Six-time world champion Kelly Slater credits a trip with Quiksilver’s “Young Guns” team of surfers for his amazing form to regain the world title lead.
Slater, 33, scored back-to-back wins on the recent South Pacific leg of the ASP World Championship Tour – astounding the judges and tour veterans with his performances in the world’s most critical waves.
The victories, in Tahiti and Fiji, took the American superstar to the top of the world rankings for the first time in two years since he jousted for the title with current world champion Andy Irons.
The incredible performances at the two high-pressure events have put Slater on track for an unprecedented seventh world title.
Slater won his sixth world title in 1998, and then went into semi-retirement – traveling the world and freesurfing. His much-anticipated return in 2002 saw several competitive ups-and-downs, climaxing with a runner-up finish in 2003.
Just prior to the Tahitian event in May, Slater spent two weeks on a boat trip in Indonesia’s Mentawai islands with Quiksilver’s best young team riders, fine-tuning his preparation and equipment – and being inspired by the next generation.
The young hotshots included American prodigy Dane Reynolds, Australians Troy Brooks, Ry Craike and Julian Wilson, Hawaiians Fred Patacchia and Clay Marzo, Tahitian Alain Riou and Frenchman Jeremy Flores.
“It was nice to see the young guys just pushing each other and I was able to feed off that energy quite a bit,” Slater said. “It’s good to see some refreshing lines drawn on the waves and see them looking at the wave a little differently.
“I was surprised at some of the places they were doing manoeuvres – some of the air reverses they were throwing in real critical sections. If you don’t stick those things just right you know you’re going to get hurt.”
As for re-thinking his own surfing, Slater said: “You can’t be on the cutting edge of something without seeing where the other guys on the cutting edge are at.
“To see where a lot of young surfers nowadays are doing manoeuvres and the way they’re looking at the wave, the way their board looks when they ride on the water, and the positions they can get in … you have to keep all that in your mind to stay fresh and to change and be able to come up with something a little innovative compared to what you’ve been doing. I’ve always been one to soak in what other people are doing and take that into account and use it myself.”
Slater particularly credits two Quiksilver surfers – American Dane Reynolds and Australian Ry Craike – for inspiring him just prior to his dominating assault on the ASP World Tour.
“Ry’s frontside bottom turn and Dane’s overall attack on a wave was definitely inspirational to me,” Slater said. “They both really combine new school tricks and old school power in a really good way and to me that’s really exciting. I love when somebody can put together the two schools of surfing and those guys, I think, do it as well as anybody these days.”
The Quiksilver team had access to a helicopter – which was used to scope potential surfing locations and also served as a unique filming platform.
“It was cool to see the reefs from above,” Slater said. “From a boat you get up close, but it’s tough to get all the different angles – you can’t quite see what the line of the wave is doing or what the speed of the wave is. In the helicopter you can sit down in front of the wave, sit to the side of it, look from above. You can look down and see reefs for a couple of miles. The helicopter is the ultimate surf craft in my mind.”
The result is Quiksilver’s latest DVD – Young Guns II – which features never-seen-before aerial views of the Mentawais, which are home to some of the best waves in the world as the swell is groomed perfectly after traveling thousands of miles from the deep latitudes of the Indian Ocean.
Slater is the most successful competitive surfer in the history of the sport, but just priior to his South Pacific wins he was considering competing only selectively out of frustration with his recent results – but now he is going all-out for a record seventh world title.
“Things have changed with these two wins,” he said. “You don’t get these opportunities too many times in life so I’m definitely taking this one now to put 100 per cent in there and I didn’t do that last year.”
The surfing world is poised on the edge of its seat to see what Slater produces next as he draws on all his experience from his previous six successful world title campaigns.
“Obviously experience has to count for something,” Slater said. “I just have to take it exactly how I took these last two events. You know the waves are out there; whoever picks the best waves and rides them the best is going to win those heats, and I intend to be the guy to do that.”