Sitting down with Kelly Slater, the greatest surfer of all time

words by: tara wesson // photography by: megan vickery, marcus milostic, patrick blacker, seamus byrne

It’s a wrap on Day Five of the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro, and today was a big one. Kelly Slater, the greatest surfer of all time and the event’s biggest drawcard, surfed his first heat in the WSL QS 6000 and placed first. Slater opened up about all things surfing, Sydney, and what’s to come.

It’s Slater’s first time back on the beaches in a long time. For some time an Avalon man himself, Slater says he’s missed the area and that it’s good to be back.

“There’s not a lot of big cities in the world that are close to good waves, close to the beach. I love the feeling of a big city. It’s just a different energy. I love going across the bridge, I love landing in the city and watching all the beaches flying in.

It brings back so many memories. I used to just love coming here, grabbing a cab from the airport and being dropped off in Avalon for a few weeks. Just being in that Northern Beaches world.”

While this morning crowds turned out in the hundreds to see Slater dominate the Manly swell, he says his favourite spots to surf on the peninsula are Narrabeen, Dee Why and Fairy Bower for something more challenging.

“It’s still my favourite thing, just to go surfing. So the passion’s there. I don’t know if the passion’s there for competition in the same way it used to be.

The challenge is more about longevity, and at my age, I still feel like I could have my best surfing ahead of me in my forties, in my fifties.”

Slater jokingly had some advice for his younger counterparts on dealing with the less than desirable surf conditions in the week passed at Manly, telling them to “keep the fins out” before he continued:

“You’ve got to be on the best waves. At the end of the heat, it’s rare that the guy who got the best waves didn’t win, even if your skill levels are a little off. If you’re not on good waves you can lose pretty easily.

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I was in first at the end of that heat, but if two waves came and I didn’t get either of them, I could have dropped to third really easily. It makes for competitive heats when it’s like this, not really exciting surfing.”

Having hinted at retirement in the past, there’s been talk that the Vissla Sydney Surf Pro could mark the beginning of his first and final tour, after a year and a half long hiatus. Whether or not that’s true, Slater explains that he’s tried to retire a few times and he’s still feeling it out.

“It’s true that I’ve hinted at it, yeah. I’m a very indecisive person with most things and I’ve tried to retire a few times. And then I got into this sort of flow where I was still winning contests.

I thought, if I’m on that level where I can still win, I might be doing a disservice to myself and my competitors if I don’t just burn this battery out completely. And I feel that stage in my life coming.”

For now, the 11-time WSL world champion feels like something of a gatekeeper for the younger surfers whom Slater says, with a laugh, “should be smoking him” yet he’s still beating them.

“So I wonder if they’ll put me out to pasture.”

Given Slater’s performance so far in this morning’s heat, we at COVERED. doubt this surfing legend will be anything but a household name for years to come!

“This part’s exciting for me because it keeps my level of surfing pushing forward, watching the young guys pushing the level. It’s the young guys now I look up to in terms of surf skills.

2019, I think it’ll be a really fun year, I actually want to make it the best year of my life.”