With three events left in the 2016 title race, Kelly Slater is once again within striking distance of the world championship. It will be his 12th if he wins, with a gap of 24 years between his first and last crowns. Asked last week whether he feels he’s surfing better than the 20-year-old who won his first crown back in 1992, the Champ told Stab there was little doubt that he was.
“I actually watched footage of myself yesterday from ’91/19y.o,” he said. “And I’m positive I surf much better now.”
He then gave us one of the most telling insights into how he’s managed to stay at the top of the game for so long.
“Surfing is a martial art,” he said. “You should improve forever and it should be the body failing that holds you back. Hopefully we can all add layers and layers to what we already know. I have more power, better body awareness and equipment. If I’m not surfing better I should quit!” (laughs).
“You should improve forever and it should be the body failing that holds you back," says Kelly. Photo: WSL/Poullenot/Aquashot
The influence of martial arts’ icons such as Bruce Lee on Kelly Slater are well documented. The Jeet Kun Do founder’s teachings can be seen all through the 11-time world champ’s attitude toward life and surfing. Some of the more telling, include:
- “As you think, so shall you become.”
- “It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”
- “To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.”
- “Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.”
- “I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine… Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”
- “To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”
- “Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.
At 44 years old, Kelly has shattered our understanding of the relationship between performance and age. Prior to his reign, 29 was considered ancient for a world champion. That was the age of Hawaiian Derek Ho when he became the oldest title winner in history back in 1993. Slater was heavily in the mix for the crown that year, having won his first world title the year before as a 20-year-old (the same year his main challenger for this year's world title, John John Florence, was born).