SI Vault
 
Ready For The Next Wave
GARY SMITH
May 04, 2009
Kelly Slater is winning world titles again—a record nine and counting—and planning to bring his sport to the masses. But before he could do that, the uneasy rider had to solve the nagging mystery of why he surfed
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
May 04, 2009

Ready For The Next Wave

Kelly Slater is winning world titles again—a record nine and counting—and planning to bring his sport to the masses. But before he could do that, the uneasy rider had to solve the nagging mystery of why he surfed

View CoverRead All Articles
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Why do you dress that way? Why do you do that job? Why are you married? Why are you alone? Why do you compete? Why can't you let go? No, c'mon ... why, really?

And then one day eight years later, after Kelly Slater had won surfing's world championship five years in a row, six times overall, and everyone agreed he was the best ocean dancer who'd ever lived....

After Mark Richards, whose four consecutive world titles Kelly had surpassed, declared, "I don't care who you mention—Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali—Kelly is unquestionably the greatest athlete ever to stomp around on this planet." ...

After Kelly, weary of chasing waves across the world for a living, had been retired for three years....

A strange thing happened. He decided he wanted more. No, that wasn't strange; sportsmen always wanted more. Strange was what the ocean did. She wouldn't let him have it.

The white horses stopped coming. The magic left his dance. He sat in the sand and stared in bewilderment at the ocean, until at last he heard what she wanted.

Yes, he could have everything. He could become better than he was at his best, become the oldest surfer ever to win a world championship as well as having been the youngest, become one of the most dominant athletes in the history of sports. He could spawn a new world tour, more artistic and crowd-pleasing, and begin to carry surfing from a niche sport, seen mostly on the Internet, toward the mainstream. He might even find the holy grail: the technology to create the perfect wave, enabling children a thousand miles from the ocean to surf and office workers to remove their suits and ties and do it on lunch break, eliminating the vagaries of weather and swells so that large audiences could settle into seats in surf stadiums with beer and popcorn, and rich television contracts could be signed, and Olympic gold medals could be draped around surfers' necks. Kelly could be the Michael Jordan and the David Stern of his sport—the iconic athlete doing aerials and 360s and the power broker trying to change the structure and marketing of his sport.

But only if he did what he never had to do the first time: Open the door. Answer the question.

Yeah. Sure. He'd do it. He was not your everyday ocean dancer. Moments before he was scheduled to compete, he would be surfing the Internet or querying some expert to learn how to alkalize water or how to make biodegradable surfboards so that he wouldn't befoul the planet ... and forget what he was about to do: keep annihilating the world's best surfers in a sport with no grooved, repeatable mechanics; the only sport in which the playing surface moves constantly, violently, shifting shape every second at the whim of wind, tides and currents, then hurling itself and its rider onto reef that was sometimes as sharp as glass. His caddie would burst through the door, grabbing gear bags and towels—Kelly, do you realize what time it is?

He'd stay up all night learning how to alter his electromagnetic field to kill disease-causing microorganisms with a small machine, the Zapper, that he'd carry around the world, or how to live off the land using a recycled 747 for a home when he was finally done living off the ocean. He'd spend days researching rumors that the FDA hid natural cures for cancer or that the Twin Towers must've been rigged with explosives to collapse like that. He wore a T-shirt that said, YOU'RE BEING LIED TO. "I feel our culture and society are asleep and on autopilot and that most of us are short of purpose and reasoning in our lives," he'd say. "Everything has somehow been marketed and sold to us and cheapened along the way." So, yeah. Sure. He'd turn his rechargeable Diogenes klieg light on himself.

Continue Story
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9