INTERVIEW BY DIBI FLETCHER
PHOTOS BY STEVE SHERMAN
I’ve known Kelly since he was 10, and Herbie was his first company sponsor with Astrodeck. I’ve had the pleasure of watching him through the years create one of the greatest legacies in professional surfing through hard work, perseverance, tenacity, desire and love of the sport, all qualities of a champion, which he truly is. Getting the opportunity to talk with him is a pleasure as both of our lives have been spent in and around beach culture. There’s a certain shared feeling of experience that feels very comfortable. The 2014, ASP tour has just recently started and I wish him luck in going after his 12th world title. – Dibi Fletcher
Okay, how are you doing?
Fantastic. You’re healthy? Everything is good?
Okay. You are the greatest surfer in the world and have been for many years. What do you think has been the biggest contributing factor to keeping you on top?
I don’t know if there is any real change you can make to the base of what you do, you know, the base of my surfing, the fundamentals, but you obviously have to learn to advance and go and move with the times. Beyond that, the biggest factor is probably keeping your mind in the right place; keeping your mind open to new ideas and being able to change at a moment’s notice if you need to, decision-wise. For me, it’s when I’m competing. I have a lot of success competing and I sometimes dwell on that and wonder why I’ve been able to do that so well consistently. Occasionally, I go out there with one idea in mind, because I feel comfortable and confident that that’s the best way to approach what I’m going to do, but after having so much experience, you learn to be able to change gears and change directions, mid-course, in a heat. Sometimes you have to be really aggressive and sometimes you have to be kind of defensive, and you have to be able to play between those polar opposites and be comfortable with that and not be too stuck in one way.
Oh, you mean like not old. [Laughs]
Yeah, I think that’s how life is. As soon as you get too caught in one rut and one way of doing things, I think you get old real quick. I really do. You have nothing to look forward to in life. You need to be able to experience things as fresh and new and exciting.
Okay, so you’ve been a great role model, and there haven’t been many people and probably fewer athletes who remain scandal free. Are you more disciplined or more discreet? [Laughs]
I have a conscience. I’ve definitely had my indiscretions at times. I’ve definitely done plenty of things in my life I’m not proud of and many of those things have been kept private and personal, but there are certain limits. It depends on whatever you put out to the world. You have to be comfortable that it might come back and slap you in the face and be completely exposed. I try to put out who I am with anything I do and everything I do. Certain things are nobody’s business. Everyone’s entitled to privacy for the things they see fit.
“Sometimes you have to be really aggressive and sometimes you have to be kind of defensive, and you have to be able to play between those polar opposites and be comfortable with that and not be too stuck in one way.”
Well, you learn a lot from the mistakes you make in life. Let’s face it. That’s kind of a growing process. If you don’t make any mistakes, how do you ever learn?
Oh, yeah, you don’t ever learn. That’s life. That’s evolution. That’s growing up.
I know you’re extremely health conscious, so what is your basic philosophy about diet?
My basic philosophy is to eat good, healthy food, and there is a lot of debate about what that is. I don’t know why I should eat any food that gets sprayed with things you need a mask on to be around. There’s the whole thing with pesticides and herbicides and all the chemicals that are going into the foods, along with the unknowns with GMOs. I just do my homework enough to stay away from all that stuff as much as I can. I think it’s disgusting where food is going, on a lot of levels, but at the same time it gets offset with people coming up with really cool and innovative and amazing ways to grow food in small spaces, in the middle of cities, and that sort of thing. One part of me wishes that I didn’t travel so much because I would like to set myself up the most amazing garden on earth at my house, but I just don’t have time to do it. My basic philosophy is to eat good clean food and not mix too many foods together. Try not to eat proteins with carbs and a whole bunch of dairy with a whole bunch of meat. Try to streamline your meals and plan around it. I got really into food combining for a while and I’ve also read plenty of people that say food combining doesn’t work. I am 100% positive it does work because I did it for a year straight at one point, where you don’t mix your proteins and carbs in a meal and you eat your fruit alone. When you really get into it, you don’t mix your citrus fruits with other sub-acid fruits. You wouldn’t eat an orange and an apple together. The whole idea is to make your digestion as efficient as possible. I know when you go to a good restaurant, it’s really hard not to eat that bread they put on the table or order an appetizer with your main meal. A lot of people that are vegetarians eat a lot of pasta, and pasta is pretty much not very good for you. People talk about carb loading and stuff, but when you start getting into the different types of flour they use in pasta, a lot of times it’s just shit white flour. People that are gluten-free get into corn flours and then you’re dealing with GMOs and a lot of people don’t realize that they have allergies to wheat or milk or any kind of dairy or corn. Soy is a big allergen for people. Basically, food and diet is a maze and you’re trying to find your way through it and it’s not cheap. Everyone talks about the price of organic food and, obviously, they’re turned off by that. Also, to really know any of the things that you’re allergic to, like corn, wheat, soy, and all those things, the tests aren’t cheap. I’ve had them done and they’re really thorough and I found out that I was allergic to a lot of things that I didn’t want to be allergic to, but you gotta educate yourself. There are some cheaper ways, like skin testing, and certain tests you can do to find out foods that are suspicious to you.
