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Kelly Slater Talks Retirement, Criticism, and if We'll Ever See Another Wave Pool Event on Tour

Is this Kelly Slater’s last competitive pool comp? Photo: Cestari/WSL

The Inertia

To me, more than the surfing or any of his other accomplishments, there’s one thing I really respect about Robert Kelly Slater: the man can take criticism, stay focused, and still do exactly what he was put on this Earth to do. Everyone it seems has an opinion about the GOAT, whether its surf media or surf fans (see internet trolls). Yes, I’ve even been critical of him, too. He’s taken guff for his wave park, how long his career has lasted, what he eats, and what he believes. But ya know what? He’ll engage directly with those critics and keep on moving with his mission. Yes, he knows his brand. I caught up with Slater at the Surf Ranch again this year just to get his thoughts on all of it – criticism, retirement, and as much as we could fit in before the surf fans impatiently calling his name finally convinced him to sign autographs.

Alright, analyze it for us, what do you think of the 2019 Freshwater Pro?

Been some really good surfing. There are definitely critiques against something like this because we’re so used to the ocean, I know that. I think we look at it like a time trials. But I think if you look at it for what it is I think it’s awesome. Of course, everyone will think I’m biased. It’s just the idea that in the ocean we all wish we could have the same waves so we can have an equal balance so that’s what technology provides. As you’re seeing here everyone surfs it differently and has a different approach. You see the style come out. You see the different maneuvers and the strengths that people rely on that others don’t have, etc. I think it’s a good way to present what everyone’s good at.

Is this the last wave pool contest of your career?


You’re trying to get me to announce my retirement here. I’m not telling you nothin’ (laughs).

Ha! Come on, I know that had to sting not to make the final in case it is your last contest in a pool?

I want to make every final. That’s a given. At the same time, I’m happy to sit back and watch for the afternoon. I put in my best effort, did as good as I could. I didn’t make my two waves today. They probably both would have been my scores. The right was my score. I missed out by .2.

You still almost landed that alley-oop at what, like 47?

Yeah, I was going a little bit fast to get the rotation, I was close but I was a little bit too much on my front foot when I landed. If I stuck that I probably would have made the final. That’s the way it goes.


Kelly Slater, still drawing the biggest crowd. Photo: Joe Carberry

I did a piece today polling CT surfers about what they thought the chances are of having another event here at the Surf Ranch. Some of them said they wish there were two wave pools on tour.

Really? That’s news to me. I do think there’s definitely a place for it. We do have a couple of different wave (configurations) you can run but, for the evolution of it, in order to have a reasonable contest more than once a year you need to have a variety of waves the surfers can pick, “I want this wave or that wave, I want this section or that section,” and so I think you’d want to have something that’s a bit more varied if you were going to have a second one. But Kolohe didn’t make it to the quarterfinals, and he was the first person who said to me, “how come this isn’t on tour,” (when he first started surfing it).  I said, “I don’t know, talk to the tour.” When I heard Kolohe say that, you know, I wasn’t going to have an opinion, I just thought, “that’s so cool that somebody who’s not a part of this is telling me this is better than 90 percent of waves on tour.”

So what do you think the percentage chance of the Fresh Water Pro being on tour next year?

I honestly couldn’t tell you because we’re budding just up to the backside of the Olympics next year and they have to figure out Teahupo’o so I don’t know if dates are going to move around and of course it comes down to how well it does selling tickets and paying for itself through sponsorship. I’m not in on those conversations.

Last one, how nice is it to still draw a crowd like this after all these years?

It’s nice man, it’s nice. It’s been great, everybody’s been super cool.



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