Kelly Slater discusses life after the New School

It really is different for Kelly. Of all the generations, only the six-time world champ dominated his group so severely for so long, despite being part of the greatest talent push the sport had seen at the time. An awe-inspiring number of fresh, high-flying faces, these kids were so beyond what came before them they not only got a name — the Momentum Generation — they created a whole new style of surfing. Today, the New School is almost old and in the way. Besides Taylor Knox, Kelly is perhaps the sole remaining representative of this group who laid the last bricks for today’s architects to build upon. And though he’s the only one who still has a chance of tearing their world down, Kelly’s sticking around for a different reason: he just wants to say involved with the building process.

SURFING: Who were the top surfers of your generation?

KELLY SLATER: Well, we had such a big number of good guys — Shane-O, Machado, Pat, Taylor Knox, Ross Williams. Those were probably the top guys, but then there was a whole group of guys who were good at doing airs, guys who were good at surfing big waves, which was a whole different element that helped all of us.

SURFING: You were in a different situation than some of the other generations because you were such a giant step ahead of your contemporaries. Whereas today, even though Andy‘s on top, there’s not that sense that he’s completely out of reach.

KELLY: I don’t know if that’s for me to say, regarding myself, but Andy’s certainly in a situation where competitively he has risen above quite a bit — though I still don’t think those guys near him have that sense that he’s uncatchable. Parko doesn’t think for a second, ‘Oh, Andy’s better than me or anything like that.’ I know it’s got Parko frustrated because he thinks he should be kicking Andy’s ass.

It’s a little different. When I came on tour — when I started doing really well — I saw there was definitely a gap there to be filled. I felt like the older guys weren’t surfing as good as can be done. And I really set out to do that, to go jump into that place.

SURFING: It seems like your generation didn’t fight you as much as cheer you on — the dominant image is that of the high-five with Rob at Pipe. Did you feel like those guys were trying to beat you or did you feel like you were being pushed along?

KELLY: You’re talking about rivalries. There wasn’t somebody the whole time who I was feeling a rivalry with. One year it was me and Rob, one year it was me and Beschen, one year it was me and Sunny — that kind of thing. It seemed like they were helping in a lot of ways. But it is kind of a weird predicament to get ahead like that and be in a situation that I was in for some years there: to be competing against your friends, but then also to be friends with them. I think it’s much easier now for Andy — or even before for the ’80s generation — to kind of hate each other. Or to seem to. There was a sense before I got on tour that those guys hated each other and there were very much rivalries everywhere. And I think it’s almost easier to do that and get fired up than to be friends.

SURFING: Really? ‘Cause it seemed like the only guys who were getting heat from the guys who actually called you out — Beschen, Danny Wills, Mick Campbell, Sunny. The other guys sort of bought into the idea you couldn’t be beaten. Is that the way it felt? Or is that just the way we media types spin it?

KELLY: You know, there’s things like that got written a lot and said a lot. And I guess on some level I knew that was a help for me, a bonus. But on another level I told myself, don’t believe that for a second because those guys will take you down as soon as they see an opportunity to. So I didn’t really have my guard down. But, um, I guess it did help make me a bit more confident.

SURFING: How is it now to feel the exact opposite and have five guys with the long knives drawn?

KELLY: I guess, except for 2003, I haven’t really fully jumped in there {{{100}}} percent and jumped in the game. It’s like I’ve been sort of there trying to do my own thing. So that’s feedback that it’s probably good for me to be more in attack mode if I’m going to be on this tour. But I mean, for me it keeps me interested. Whereas if that wasn’t the case — if there wasn’t this group of really good guys — I probably would’ve gotten back to the place of not being very motivated by competitive surfing right away, like in a year or two of being back on tour.

SURFING: I guess it takes that sense of something needing to be done. Like you probably wouldn’t have gone for five titles — or six — if MR hadn’t won four.

KELLY: Yeah, quite possibly.

SURFING: What do you think your generation brought to surfing?

KELLY: I think we brought a lot of fresh ideas about where to go on a wave and where to go with equipment, just opening the mind up a little bit to that stuff, largely because we were the first guys to grow up on Thrusters. The guys before us started on either twins or single fins. So getting to a thruster was advancement enough for them, at least on some subconscious level. I think we just had a fresh way of looking at it. It’s like growing up with an older brother and watching their mistakes; we were able to watch these guys surf and how they surf and on what waves. And the whole video revolution came along with us and allowed us to broaden our scope of what we were looking at because you get all the best surfers all in one place so its real easy to see who’s doing what and to feed off that. So I think the culmination of all those things really helped us to advance quickly with what was there.

SURFING: It’s funny too, because now the current generation has done the same thing — taken all those elements a set further, from their performances in the water to doing their own videos.

KELLY: Yeah. We were probably the first guys to do our parts, but now they’re actually editing their own parts, like Jamie O’Brien’s actually doing the editing himself whereas we’d sit in with editing. It continually goes to another level. So guys in 20 years are going to be holding a camera in one hand and downloading it to a computer while they’re still in the water and watching the playbacks on a big screen on the beach facing the water. [laughs]