How to Beat Kelly Slater

| posted on April 14, 2011

Kelly Slater seems to surf better with each passing year, much to the chagrin of many up-and-comers on the World Tour. Photo: Glaser

Shea Lopez

Shea Lopez is 1-1 in World Tour heats with Slater. He also beat him twice at local Sebastian comps when they were amateurs. Slater has 10 world titles, Shea has none.

Being on the beach for the Quiksilver Pro at Snapper really opened my eyes to how much things have changed, in the water and more importantly inside the heads of pro surfing’s elite during the last few years. Long gone are the days of “every man for himself” and “I’m just here to have a good time.” The elevated standards (and stakes) on tour now require that WT surfers—especially those new to the tour—are perfectly in tune with equipment, conditions, strategy, nutrition, and fitness. When those five key factors are well balanced, they ultimately result in cashing big checks from bigger victories.

The driving force behind this change has been the one constant in pro surfing since 1992—Kelly Slater’s outright dominance. Many surfers have the talent to compete with Kelly, but where Kelly crushes his competition is in the details. Having a support group making sure nothing slips through the cracks is one of a few possible ways to narrow the gap between Kelly and everyone else.

The saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Well, lets say that child is Julian Wilson, as an example—who was only 4 years old when Kelly won his first world title in ’92—and he wants to defeat and one day hold a quarter the accolades of Kelly. It is going to take the collective power of Nike along with the support of the whole of Australia to ready him for a chance to fulfill his destiny. Many surfers—Julian included—looked capable of keeping Kelly off the winner’s podium at Snapper. But, like we’ve seen time and time again, the man who single-handedly has re-shaped the face of surfing continues to lead by example from the top.

Over the span of Kelly’s ridiculously long career, many surfers have come and gone after trying to break out of his shadow. He mostly quelled all comers with a sniper’s precision over and over—when he wasn’t bored with the process. A victory over a bored Kelly doesn’t count for much. But when he is tuned in, motivated, and bleeding passion, any advantage you may gain on him will not last long. When down, he only fights back twice as hard. By the next time you face him, any weakness Kelly exposed will be a strength that he will use against you. The one surfer to consistently give Kelly more than he could handle—both mentally and physically—was Andy Irons. For a three-year period Andy was unstoppable. His greatest attributes—of which there were many—were the tremendous amount of Wolfpack family support, and his enraged animal aggression that he used to unseat the “King” by force.

In the final event of 2006—the Pipeline Masters—Andy and Kelly surfed one of the greatest finals heats ever. Kelly had been way out in the lead for the majority of the heat, but at the thought of handing over his World Title and the Pipeline Masters, Andy flipped a switch very few have. Andy was at his best when he was challenged, and being at Pipeline up against Slater (and losing) was the catalyst required for him to put on a show that could never be duplicated. Andy got back in the heat with brilliant surfing that was highlighted by an ending floater on a dry sand quadruple-up at Gums. The most pivotal moment came in the form of a paddle battle, with a perfect wave coming right to Kelly. The whole beach expected him to catch the wave, score a 10, and put a perfect finish on another storybook ending in Hawaii. That was when Andy came out of nowhere to command position over Kelly and score his 10-point winning ride at Backdoor, securing his historic come-from-behind Pipeline Masters victory in dramatic fashion.

You don’t kill the King in the dark where none can witness; you kill the King in broad daylight with all eyes watching. Kelly is giving the newest generation a golden opportunity to validate their every victory by attempting to take his throne. But make no mistake; Kelly will only relinquish his position when met with an unrelenting opposition similar to that of Andy. Snapper showed a few surfers on the brink, but none that have gone over that ledge…yet. The common ground holding them all back: Kelly is their buddy, Kelly is happy, and without animosity there will be no end to Kelly’s reign.

  • Tiger Blood


  • Mik

    I don’t think that you need to “hate” anyone in order to beat them. You just cannot let yourself be intimidated, or outmaneuvered. Andy achieved that. It takes self-confidence, and when it comes to besting Kelly, it also takes being more focused, and that is where allot of the tour fails. Kelly makes very clear minded decisions. He is a super aware human being. And he stays in the moment. If you go into a heat with him, and the conditions shift, he will adjust because his whole approach to life is directed at clarity. So many other guys train, but either routinely or periodically party out, thinking “no big deal, I will get back in shape before the event”. But the reality is that every beer you swig or drug you imbibe is reducing your clarity, incrementally. And that increment is going to influence you negatively when you are up against a true Samarai-like master such as Kelly Slater. Because his years of dedication to a clean, clear mind and body through surf training, fitness, diet, Yoga, and introspection support him every heat he surfs. You might beat him with the lucky good wave in a heat, sure. But he’s playing the odds strategically in a way that will beat anyone who doesn’t apply the same degree of commitment, and adaptability.

