“I hated lots of it. But I’ll savour this.”
This was the emotional confession from the G.O.A.T., Kelly Slater, after clinching his eighth Pipeline title at last week’s WSL Billabong Pipe Masters. It was perhaps the most honest public statement ever made by a professional athlete and came off the back of what was arguably the greatest moment in pro surfing history. Just five days shy of his 50th birthday, Slater dominated youthful vertebra and notorious specialists with a masterclass display of brilliance.
This was a surfing miracle. Regardless of ability, every surfer who’s ever taken the drop over a shallow reef, at least has some hunch of how brave and skilful Slater’s performance was.
To add context, in Kelly’s first-ever Pipe event, he competed against 70’s icon Gerry Lopez. His first event win was thirty years ago. He’s won against three generations. Imagine back that far (if you’re old enough). What was your body doing three decades ago compared with how it feels now?
Is Kelly really a glitch in the system? An unexplained phenomenon? Where does greatness come from?
The answer to some of these mysteries was hinted at when Kelly summed it up:- “ I started at Backdoor when I was twelve and I was scared stiff. I got pinned to the reef and paddled away to Ehukai. I knew right then that I loved that place.”
The point is this guy has put in the work. Probably more hours than anyone. He’s chipped away at it for a long, long time and it’s not always been enjoyable. It’s been a discipline and a labour of love for him. But a fruitful one for sure.
Of course – his preparation the day before was to go and play a round of golf. But that’s what you can afford to do after the hard yards have been done.
In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell examines the factors that contribute to high levels of success. Gladwell repeatedly mentions the "10,000-Hour Rule", claiming that the key to achieving world-class expertise in any skill can be a matter of practicing for a minimum of around 10,000 hours.
Now you and I may never get to pull into twelve-foot Pipe detonators. Plus there’s probably even less chance we have 10,000 hours of practice time to throw at such a pipedream. But surely, surely... there must exist but a few inspirations that we can garner from Kelly’s chronologically gifted dominance the other day.
So here are a few thoughts :-
Firstly - they say food is the best medicine and Kelly is a fastidious eater. He consumes a healthy, diet of un-processed, whole-foods and it’s fair to say he’s turned a dietry discipline into a culinary lifestyle which he enjoys immensely and has inevitably contributed to minimizing inflammation, maximizing energy and maintaining a strong body and mind. If ever you’ve needed encouragement to switch your pancake and maple syrup order to a chia on coconut, then look no further than Kelly. How could you possibly argue?
Secondly – he’s put in the practice hours. A self-confessed small wave surfer from Florida, charging big barrels didn’t come naturally to him. He was scared. But just as the law of 10,000 hours suggests, if you repeatedly and consistently take small affirmative actions, then over time, results come. They have to. It’s the universal law. Just like running a marathon, you don’t try to jump from the start to the finish line in one go. Instead you just put one foot in front of the other and simply keep on doing it. This may sound overly simplistic but it’s amazing how the sum of many small steps can take you an awfully long way. You just have to start and to keep the progress in motion.
Thirdly – he hasn’t let set-backs stop him. Not the splaying over the Backdoor reef at age twelve. Not the agonizing defeat that Andy Irons handed to him during the height of his career. And not the broken foot or painful back condition that he has to live with on a daily basis right now.
It’s too easy to think of Kelly Slater as a superhuman freak of nature. But in reality he’s just a guy who started early, put in a lot of time, always tried his best, overcame obstacles, looked after his health, never gave up, had a dream and believed in himself.
At Tropicsurf our mission is to help you ride the best wave of your life. To achieve this, we developed a world-leading coaching system called surfbetter.100. Refined over three decades, it’s a roadmap of 100 surfing skills that highlight a very clear and achievable pathway from complete novice to the highest level of performance. All of our guides are trained and eager to help you navigate your own personal journey of progression. So we encourage you right now to have a dream and take action on it. This might be to drop into your first overhead reef wave, get your toes on the nose, or thread your way out of a deep, thundering barrel. Whatever it is, we’d love you to think big, share your goal with us and allow us to plot you a personalised pathway to glory. This is our mission and right now we have clients on 12-month, three-year and 5-year journeys of progression. Where will yours take you?
On the heaviest ride of his final, Kelly barely snuck underneath the projectile Backdoor lip and later remarked: “If I didn’t shave my hair it would have taken me out”. His performance was indeed a tribute to young supple spines and old bald guys alike.
What will your tribute be to yourself? You only get one shot at life and it’s never too late to start. Contact our team today and share your surfing progression dreams. It’s never too late to start.
“Patience and fortitude conquer all things.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
(Thanks to WSL for the imagery and the fantastic event.)