Safe to say, even if you don’t surf, you know who Kelly Slater is. He’s the world’s greatest surfer. King Kelly. A legendary 10x world champ who even at age 38, in a time when most progressive surfing is regularly performed above the wave, has somehow remained fit enough and good enough to routinely beat surfers years his junior, from all around the planet.
And now the greatest surfer in history wants to build the best wave in the world.
It’s an interesting prospect, only because it comes from someone whose understanding of the ocean and the sport are second only to his determination and will to succeed.
I remember seeing Kelly surf in person on a road trip to Sebastian Inlet back in my early twenties. Kelly was just 14 at the time and already getting national attention. He was there for the ESA Regional Championships. We just happened to arrive in time to catch the Superheat, where the winners of each division compete against each other in a final, decisive high-performance session to see who is the best of the best.
Kelly had already won his division and was surfing against several older, more experienced men. There was a northeaster blowing and the waves at Sebastian were large and sloppy, far from ideal conditions. But let me tell you, when Kelly dropped in, he made every wave look flawless. Not just good. Not just great… but jaw-dropping, “OMG, can you believe that?” otherworldy good. And everyone on the beach that day recognized it.
He surfed fast, fluid and stylish, blasting every sliver of open face, effortlessly connecting beautiful maneuvers while intuitively navigating every tricky section. It was clear, even back then, that he wasn’t just a natural. He was supernatural.
Today, as freakish as 10 world titles sounds, it doesn’t surprise me. He’s just that good. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to follow his career through my own lifetime, because I don’t expect his accomplishments will ever be matched. This is also the reason I won’t summarily dismiss his vision to build the world’s first natural, deep-water world-class wave.
According to a press release, the Kelly Slater Wave Company will use “pioneering wave generation and control technology to create the wave on the outside of a large circular pool, propogating onto an inner island where it breaks endlessly.” Slater suggests that the wave, inside a planned surf park with beaches, restaurants, bars, pools, conference facilities and retail will come close to reproducing the “natural”feeling of one of the world’s best waves.
A few years back, I had the opportunity to surf Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon with just a few friends after the park had closed for the day. The waves there seemed to start with 4’ peaks that quickly receded to 2’ lines that weren’t endless. While reasonably fun and consistent, between the stadium lights; eerie sounds of the hydromechanics; soft, punchless waves and chlorine smell, the experience was far from natural.
Even if Kelly’s engineers have devised a way to double the size and power of the waves, there are some things about surfing that simply can’t be duplicated by men, even supernatural ones.
The inconsistent nature of swells that makes chasing them so exciting, and an integral part of the surfing experience.
The unique characteristics of individual waves that allow us to enjoy a variety of experiences on each and every one we ride.
The subtle risks of dangers like shallow reefs, clean-up sets and sea creatures we can’t always see, that open our adrenal glands to their addictive flow.
The infinite beauty of God’s handiwork, which varies so dramatically from ocean to ocean, beach to beach, break to break, right down to the locals sitting next to us in the lineup.
Of course, I’m sure Kelly already understands all this better than most.
So, I won’t do the easy thing which would be to scoff at his vision; dismiss it as idealistic; unrealistic in this uncertain economy; or opportunistic at the expense of “surfers” from places like Indiana or Ohio, who only understand surfing through movies like Point Break; magazines like SURFER; and the big brand surf tees they buy in their local mega malls. They deserve to experience the thrill and joys of surfing as much as any of us.
Instead, I’ll lay money down that Kelly will leverage his incredible personal and financial resources; visionary imagination; and passion for surfing, including his unyielding desire to advance the sport and share it; to create something that will exceed all of our expectations. Something that will leave us standing slack-jawed, looking at the person next to us and saying, “OMG, can you believe that?”
To learn more about the Kelly Slater Wave Company, visit Slater’s YouTube Channel where he shares more of his vision in a series of videos.