  • MIchael

    Nice work Shea!

  • KPWahine
  • Smack

    The only way to beat him is with a big stick!!!!

    I kid, I Kid…..

  • Smack

    Nice work Shea

  • Kevin Richardson

    Fly away

  • daniel

    simple and rational thoughts by Mik………right on!!

  • Ben

    The reason nobody beats Slater is cause nobody surfs as well as him. The idea that anybody has his capabilities is a myth. Andy alone did when the surf heaved, and that is why he repeatedly kicked Slater’s ass at teahupoo and Pipe. By the way everybody has their history wrong. When AI kicked Slater’s ass in the 2006 final the title race had been decided long before, with Slater the winner. 2006 was simply the most dramatic of their encounters. The Slater title loss at Pipe came in 2003. Maybe if Dane or Bruce gave a shit they could have done it, but I think that bird has flown. Only AI had the combo.

  • Miles Waits

    Mik is that you? Fanning? That sounds very much like an insider’s view!
    Thanks for the telling insight!
    And Shea, about damn time. About damn time you wrote from the gut and came up with something meaningful, creative, and damn introspective.
    You do have it. You do know how to inspire. More of you and less of the shoulds.
    You nailed it.

  • Daniel

    I’ll beat him.

  • Mik

    Miles: Thanks for the complement, but no, I am not Mick Fanning. However, I have competed as an amateur, I have worked extensively within the surf industry as a designer, and I am a fitness and Yoga enthusiast, with training in the Transcendental Meditation program. These factors have helped my own surfing, and have put me in a unique position to evaluate both Kelly, and the WCT as a whole—which I study carefully because I intend to become a fitness trainer in the near future. Having used drugs and abandoned them in favor of the above, I know the effects of both. And I have decided to offer an alternative view to the typical romanticizing of drugs and alcohol via random blogging, because I l think it is putting the lives of allot of crazily talented young surfers at risk. Anyway, sorry to disappoint regarding Mick Fanning, (who rocks).

  • craig

    I am so sick of this debate. Kelly will keep winning because he is a master of the system [what mik said]. But also because Kelly is a master of mind games. Winning heats at that level has more to do with mental strength than surfing ability. and Mental strength is what separates Kelly from his peers. If winning world titles were about surfing and surfing alone, Taj would have a bag of em, Dane and Parko a couple each as well. Kelly hasn’t been the best surfer at an event in years, just the smartest. [see snapper 2011] The notion that Kelly is the best surfer in the world is horse shit, He is just genius of competitive surfing. And good luck to him since his peers are to stupid too stupid to catch on and learn from him.

  • Barça

    Kelly is still the best, mind games is pure bullshit, he is just not afraid to pump big and risky moves throughout the finals…

  • Tiger Blood

    Slater is like a Zen Master in a classroom full of little kids. Slater could go on winning the title for another ten years easily if he wants. He is so above and beyond everyone else mentally and physically it’s ridiculous.

  • ch

    Any of the top guys can travel the world and put together a mind blowing video segment. But put them all in the same waves at the same time, ie a contest, and who impresses more than the rest 90% of the time? Kelly. Just because everyone has the moves doesn’t mean they are on his level. His consistency is the difference.

  • Andrew

    I disagree with anyone who says he is not the most talented out there. variety of grabs and variation of airs does not equal the best, The person who can generate speed coming out of a turn and who surfs with no wobbles or trepidation no matter the wave surface or rough landing. Slater’s style through each and every condition, complete with pulling the impossible out of waves at nearly every event. Take last year, he DID have the best wave at nearly every event and the crowd reaction proved it. The 10 at Teahupoo, the barrel at Trestles (who does that..ever?) the find free lateral free-fall in the thick sand filled monster barrel in France, the full rotation to perfect landing alley oop in Portugal. Oh I almost forgot the same move, albeit one-footed that won Bells. These are manuvers that scored 9’s and 10’s, not mind games, trickery, or any other nonsense the shamelessly jealous throw at him. These are scores for surfing at the very peak of the excellent range. What more do you want? Eating seaweed and lagooms isn’t going to give you those scores if you can’t pull the moves in the stress of competition.

  • OZ surfer

    just like we are only going to see one surfer like kelly in surfing history, ever. we were lucky to see that one guy who took him down. A.I