Kelly Slater on MMA, COVID-19, Death, Surf Ranch and Retirement
Kelly Slater isn’t afraid to share her opinions on things. He has many interests outside of surfing, and when he speaks people want to hear what he has to say, for better or for worse. Speculation about his retirement, his involvement in the MMA community, prospects for a career that spans years, to say the least, and recently, of course, COVID-19 and vaccines. The latter subject is a difficult subject to get him to talk about, at least outside of Instagram. But recently, he sat down in front of a screen of Ariel Helwani, a Canadian journalist who mainly deals with mixed martial arts, for one of the most open and broad interviews we have ever seen from GOAT. It’s a long conversation – an hour and 24 minutes, to be precise – so we took the time to squeeze out some of the more interesting bits, just in case you didn’t have time to listen to it.
On his relationship with MMA:
“When I was eight, I was doing taekwondo in Cocoa Beach, Florida with Don ‘the dragon’ Wilson. He had a dojo here in town for six months a year… his mother had a place here in Cocoa Beach and he came to train here. In fact, I remember being on the beach for the first shuttle launch that ever happened – I guess it was 1980, 1981 – and I remember watching Don run on the beach for his daily run… I’ve always had an affinity for martial arts since I was a little boy.
“I have a real connection with the world [of mixed martial arts]… I really love and respect everything in the world of Jujutsu and MMA. The skill level of people is amazing to watch, you know? I love watching people who are as passionate about their stuff as I’ve been all my life about my stuff.
“In fact, I really enjoyed fighting when I was a kid. I fought all the time when I was in school. I had no problem getting hit. I think when I grew up I didn’t like being punched. I kicked a child in the back of the leg; in the thigh or butt, and he started to cry and I felt really bad and I didn’t want to fight anymore.
At The ultimate surfer:
“The goal is to choose someone who will then have a chance on tour. The point is, we have a series of challengers leading up to the selection of this person. We know who the best guys are going to tour next year. It’s not like a mystery… We know everyone.
“I would love to see them do it with younger children. Kind of a fun young thing for 12, maybe 15 year olds. I think it would be really fun for them to be at the Surf Ranch the whole time. Get this time to wave. Also, we don’t know how good someone is going to be yet, but when they’re about 15, you start to get a feel for it. At this age, that leaves a lot of mystery. That leaves a lot of wonder in the skill set to come. I would like this age group to have a chance. I don’t know what that would give them in the end, but you know, a nice reward.
“I had a bunch of friends who drowned. There are terrible stories. Lots of near-death events for anyone riding big waves, mostly. Many injuries occur in small waves – small, shallow reefs. You get a lot of cuts and boards hitting you and everything. When the wave is small, all of that energy is in one place. It’s easier to reach the reef. It is easier for the board to hit you because it is not thrown 50 feet away. Everything is calculated for each in his competence. Wakeboarders are afraid of sharks. Surfers are afraid of alligators. I see an alligator and I’m like ‘this thing is fucking chasing me.’ A shark will kind of come up and give you a bite and take off. Sharks don’t really scare me… but alligators… alligators are one thing, but saltwater crocodiles? You go down the coast of Costa Rica and some of these places where they’re protected and there are tons of them. It’s scary.
“You are never as real as when you might die. This fear creates intense concentration; an intense presence. I think that’s what draws people to adrenaline-filled and dangerous sports. This sort of by default puts you where you should be all the time: present and clear and not distracted. The modern world makes this even more difficult. With our phones we’re all addicted to this and information and news and all that. Especially with COVID now, everyone wants to be up to date with the latest news. Things that bring a certain level of danger and fear and the reality that you might die, obviously that is going to bring you into this present moment. It’s like a drug. This is what drugs do for people.
“I have had countless numbers of friends who have passed away from all kinds of things. Suicide, drownings, murders, drug overdoses, cancer, etc. I hate to say that I’ve become conditioned to it, but you’re starting to understand the emotions around it, you know? When someone dies, you experience it and you feel the emotions. Then you realize that life goes on and you have to remember them for the right things and be present enough to have a good time with the rest of the people you have during the time you have here.
“I really envision this to be my last full year of competition. When I turn 50, it will be 30 years since I won my first world title. It will be my sixth decade of surfing, technically. I started competing at the age of eight.
“I still think you have to learn. If you don’t learn, you lose. If you don’t learn, you fall behind. Basically everyone I watch now is younger than me. I think the only thing I’m worried about is my godson going on tour before I leave.
“It’s a really rewarding thing as an older athlete – it makes you feel like you’ve been successful in your life if people say they were influenced by what you did, how you spoke. or your approach to something, you know? “
At the Surf Ranch:
“I think people are fed up. The same wave over and over again. I think people like this excitement of what might be happening in the ocean; what wave could come. A big part of a surfer’s skill is learning to read the conditions better than someone else.
“I always imagined that Surf Ranch was its own thing where you compare skills; compare skills strictly on the same wave. There have been so many competitions over the years where people were like, “Oh, he had the best wave, she had the best waves. So the idea that you could all be riding the same wave, so it’s about your skill… but it gets a bit monotonous for people because they feel like they know what they’re going to see. in advance.
On COVID-19 vaccines:
“It’s an ever-changing conversation. From day to day, there are different rules and different confinements. You can see what is happening in Germany and Austria right now. They basically say that if you don’t get the vaccine you will be completely excluded from society. You’re going to be fined… all that sort of thing. I think the best we can hope for in the end is for this thing to mutate, like SARS-1 did in the end, and become less lethal.
“For some people, it’s not even a sniffle. For some people, it is the end of their life. This is a very special situation that we are facing, and no one really knows what it will be for them if they get it.
“Statistically speaking, the healthier you are the better off you will be, but that’s not necessarily the case. I have had friends who have had horrible issues with COVID. I have also had very healthy friends who have had problems with the side effects of the vaccination. It’s hard. Man, this is such a fucked up situation for everyone. For the world.”