SURFING MAGAZINE: Do you remember how you used to think about the guys before you guys, how they surfed?
KELLY SLATER: Well, I felt on one level I had the utmost respect, because they helped usher me in …every generation comes along and tries what they think is possible and that’s surfing at its highest level. So when you start there, you can just jump ahead of that. I felt they were good, but there was a lot of room to improve on what they’d already done. Which is I don’t think it’s any kind of put-down at all. That level is gonna always rise and always be lower than what it’s gonna be in the future. But I suspect their approach was a little bit limited to their state of mind, the way they saw waves. Probably an idea that power’s better than sliding instead of the idea that a combination of both things. I still don’t believe there’s anything better than a pure line in surfing but there’s also nothing better than the most critical possible maneuver that could be done. And a lot of times that’ll be in the air or throwing the tail out, it may not be a carve. It’s all relying on the wave and what the sections doing. I felt I was in a position to expand my skills greatly and a lot of the older guys weren’t in that position.

What allowed you to see different things in waves?
A combination of a lot of things. A lot of people looked down on the fact that I was from the East Coast or thought that that was gonna inhibit me from doing something, and I felt just the opposite. Learning in the type of surf I did gave me greater possibilities. Handling the small waves that were short and had small sections and I had to learn to read lines differently than someone who grew up on the Gold Coast or Rincon. It didn’t contribute to my style or flow but I felt that it greatly helped my ability to perform all maneuvers. And I learned to surf on a twin-fin — I was probably one of the last people to learn to surf on a twin-fin. That was a factor, too, I think because of the maneurvability of that and the approach to riding a wave and learning equipment which I didn’t realize I was doing at the time — it was more a subconscious acct of learning. For me personally the timing of me being born into what I do couldn’t have been better. That generation changed and the approach that I took and my friends were taking.

Some of the older guys reacted badly. Did you ever take their comments personally?
Yeah, I did. There was an inkling of that for me. At times I remember being really hurt. Although I tried not to think about it, it was a very small percentage, but I’m a little bit let down that I let that affect me because I felt that without that influence and/or pressure, that my approach was really pure to who I was and what I was trying to accomplish in the act of riding waves. And that small percentage altered my feelings about that. I felt like it kinda put pressure on me to fit into their world a little bit. It was a pretty drastic change between the 80s and 90s and there’s that drastic change probably every 10 years ago, and the new guys have to respect tradition, and honor what’s come before but not be limited by it.

It’s a very hard line to tread, though, isn’t it? Sometimes you feel imposed on by tradition and other times you feel like you’ve gotta tear it down to get anywhere.
Yeah absolutely I think people — especially guys that are heroes to anyone — if they’re really respectable people and honorable, they don’t need to force their will on anyone or control what’s gonna happen in the future. Because the right things are usually gonna shine through, and what stands time, and I don’t think that kids can be brainwashed into doing the wrong thing with regards to what looks aesthetically pleasing on a wave. I think the right things always end up shining through.

In the last 10 years I’ve seen a lot of surfing and I’ve felt better to run before they knew how to walk. And I’ve felt like that was the downfall of the New School approach in some ways, because a lot of young kids were instantly wanting to do airs and stuff. Which was great, but … if you can’t do a carve yet …I’m probably somewhere in the middle, middle of the road, I try to look at the best of both worlds. But sometimes if you only start out working on foundational stuff you end up limiting your maneuvrability, I think. It depends on how people wanna approach it, if you wanna start out doing airs and then work down into your foundation, at the end of the day I feel like that’s what I’ve done in a lotta of ways. If I think of watching surfing as a kid what comes to mind is Kechele, Johnson and Pat Mulhern doing hop airs at Sebastian and that’s what I learned. I had to basically backtrack from there to get more of a Tom Curren-Richard Cram carving aspect on a wave. I think meeting Curren, who was looked down by his crew because they didn’t think he had enough power, he was light, he was doing what he could …There’s all these people who wanna detract from what’s happening. It’s the nature of man. People wanna see other people do bad because they don’t feel good.

I still feel really close to those comments that you read there. Probably a little more so in my life I feel at this point with my surfing and the younger guys I wanna share and give to them, you know. I don’t wanna … last year a guy like Andy Irons coming along could really rattle my feathers if I wanted it to. But I’m stoked to see the level of surfing being pushed and to see someone I really respect being in that position. If the guys leading the sport can surf big waves and small waves and carve and do maneuvers and all that stuff, the sport’s really coming to fruition with a lot of the different young pros.