You can muscle test, put it on your stomach and have your arm held out while someone pushes down on it and tell what’s good for you, like they do with little kids.
Yeah. There is muscle testing which some people do and some people don’t believe in. I’ve had it done and it’s sort of inexplicable. Certain things that I’ve been allergic to, I’ve shown up weaker to. And then some people will push your arm in a different way. You have to believe what you believe. Some people believe in God and some people don’t. That reminds me of a quote by Marilyn Manson. He said, “Lots of people have seen aliens and people think they’re crazy, but no one has ever seen God, but everyone believes in him. I don’t see why the evidence isn’t stronger than the belief.” It’s kind of funny.
“The truth is that everyone has little things in life that they need to sort out and my goal in life is to get to a place where, at anytime with any problem, I can immediately process what it is and get my lesson in the moment.”
What do you see yourself doing in five years?
In five years, gosh, not a whole lot different. I would think that I might be a little more based in one place, but I don’t know that there is one place that’s good for me all year long. I like to travel. I love all the different places we get to go and all my friends and the people and cultures I get to get to experience and be enmeshed in. You guys know that, as a family, as well as anybody on Earth. You get to go to all these places. You could jump on a plane tomorrow and fly some place and know people there. It’s pretty cool to have a life like that.
Because of all your travel, obviously, this cut into your band playing, right, so you don’t participate in your band The Surfers any more?
Yeah, we haven’t done that for about 15 years.
Yeah, but that was fun. That was great.
Well, I still play music, basically, every day. It’s just music that I write that I strum on my guitar. A lot of time when I am alone, I’m just singing and playing guitar at my house by myself.
You have written two books. Do you like that process and will you continue writing?
I can’t claim to have really written those books because I had someone write them for me. I spoke most of what’s in those books and I did write a bit in them, but I didn’t go through the process completely myself and write those books 100%, but I would like to write a book myself 100%. Instagram has kind of inspired me to do that because I find people interested in the history and knowledge I’ve gained over the years, just the experiences I’ve had, not necessarily just about myself, but about other people and places, and about people in surfing history that are very interesting. Some of those stories you can’t tell publicly, you know. [Laughs] I’ve been inspired by the Instagram process through photo editing and writing the comments to one day write a book in that fashion.
Oh, that’s great. It would be more like a personal photo album. It’s more intimate.
Yeah, it could be stories with more detail. Get a picture and build a history and a timeline. I’d like to do that when I have a little time.
There have been a lot of changes in the industry in the last five years, companies in and companies out. Do you think that affects the surfers themselves?
No, I don’t think so. Obviously, it affects a few guys personally, for short periods of time, if their life changes because they lose a sponsor or whatever, but I don’t think it has a huge bearing. Surfers are going to figure out how to go surfing and do what they love.
So you had a video game in 2002, Kelly Slater’s Pro Surfer. Video games now are such a huge market, would you like to do something else in that arena?
