Some say eleven-time world surfing champion Kelly Slater has a fighting competitive spirit. Well, he quite literally does, and he recently opened up about his passion for Brazilian jiu-jitsu to globotv – moments after sparring with Brazilian judoka and jiu-jitsu black belt Flavio Canto. Over the years, photos and videos have surfaced around the Internet of Kelly Slater training jiu-jitsu – from sessions with former UFC light heavyweight champion Vitor Belfort to world jiu-jitsu champion BJ Penn, but we’ve only seen glimpses of his talent on the mat.
SurferToday recently detailed Slater’s history with martial arts, which started as a young boy when he met Don Dragon Wilson, a world kickboxing champion. According to the article, Slater then enrolled in Wilson’s academy and did karate until he was introduced to jiu-jitsu during his first trip to Brazil in 1982. During his trip, Slater met the Gracie family, widely recognized as godfathers of Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a style that focuses on the principles of leverage and technique, instead of brute force and strength.
Interestingly, when the Gracie family (and other jiu-jitsu practicing Brazilians) migrated to the United States and spread jiu-jitsu, their primary destinations happened to be surf spots. Rickson Gracie, considered by many to be the greatest Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner of all time, used to surf in California. After Slater became close with the Gracie family in Brazil, he began exchanging surfboards for jiu-jitsu classes with Rickson, according to SurferToday. Apparently, the connection between surfing and jiu-jitsu was not coincidental. In a NY Times article, Slater commented:
“Truth is, surfing is like a martial art. Good martial artists use the most efficient moves for getting the body to produce more energy. In surfing you have to master the same things – base, balance on your feet, the act of turning, bend and extend your legs. I love watching two guys fighting. It’s like human chess.”
Slater’s latest jiu-jitsu foray was inspired by a trip to Instituto Reação (Reaction Institute) during the 2013 Billabong Rio Pro. Instituto Reação was founded by Flavio Canto with the purpose of empowering the youth living in Brazil’s favelas by providing free judo training and education programs. Canto won the bronze medal in the 2004 Olympics and was ranked number one in the world in his weight category in 2005. While Canto uses his talent to teach Brazil’s youth, he also may teach Slater a thing or two on the mat. That’s the fightin’ spirit.
Watch Kelly Slater get his jiu-jitsu on below, and if you speak Portuguese, you’ll especially enjoy this interview:
Kelly Slater vs. Jason Parillo: