelly Slater’s impact on surfing mirrors the 90s Internet revolution. A piece of new technology originally dismissed as a cute, space-age toy that ended up changing the world in every conceivable way — from performance to money to records to design to longevity. Before Kelly, surf stars were just that: surf stars. After? They were highly paid, professional athletes with international appeal and limitless possibilities. The scariest fact? He’s still not finished.

Slater got his feet wet on the bunny slopes of Cocoa Beach, a sleepy Central Florida town made famous by a sexy, prime-time genie in the ’60s. Cocoa Beach, in Slater’s estimation, is as good a place as any to inherit a solid foundation as a surfer. “It breaks farther out,” he says, “so it’s easier to learn. If I had the choice of learning in Florida or Hawaii, I’d choose Florida. You don’t try to run before you can walk.”

And given his resume, no one would argue. As a preteen, Slater showed flashes of the right stuff. Tossing his freakishly limber frame around like a gymnast and equipped with an insatiable lust for perfection, he quickly entered the spotlight.

As a perennial amateur champion — six Eastern Surfing Association and four national titles — Kelly Slater surfaced in the media with his brother Sean in Sundek boardshort ads during the mid-’80s. By the time he was ready to join the pro ranks in 1990, he was a household name. After a well-publicized bidding war that included some major mainstream apparel companies, he kept true to his surfing roots and went with Quiksilver. Kelly Slater in Black and White, a 30-minute Quiksilver promo video, was the first public offering of his explosiveness and creativity.

In his first full year on the tour, at age 21, Kelly Slater solidified the hype by claiming the world title — the youngest ever to do so. But more than that, he ignited a revolution. Exposed by videographer Taylor Steele’s Momentum flicks, Slater ushered in the New School of surfing. Gone were the days of letting the wave dictate the ride. Slater drew lines never before imagined, not even from drawings on your high school notebooks.

The best surfers in the world, mesmerized and feeling inadequate, studied his every heat. To the point of boredom, he would almost play dead in the early stages before mounting an inconceivable late-heat comeback. Everyone else looked silly.

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  • 04.16.2021