I would, not necessarily because I’m such a gamer. I’m not much of a gamer. I’m one of those guys who is stuck in old school mode with games like Asteroids, Galaga, Ms. Pacman and stuff like that. I love the old games. Space Invaders is probably my favorite game because it’s so basic and there’s nothing to it. The video game was fun because I got to do a project with my friends but, actually, I kind of wish we had gone another way with it. I remember we had this meeting where it was like, “Are we going to make this more realistic or more fantasy?” We made it more realistic and I really wish we had gone into fantasyland with it. I sort of thought that doing it more reality-based with maneuvers maybe you could pull off and places that were real, and that kind of thing, made more sense, because we were using real characters. If we were going into fantasyland about it, why wouldn’t we just make up characters? Why would we have Tom Curren? Why would we have Rob Machado? Why would we have real people? My opinion was to keep with the theme of reality, but looking back now, Kalani Robb, actually came up with a bunch of ideas for a fantasy game, where you take off in a lava tube at the top of a mountain and ride the lava tube all the way down and all these weird things happen. You run into ancient Kahunas and buried people and you go through and infiltrate Hawaiian history in this lava tube. Your goal is to ride all the way to the ocean. You’re in a mini world where you’re as big as a little minnow and you’re riding through people on the beach. We had all these different ideas where you could have just thought completely out of the box and made a really interesting game for people that didn’t like surfing. I wish we had gone there with it, looking back. I would love to be able to do it again one day.
Herbie did a Wave Warriors comic book years ago and it was fantasy. You were cast from the Crystal City and turned into mutant surfers, so it was more on the fantasy idea.
Right. I remember that.
That was kind of interesting, right?
You’ve gotten to do so many things. You played a recurring role on Baywatch. Would you be interested in acting?
[Laughs] I can’t say I wouldn’t. I mean, I don’t fancy myself an actor, but I think that everyone has the natural ability to play a role, and I don’t think it’s necessarily that difficult if you’re put in the right circumstance where you’re comfortable or around people that create that situation. I actually did something with Will Ferrell last week. It was a PSA for the NRDC. It was pretty cool because naturally, he was exactly like I thought he’d be. I was able to kind of cut loose a little and goof around and not blow it because it’s just comedy anyways. But yeah, if the right situation and role came up, which isn’t just going to fall in your lap for no reason, you have to kind of search it out, but in a make-believe world, if that just appeared in my lap, I would probably do it, if it were the right thing with the right people.
“I want to build my own house. I don’t know where. I have a place on the Big Island I really love and I’d love to have that be my sort of life-long project, just a getaway place. It might even be a tree house. I’m not sure.”
If you weren’t a surfer, what else do you think you would have liked to be?
Well, when I was a kid, I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a comedian. I loved Steve Martin and I loved Saturday Night Live. I look back now and I think, “Would I let my kid at five years old watch Saturday Night Live? I don’t know.” It was John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy and all these guys that were just coked up out of their brains. I didn’t know that. I just thought it was funny when I was a kid.
[Laughs] Aren’t you there on the North Shore where you can see all that kind of comedy go on?
[Laughs] Oh, there’s comedy. Yeah. So I wanted to be a comedian when I was young because my dad loved the movie The Jerk so much. It was such a staple in our family to watch comedies. When I was about eight years old, it became pretty obvious that my parents were going to split up, and my personality changed a lot back then. Looking back, I think my personality changed a lot. I was very outgoing and I used to get in lots of fights at school and stuff like that and then I went the opposite. I think it’s because I started to played that role of the mediator in my family somewhat. I went from being a real tough guy to being kind of a softy and just trying to get people to get along.
You went from being a kid and you got thrown into an adult role.
Yeah, pretty much. I think my personality changed a lot and I went from being more outgoing to more internal. I kept things in more.
“Anybody can go through life easy. That doesn’t take any character at all, but when you have really tough stuff come down, that shows the kind of character you are.”
Name five things on your bucket list.
Two of them are places that I want to go, so I’ll say that is one. I really want to go to Machu Picchu and I really want to go and explore some Mayan culture through Mexico and Central America. We talked about a garden at my house. I would love to grow all my own fish and vegetables and that whole thing. That’s definitely a goal of mine to create in my life. I want to build my own house. I don’t know where. I have a place on the Big Island I really love and I’d love to have that be my sort of life-long project, just a getaway place. It might even be a tree house. I’m not sure.
Nirvana. It’s your own little Shangri-La.
Yeah, it’s my little getaway. Beyond that, my last bucket list is, you know you asked me when we got on the phone, How are you? Is everything good?” And you know what, we always say, “Hey, things are good. I’m great. I’m doing fine.” The truth is that everyone has little things in life that they need to sort out and my goal in life is to get to a place where, at anytime with any problem, I can immediately process what it is and get my lesson in the moment and not later on.