Kelly Slater gives an interview to Forbes magazine

 Jim ClashContributor "I write about extreme adventure and classic rock."

At 50, soon to be 51 (February 11), surf legend Kelly Slater has nothing to prove. He has been crowned World Surf League Champion a record 11 times, clocking 56 Championship Tour victories along the way. But, like other senior sports legends of our time - notably NFL star quarterback Tom Brady and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves - he is still in the trenches pushing his own limits, specifically as part of a new AppleTV+ documentary series, “Make Or Break.”

“Sometimes I think about how we don’t know if we have life beyond this life, this one chance, so you should do all of the things you can possibly do to achieve as much as you can now,” says Slater. “I’m better at surfing than anything else, so I just keep doing it.” I had a chance to catch up with Slater while he was filming season two of the AppleTV+ series on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. Following are edited excerpts from a longer Zoom conversation.

Jim Clash: In the “Make Or Break” series, what new will viewers learn about the surfing world?

Kelly Slater: You’ll learn about how much love and obsession surfers have for what they do. Nobody in the surf world is getting paid like a Formula 1 guy, or the top soccer players. It’s a lifestyle, a passion that we grew up with as kids. It just grew into our careers. You’ll see each of us has a unique message, too, something deep about ourselves, that comes out in each episode. That’s what makes it a great documentary.

Clash: What are we going to discover about you that we don’t already know?

Slater: Let me know when you’re done watching, and tell me what it is [laughs]. Gosh, I don’t know. Nobody has ever asked me that. I’m probably becoming more philosophical as I get older, choosing my battles a bit differently. I’m not sure if that shines through or not. Again, you tell me.

Clash: What are you afraid of, and how do you handle fear?

Slater: I’m afraid of drowning, and of getting a really bad injury on a shallow-water reef riding a big wave, both realistic dangers. Then, it just depends on how you deal with those fears. Sometimes, adrenaline and focus can help you overcome them. But once you’ve decided to put yourself in harm’s way, there’s no real reason to be scared. You’ve already made the decision, you just have to figure out how to handle it. So it’s assessing your fear, calculating it, judging it as best you can and accepting the outcome.

Clash: Is it possible to surf a 100-foot wave?

Slater: I don’t know that anyone has done it yet. The problem is not riding the wave, it’s finding one that’s 100 feet. It’s physics, logistics, being in the right place at the right time. Generally, the world’s biggest waves are out in the middle of a storm in the ocean. We need those swells to come to the beaches from hundreds and thousands of miles away, and get clean and rideable first.

Clash: Maybe at say, Nazare, Portugal?

Slater: Those are giant waves, but I don’t necessarily view them as great. It’s a high, intense peak of energy there, like nothing else, kind of a freak of nature. The place should be an eighth or ninth wonder of the world. Many of the world’s biggest swells are in the North Atlantic. At Nazare, those swells hit what we call a submarine canyon, a big underwater valley. That bends the swells around this shallow peak, like an underwater mountain. As the swell comes in from the north, it is bent back towards itself. That first wave bends, then meets the wave behind it, deviating it like a light ray. The two swells then join - say one is 30 feet, the other 40 feet - and create one that’s 70 feet. Basically, it just doubles the size of the wave. It’s so close to the beach that anyone there can be a couple of hundred yards from the biggest waves in the world. If you’re ever in Portugal, drive an hour-and-a-half north and, at least once a week, the waves are going to be giant there.

Clash: What advice do you have for budding surfers?

Slater: Time on the map - you really need to be in the water. Move to the beach. If you want to be a surfer, you have to be somewhere you can surf every day. It doesn’t have to be big surf, or good surf, you just need to feel how the ocean moves, its energy. There’s a lot more than riding a wave that goes into surfing.

Clash: You own a wave-generating outfit, Kelly Slater Wave Co. Is that also a good way to learn?

Slater: Well, for having a consistent ride over and over, a wave pool makes sense. You know what you’re going to get, and you can practice that one thing, like at a skate ramp or on a ski slope or climbing wall. It’s that repetition. But, like I said, the best place to learn is the ocean - how to deal with people, different situations and danger.

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