Has that always been the case? Have you always felt quite welcoming or have there been times in the past where you have felt super-competitive with the young guys coming up?
Oh, there’s been a lot of times where I’ve felt real competitive with other guys. Cause competing and trying to win contests and titles was my whole thing for a long time, so there were a lot of times where I just wanted to shut guys down. I felt like they might have a little flame going on and I wanted to put it out. Even if they were my friends.

And they didn’t always react to that well, did they?
No. That’s just a maturity thing.

Do you {{{recall}}} meeting Taylor Steele for the first time, and in what circumstances?
The first time I really remember was at a tradeshow when we released Black and White, which was 91. And I think I’d met him prior to that, just briefly, Rob had introduced me, “Hey this is my friend, he takes videos, can you sign a poster for him?” And so I signed a poster, “To Taylor, keep videoing”. And within that year Momentum was made. It was finished a little over a year after that.

Do you recall watching any of the video rushes, were you sitting in on that?
Yeah. Our big thing was to shoot the film then go home and watch it. Go home, watch it, play ping-pong or pool or jump on the trampoline, play basketball, skate a little bit … it was a pastime that just fit in with everything else we were doing. We’d say ‘OK we’re gonna go surf, Tay’s gonna film, we’ll come home and watch it, then we’ll figure out where we wanna surf next.” That’d be in California or Australia or Hawaii. All over the place. It ended up being a real natural thing.

What kind of person did you see Taylor as being?
A quiet, reserved type… Taylor’s always been that way. He’s much more of an observer which most probably why being a filmer fits into his persona. It fits in so well. He’s not the guy trying to be seen, he just wants to be heard a little bit. And show people what he sees.

It seems to me that video then became the big medium of the 1990s. That’s how so many kids would have got their start from then on, watching videos like Momentum and Black and White and so on. How aware were you guys of that, that it was the new medium?
Umm … I dunno, it was our world so it’s kinda hard to see it from the outside. But I think we were really aware that it helped us with our surfing, to be able to watch and be filmed every day … to be able to hear comments people were making about your surfing. It was sorta touched upon when Larry Bertlemann was talking about videos years and years ago, but it never really came totally into being until the 90s. And then everyone had a video camera. They were all filming all around the world … I don’t think it was in anyone’s thoughts that “We’re shooting this and every kid around the world’s gonna watch this wave I just caught.” But everyone was trying to get the best part they could in the film and it drove everyone to wanna perform better every time they surfed, free-surfing or competitively.

Who do you think were the great rivalries in that group?
Probably me and Rob. Shane and Ross. Shane and Ross were probably the strongest one for sure through all that. Taylor Knox and pretty much anyone else (laughs). They’re the kinda ones that stand out to me. I think the Shane and Ross rivalry was pretty intense because they could fully get mad at each other, get pissed off at each other, and it was cool. Like “We’ll still travel together, but I f–kin hate you.” Whereas with Rob and I the only time it would be verbal or outright showing anger toward each other would be on the ping-pong table or playing pool or playing tennis maybe. But it didn’t really, that kinda verbal approach never spilled over into the water. It was never anger shown, though there may have been some there underneath that.

One thing that musta struck a lot of older surfers about you guys is that you lived relatively clean lives. It’s been a long time and quite a few generations since you could have said that about the top echelon of surfers. I mean they’ve been playing up for 30 years.
It’ll probably be a long time before it happens again, too.

Why is that? What happened? Why were you clean?
You know it became the influence from some of the key players in the group. That was the way we lived our lives and I thin some of us were probably more connected around the beach with family, and we all had good influences, whether Al Merrick or any number of people we stayed with around the world, we somehow pinned into this energy that was positive and clean. I dunno.

Do you guys, all of you Ross, Shane, Rob, Chris, everyone, do you feel as close a bunch of friends now as you were 10 yrs ago?
Ummm (thinks) That’s interesting. Probably not the same because everyone’s got other places, Hawaii or wherever we’re at, you know. When you’re younger you really have to rely on one another, with rental cars and hotels and all that sort of stuff, get yourself around with directions and flights and stuff. And once you’ve done that a few times you work it out on your own and you probably don’t spend as much time in a tight little group. I think we’re probably all better friends even though we’re not physically as together as much as we were back then. Now people have got kids and are married and that creates a whole different level of bonding and friendship.

