February Issue 2009 Surfing Magazine

By Evan Slater

As a surf media dude for well over a decade now, I feel privileged to have covered Kelly Slater's last seven world titles. From his high-five at Pipe to a recent surprise K9 barbecue in LA, I've been there, figuring out new ways to describe the most gifted athlete to ever set foot on a surfboard. And while it's always fun to witness his evolution as a competitor (in 2006 we declared him even greater than The Greatest), it's even more remarkable to witness his evolution as a human being.

Why? Because as he dismantled the favorites at Snapper and pulled out the impossible heat-winner at Bells this year, he was also planning an event in San Clemente that raised more than $350,000 for worthy causes liking saving Trestles from an unsightly toll road. As he scored a perfect 10 in Fiji en-route to his third victory of the season, a group of philanthropists donated to his "10s for Kids Program," designed to help special needs children in Melbourne Beach. And as he mounted one of the most convincing title campaigns with his old friend, J-Bay, he took the time to publicly speak out on the impending U.S. election and encourage everyone to vote.

Kelly's won titles for many reasons over the years - to usher in the "New School," to break MR's record, to prove he's still got it and to seal his legacy as the best there ever was. But the more prizemoney he collects, the more he realizes it's worthless if it isn't helping those in need. The more glory he accumulates, the more he realizes it's pointless if he isn't sharing it with someone he loves. And the more titles he racks up, the more he realizes there are even greater causes he can champion. At this point in his life, it doesn't matter if he has nine or {{{900}}} world titles. He is no longer winning because he must, but because he can. Big difference.

Slater could have gone a million different directions because of his unparalleled success (I'm afraid most of us would be living on the Neverland Ranch and wearing one sequin glove had we walked in his shoes for the past 20 years). But instead of going all Scientology on us, Slater's chosen to fine-tune his worldview in the same way he's fine-tuned his surfing - fluid, open-minded and always for the greater good. It's a valuable lesson for any of us who are trying to achieve just a hint of what Slater has accomplished in his life. As he's proven, winning doesn't necessarily make you happy. But when you're happy, you win.