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