Do you ever go back and watch those movies from that time, Momentum, Black and White? I mean it’s probably a little hard to watch Black and White…
Yeah, it was a shit film wasn’t it?

Well, you know, it was the star, he’s really f–kin’ irritating. Do you ever go back and watch those?
Yeah, here and there. I usually end up seeing them in a bar or a surf shop (chuckles).

Are they the sort of thing people have mentioned to you over and over through the years?
Ah yeah… a lot of people will say they dug certain parts of the films, you know, “I love that section of this part,” or “how was it when you guys did this in that movie”. Lots of references.

Looking back on those 10 years, can you id a personal peak there and one with your group? The best expression you can think of of what you guys were all about?
(thinks for a while) As a group, me personally? Me personally I can think of two high points. One is 95 at Pipe, with me and Rob. I was at Al Merrick’s a couple nights ago and he had a picture on his wall of me and rob in the barrel before the high five. And that instant sticks in my mind as totally the high point. Two close friends, competitive at the highest level or something, and happy for each other at the same time. I mean there’s always a winner and a loser, somebody comes out on top and somebody doesn’t, but at that point it didn’t matter. I think beyond that for sure. It was a hard thing as well, in some ways as hard as it was great, at least for me. The thing was in 95 it was split camps, you know, people were like: “Do we want Kelly, or Sunny or Rob to win?” It was a difficult situation. But in 98 it was different. I symbolized America and most of my friends were from America. So even when Rob and I had to surf together, I felt like even Rob was for me, even though he wasn’t gonna give me an inch. So when that heat was over, all our friends were there and brought us both up on the beach. It was a really central thing. At the same time I’ve got a million friends from Australia, it was probably nationalistic in some ways, but almost all of my best friends were the guys on the beach that day. It was a purely joyous occasion for our whole New School group.

At the same time it might’ve felt like the finish of something, like you’d achieved a huge personal goal and at times beyond that you’d have been wondering “What do I do now?”
Actually still do. I mean I guess there’s a part of my life that feels like it died that day, in some ways. I just felt for so many reasons that year was the best year of my life, and that just capped it off. And the year ended and everyone left Hawaii and I went through a lot of things personally getting off the tour, and a whole bunch of things developed in my life that were tough lessons. Actually after that came a big growth period for me. But I’m not sure that day didn’t signify that for anyone else. Maybe that was just for me, my personal goals, getting off the tour. I was definitely in a position to ask myself “What do I do now?”

Yeah and that’s still going. It’s interesting; talking to some of the other surfers from your crew and a number of them said, “Well I still haven’t achieved my goals”. Maybe that sets you apart from the rest in some way.
Maybe. I think personally for me, spiritually it set me on a different course. Because that’s a fleeting moment that happened and it’s just emotions. Goals are great if you can set a goal in life and achieve it, that’s great. But beyond that it’s generally just a surface feeling compared to others things that can happen in your life. It set me off on a path of what makes me feel happy inside, you know. A deeper search in life from that point (chuckles). Maybe it set me on a path of searching as deep as possible.

Yeah it’s funny that, you do everything you can possibly dream of and you find out that wasn’t it.

I always suspected the world championships at most times are kind of teenage goals and you get past them and all of a sudden you’ve got to face the idea of being a grown-up. Who of your group looks to you like they’re happy, you know, like they’re planing along into that next phase of their lives?
Umm, oooh God that’s a confronting question. Well, Ross and Shane. I think probaby they’re, I dunno, most of the guys that’ve gotten married seem really happy. Ross and Shane kinda stick out to me, caue they know exactly what they want, what their lifestyles are, where they’ve got their houses, they’ve got their wives — Ross isn’t quite married yet but he’s about to be — and … it’s probably unfair to pick guys that are more happy, for the most part the other guys seem really happy too, but it’s just that I’ve spent more time with Ross and Shane and seeing what they have and what they appreciate and that sort of thing… I think one of my friends is probably highly unhappy but won’t ever admit it.

Asked once where you might be when you were much older, 70 years old. Back then 10 years ago you said something fairly poignant and strong about where you’d like to be down the line. What would you say now if I asked where would you like to be in your 60s?
Umm, I’d like to see a really happy third generation of me growing up at that point. Just be really happy in life, live in a great spot and have a wonderful woman in my life. Either that or be Hugh Hefner (laughs) With a lot of Viagra.

[For the full feature on the Momentum Generation, check the May issue of SURFING. On newsstands now.]