How Kelly Slater Stays on Top

He makes it look easy: nine world titles and, in 2008, his most dominant year yet at age 36. But as Slater tells it, staying on top demands both relentless commitment and the ability to let go. As told to Mike Roberts.

Slater performs a "floater" while surfing Bali, Indonesia, July 2008.     Photo: Jason Childs/Getty

It's not just about the basic act of surfing or boxing or whatever you do—you have to be confident to go out there and apply what you know. If you really understand a surf break, you know that most of the good waves break at point A; but over at point B there are waves that people don't realize can get you a good score. That's knowing the environment. I also really tune my equipment to where I'm surfing—switching boards and fins. Then you have your competitor. What's his strength? His weakness? He might have something going on in his life and maybe his confidence is wavering. Everyone has a chink in their armor, and you can learn to expose it.

When you're not worried about the outcome, that's when you can discover things about yourself. You trust your gut and act on instinct.

Life changes. You can set out for a goal, and it won't happen. For me, it seems to work to just feel it as I go along. A lot of surfers think I'm trying to !@#$ with their heads when I say I'm not competing in a contest or on the tour. But I'm honest. I had every intention of not surfing on tour this year. And yet, here I am.

I've had times in my career where I'm just the utmost competitor: This is what I want; I want to win a world title. But saying that is putting yourself in a vise grip. Just talking about it puts me in a tense place. At this point, it's a loose thing for me. If I never win another world title, that's fine. If I do, great. That's not being ambiguous, it's: I'm gonna roll with it.

Kelly Slater On...

...Stress: "I'm a lot calmer than I used to be. I'm not as emotional. At the same time, I think I'm more connected to what I'm feeling. I try to observe what's going on around me, read the signs, and get the message. Life really is that simple most of the time."

...Cross-Training: "I've learned a lot about technique and biomechanics from golf, and it's improved my power and efficiency in surfing. It helped me envision what i'm doing in a turn: standing in a neutral spot, then directing weight and gravity downward toward a plane. Competitively, golf has taught me that I can always turn things around. You can have the worst round ever, then suddenly make a hole in one."

...Stretching: "We don't all need to be able to bend over and put our face on our feet. But you need to open up all your circulation and let blood get into blocked areas. Stretching also can make you aware of little injuries so you don't make them worse."

...Desire: "I've heard people say that motivation is temporary and inspiration is permanent. There are days when I don't want to compete. I can't imagine competing right now, I put every bit of mental and emotional energy into this year. But I'm trying to have an inspired career, to live an inspired life."

...Natural High: "There are all these chemicals your body releases. And when they're released in the right way, they can be stronger than any drug, with no bad side effects. Some days it happens, some days it doesn't. That's part of the beauty of it."

...Nutrition: "I have a basic rule of thumb with food: If I can't pronounce any ingredients—if there's any propyl-anything, or whatever—I won't eat it or put it on my body. When I travel, I carry some drink mixes and some raw-food bars in my bag."

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