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Kelly Slater Gets Definitive on Retirement, Weighs in on the Surf Ranch Controversy

New design, new brand. But still as good an interview as ever. Photo: KLLY

The Inertia

Kelly Slater had quite a week. First, he unveiled his new brand, KLLY. Then the wave he designed hosted the Surf Ranch Pro. A whirlwind? That’s putting it mildly. The reviews on his sandal, or flip-flop, have been pretty great. The reviews on the Surf Ranch Pro have been pretty split – especially given the judging controversy sparked afterwards by the public comments of the ultra-talented Gabriel Medina. The online rhetoric that followed has been nothing short of acidic, which has left many of the tour’s top surfers trying to calm the seas, Kelly included. I got to sit down with Mr. Slater to talk about his new brand. But things naturally wandered into the Surf Ranch waters, and of course how long he’ll keep competing.

How has the launch of the brand been? 

I think it’s been great. People have loved the sandal, the way it fits their foot. I have one friend in particular who said that sandals don’t have enough arch for him but if they do they usually have too much. These are just right and in the perfect ballpark for him. My foot’s pretty flat and I need extra arch to keep me comfortable. I’ve had four broken feet. Feet have been the bane of my existence. We also designed them to not get too much sand in them. We wanted to design it that way so you could walk with them and not flip sand everywhere and be comfortable on the beach.

So how is that, designing your own product, versus having something made with your name on it for someone else? 

If you’re doing a signature surfboard, it’s something you’re riding. It’s a very personal thing to you; something you really love. Then you can make the right sizes for other people. Unfortunately, I learned early on that products aren’t going to be what you want them to be. They just make something and put your name on them. I remember designing some trunks with Quiksilver and the designer and I spent months and months on them. We both liked (the trunks). We all went on a trip to Mexico to shoot our signature trunks for all the surfers on the team. We were at dinner one night, and he started bringing them out, ‘here’s yours, here’s yours,’ and mine was the last one. He brought out the trunks and they were nothing like what we worked on. He’s like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m just the messenger. They got your design and they said that’s what the market wants.’ I was just like, ‘whatever, I’ll deal with it but in a couple months, I’m done with this thing.’ A few months later, I put on the other trunks I had designed, and a chain of events happened where it was photographed in several different magazines, and we sold more of those trunks in one or two months than the other had in 6-8 months.

It’s nice when you go out and design something from the heart and it’s inspired as opposed to just putting your name on it. With the sandal, I got to choose materials, design the fit, and work on the logo. I’m not too attached to having my name on things or whatever, but it made sense for this product but I thought it was really good. I’ve always been kind of shy about having my name on things, but we’re super happy with them. We don’t have women’s sizes yet or kid’s sizes, or other color ways. Guys with size 14-15 feet told me they couldn’t find the size. But we’re working on this stuff.

I’ll get destroyed if I don’t ask you about the Surf Ranch. It’s been such a huge deal this week. What are your thoughts on the judging controversy?

With anything subjective, you’re going to have errors. If something is even close, how do you objectively say for sure something was a rip off or crime? But to say (a result) is a rip off or a crime, that bothers me – claiming it’s a crime (that Medina lost). I thought Ethan beat Gabriel. I rewatched the heat a few times. Other people (I trust) watched it, who are very in the know. I won’t name any names, but they thought Ethan won the heat. His best ride was definitely his right. That’s not to say anything against Gabe. I thought he was awesome and he has definitely been the best guy out there. I didn’t pay attention to the live heat, but I was surprised to hear he had lost. I watched it a half dozen times to compare frontside to backside, rights to lefts. I think it was a fair result. I’m not sure about Italo and Griff’s heat. I haven’t looked at it as closely. People said that Ethan’s air (against Medina) wasn’t as good and I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ To land on the nose, get it around in that section. That’s extremely difficult.

Do you think he’ll get fined or suspended? Usually when basketball players or football players sound off in the media, they’re definitely copping some sort of fine or suspension. 

I don’t know if that’s always true. You look at UFC judging, they hire independent judges. They’re not hired by the league. There’s criticism. So I’m not really sure. That’s why I haven’t given any public opinions on it. I haven’t really looked at Italo and Griffin’s heat closely enough. I’m going to have to go back and really take a look at it. I just really haven’t liked the dialogue that’s come out of it. There’s been so many weird comments that I’ve read and heard. People keep asking for my opinion but they’re doing it like, ‘eff you, you need to tell us what you think.’ And I’m like, ‘I don’t know, I wasn’t even involved, why does my opinion matter?’ They’re like, ‘it’s your Surf Ranch, you’re a part of this.’ Yeah, I designed it but Gabriel has won nearly every contest there. Filipe has won one of them. Those guys have it wired. (All of this negativity) it’s not good for surfing, that’s not what surfing is about, so it’s kind of just turned me off to even dealing with it.

Kelly Slater Gets Definitive on Retirement, Weighs in on the Surf Ranch Controversy

One thing that’s not controversial? Mr. Slater still shreds. Photo: Aaron Hughes//World Surf League

What about the rhetoric surrounding the Surf Ranch? People seem pretty split on it as a venue?

It’s funny, everyone says they won’t watch it, or weren’t going to watch it, but here we are, and it seems like everyone watched it. I really liked the new format. I think it really improved things. I had a friend who surfs who’s almost 70. He says he sat down and watched the whole thing start to finish. I think we should maybe use that format at other events going forward. It really worked well. People are going to either be in to things or they aren’t, you can’t do much about it.

For the rest of this year, you looking forward to getting to every event?

I’m excited to go to El Salvador. I’ve never been. That wave, it’s a point wave, it looks really fun with all the different sections, so we’ll see how that goes. Then down to Brazil, and people don’t really understand the crowds at that event. It’s crazy. It’s like our Super Bowl. Then J-Bay, of course, which I love, and finish off with Tahiti, my favorite event ever.

Is this it? Or what are your plans? Will we see you next year?

Yeah, I definitely want to surf this year, then next. It’s an Olympic year and I want to see if I can make the team. I haven’t made any formal announcement or anything but if I surf this year, then next, I think that’ll probably be good. I’ve done enough. But who knows? I could win one of these next few events and just feel like, ‘that’s it, that’s enough, I’m good.’


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